I like rules, always have. Consequently I wasn’t much fun to play with as a kid. While the other children would happily tweeze body parts out of “Sam” the red-nosed man, showing little or no concern for taking turns or counting points, I sat shout-reading items from the list of rules in the instruction booklet, my little befreckled cheeks growing redder with each touch of the tweezer end to the side of Sam’s organ holes. Bzz! Bzz! went the board as Sam’s annoying red nose lit up again and again, while I sat in a childish huff because no one was playing it “right.”
Yes, from a young age it was plain to see that I was well-suited to living in Canada, a country of citizens who are particularly observant of rules because their greatest fear in life is offending someone. It’s nothing to hear Canadians arguing over who is more sorry for some minor infraction or other.
“I’m so sorry. That was my fault.”
“No, it was totally mine. I’m so sorry.”
“No, really, you shouldn’t be sorry. I’m the one who wasn’t watching where I was going. If I had been paying attention like I should have been I would have noticed you coming directly for me at full speed, foaming at the mouth and wielding a scythe, and I could have moved out of the way.”
“Still, I really think I’m the one who should apologize.”
“Nonsense. I’m sure they can reattach it. And I’m left-handed anyway. I’m the one who should be apologizing to you. You’ll never get that grape juice I spilled on your shirt while trying to dodge your accidental scythe attack to wash out. Do you want to borrow my Tide stain-removing pen? I’m sure it’s in my purse . . . Wait, can you hold my disembodied hand while I check?”
In Canada rules are the maple syrup that holds the whole society together. So I didn’t have much trouble fitting in when I later moved to England, because the English love their rules almost as much as the Canadians love theirs. Naked co-ed pool playing may not be the surest way to inspire public confidence, admittedly. But it’s not breaking the rules. I suspect very soon England will forget the whole thing and go back to publicly scolding MPs and clamping illegally-parked cars.
For some reason when I moved to the Netherlands I brought with me a vague notion that this too would be a country that would share my love of rules, a country where everyone cared deeply about preserving the maple syrup, uh, make that the stroop, that holds society together. But I have since found this notion to be totally unfounded.
Take yesterday. Yesterday I was in a local shop that has a prominent sign in its window announcing that dogs are not allowed inside. As I stood there waiting to pay I observed a very sweet cocker spaniel running to and fro sniffing the produce. This dog was loose! This dog was lost! Shouldn’t we do something?! I looked around at the faces in the shop. None of them showed any sign of alarm. It was as if the dog was just another elderly lady pushing a walker between the lettuces. The shop assistant seemed equally oblivious to the fact that there was a vagrant mongrel on the premises. Being Canadian and not wanting to make a fuss where it appeared no one else saw any reason for one, I pretended to ignore the dog too.
As the woman in front of me picked up her purchases and turned to leave, the little dog quickly fell in line behind her, and the two walked out of the shop and down the street. The dog, I quickly realized, was not a lost pet that had wandered into the store wearing an invisibility suit that made it possible for only me to see it, but was with a customer. A rule-breaking customer. I paid for my tomatoes, then went outside and untied my own dog from where she sat waiting near the entrance. “We’re not in Canada anymore, Toto,” I said. (But not really because her name is not Toto).The End.
I realize this is a crappy ending, but in the spirit of rule-breaking I'm going to do it anyway. But I really am sorry.
 Sam was not a hobo we recruited from the streets to practice playing doctor on but was in fact the patient from “Operation,” a particularly irritating children’s board game that was unaccountably popular in the 1980s.