the heights of foolishness
My father always
told me to walk tall and hold my head high.
The walking tall part wasn't difficult for me at 6'2. And I've tried
hard to live in such a way that I can hold my head up, too, but it
hasn't always been easy. There was the time, for example, that I
shook the hand of Stephen Harper and said I was pleased to meet him.
Being a hypocrite is one thing; being a liar is another. I was both.
Walking tall in its best sense has nothing do with feet and inches,
of course. Napoleon probably walked tall but physically he was a
runt. I like to think I walk tall, too, although over the last eight
years I've lost a foot or so off my height. It tends to happen as we
So who are the tallest people in the world? There are those who keep
track of these things, you know. People who don't have much else to
do and make their living off government grants researching
information useful to no one including them.
Nevertheless, I'll make use of it in this column so that you won't
look too stunned next time you're watching "Who Wants to Be a
Millionaire" with your kids. When they ask that question about the
tallest people you'll just stretch and yawn and carelessly toss out
the answer: the Dutch. If you're less than 5' 6 yourself you'll look
Bet you thought it was the Americans, right? Nope, they're not even
second, even though they have so much money at their disposal and
one of the highest standards of living in the world -- for some of
them. And what about all those human skyscraper-type basketball
players? They go seven feet and better, or at least higher. Where
did they come from?
The researchers we were mentioning earlier have come to the
conclusion that your height is a combination of your daddy's bigness
and your mommy's cooking. Or vice versa, given the times. Heredity
and nutrition. Something like high cholesterol or excessive gas. You
know, flatulence. Farting. Comes from your Uncle Frank or something.
Dutch men and women have always been taller than most. No one seems
to know why except they have a marvelous health care system,
especially for infants. You get a real good start in life and your
apt to become bigger and better. Genetics seem to play a big part,
too. Back 2000 years ago the men of the Low Countries were so much
taller at 5'9 than their counterparts in other countries that the
Roman emperor used to recruit them as guards. In short, tallness is
in the genes.
In later centuries the Dutch lost their height advantage so that 200
years ago the Americans were the tallest people on earth. But with
new prosperity in the last century the Dutch again regained the
Americans have been deluding themselves for decades that they have
the best health care system in the world, and so they do -- if you
make a great salary and are part of your employer's health-care
plan. If you're poor and/or unemployed and/or down and out, tough
titty. You ain't got no health insurance so you don't get good care,
and you're too poor to be buying nutritious food.
Of course Americans think the Canadian health care system is the
pits. It's got its problems, sure enough, but I don't know any
Canadian who wants to get really sick in the US -- any sane
Canadian, that is.
Which brings me to a point. I have no idea where Canadians stand in
this height thing. I do know the Dutch have a Tall Persons Club for
which I would not qualify. The minimum height for men in this club
is 6'3 and women 5'7. OH and two of my three daughters would be in
Scandinavians, in second place, have an average height of 6', but
they're not expected to get much taller because their genetics won't
allow it. I don't explain these things, I just The upwardly mobile
Dutch, on the other hand, are expected to reach an average height of
6'3 within 50 years. Evidently their inherited genetic code allows
them to keep growing until someday they'll need airplanes, cars,
buses and women built especially to their specifications.
I wasn't tall according to Dutch standards, just an inch or so more
than their average. But I can tell you even that isn't all fun. We
once lived in an old house for a year where the door heights were a
little over 6 feet. Most of the time I remembered to duck, but if I
left in a hurry because I was bordering on being late for school,
chances were my forehead would make solid contact with the wood. The
rest of me would then make equally solid contact with the floor.
The first few times that happened OH was really concerned,
especially the day I knocked myself cold, and wanted to call the
doctor and an ambulance and all that. However, the first time we
told the doctor about it over dinner one night he laughed his fool
head off. The only thing that saved our friendship was that his wife
didn't. I had one of those living will things drawn up which
declared that under no circumstances, including death, was that
doctor to be called to attend me.
OH got used to this happening after awhile and paid attention only
when I had been comatose on the floor for at least three minutes.
The tallest living woman, by the way, isn't Dutch. De-Fen Yao is an
Asian lady who stands 7'8 1/2". Why am I writing about this stuff at
Just exploring the heights of foolishness.
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