Sitting with a group of girlfriends last week, one of whom is moving to pastures new after nearly nine years in the Netherlands, we got to chatting about things we’d miss and things we’d be glad to leave behind when it’s our turn to leave. None of the group intends to remain here permanently.
I appreciate this isn’t a scientific study, merely random thoughts by a group of women who have lived in the Netherlands for at least five years. A good length of time to have settled in and adjusted to the rhythms of the culture.
Each of us has lived in at least one country other than our birth country before moving here and so have experience of life in a minimum of three cultures. We have raised children in the Dutch culture, some who have gone on to university/ college and beyond.
It’s interesting that the good and the not so good seem to be divided between the geographical location of the country and the Dutch culture.
The geographical location of the Netherlands:
The positives –
1. The weather – when it’s good, it’s fabulous. Warm, sunny, not too hot so walking, biking and spending time outdoors are an unexpected delight.
2. Woodland, beaches and open spaces for walking and recreation are close by and easily accessed.
3. Travel both internationally (Schiphol Amsterdam airport has always been a favourite even before we moved here) and throughout Europe is easy and stress free. This is helped with the Euro being used everywhere – except the UK, reasons are self evident if you read Learning the Lingo – Part 1
4. Excellent public transport facilities.
The negatives –
1. The weather – good days are not as common as rainy, gloomy, cold days. Sorry, but there you are.
2. Population density, particularly if you’ve relocated from somewhere, well, less dense. In good weather the beaches, woods and recreational facilities are full of other people wanting to do the same as you.
3. Travel – can be a nightmare at holiday times as the Dutch enjoy travelling more than most and Schiphol is horrendous at every public holiday. Travelling by car at peak periods can be a recipe for divorce. Throughout the summer months the roads south through Belgium and France are clogged until way past Paris.
4. Driving – beware speed cameras, police, perpetual road works, bikes, pedestrians, dogs and the ‘cars coming from the right have priority’ rule.
The Dutch Culture:
The positives –
1. Being able to bike everywhere and the fact bikes have priority over cars.
2. Freedom for teens to be independent in a safe environment (they bike everywhere).
3. Small ‘mom and pop’ shops offering diversity for shopping and getting into the habit of shopping almost daily for groceries and fresh bread.
4. Range of seasonal fresh produce.
5. Abundance of inexpensive flowers year round.
6. Extremely dog friendly – they’re welcome in most bars, cafes, some shops and allowed off-leash in parks and public areas during the year.
7. Fabulous bread.
The negatives –
1. The big one, Bureaucracy. The Dutch love their paperwork and it always has to be present and correct. I can say no more, the mere thought brings on a headache.
2. The perceived rudeness of the Dutch is regarded by them as merely being ‘blunt’, or calling ‘a spade a spade’. Anywhere else it would be regarded as plain rude. I attribute this behaviour to the weather, but my Dutch friends disagree, shrug their shoulders and admit they could well be the rudest people in Europe. Dutch people in general are not courteous, do not smile and for them to engage in frivolous activity tantamount to complete decadence. There are, however, some wonderful Dutch people who are the exception to this rule.
3. Small ‘mom and pop’ shops and lack of larger supermarkets with fully stacked shelves. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve needed something basic, only to be faced with empty shelves. It can happen any day of the week at any time. And no Sunday opening except for occasional stores in larger cities. Can be very frustrating.
4. Lack of customer service – the words, ‘It is not possible’ accompanied by an almost Gallic shrug and air of complete indifference is commonplace and a national mantra. Customer service is not regarded as a priority, although in the present economic climate things are changing.
5. This is connected to point 4 – it takes forever to get anything done. A twelve week wait for internet connection during the summer months is common. The Dutch do not rush, ever. Go with the flow, it’s the only way.
One thing we did agree on was that the experience of living here has been fun, rewarding and shown many of us a different life pace and more balanced work/ life ratio, which can only be beneficial.
In these days of global warming we figure if we stay here long enough the weather, and therefore the attitude of the Dutch, may improve, and the Netherlands will be the perfect place to live.
Guess we’ll have to wait and see . . .
Planning a move to the Netherlands? You may find this article useful!