Living in the Netherlands: The Good, The Bad and The Frustrating.

I first wrote about moving to the Netherlands several years ago when I’d had time to settle in and get established, but was still new enough to the Dutch culture to see it through fresh eyes.

Since that original article I’ve moved into a a different phase of transition – of being fully established and immersed in the culture, while still being a foreigner. I’m aware of the cultural differences but no longer feel alien, frustrated or lost. A state of acceptance of living, working and operating in the Netherlands.

While our life has changed over the years here (our nest is now empty with children in the UK, USA and Canada), our family base remains the Netherlands, and is regarded as ‘home’ by all three offspring – despite two of them never having lived here (although our daughter did boomerang back to the nest to live and work for 6 months).

I hope this updated perspective is helpful!

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. As soon as the sun comes out so do the Dutch, so expect to share all public and open spaces with everyone else. Street cafes, bistros and bars fill streets and squares, and are a wonderful way to relax and people watch.

2. Woodland, parks, beaches and public spaces for walking and recreation are close by and easily accessed by public transport or bike.

3. Travel internationally (Schiphol Amsterdam airport has always been a favorite even before we moved here) and throughout Europe is easy and (relatively) 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. There’s lots to see and do in a relatively small space – knock yourself out with the art galleries, history, small towns and places of interest, nightlife in the larger cities and ease of travel into neighboring countries.

4. Excellent public transport facilities in the Netherlands and internationally via the rail system – if you have a family they will eventually learn to ride bikes and use local public transport to get around. Once you accept it is safe and allow your kids the freedom to get around by themselves, you’ll be amazed how responsible and self-confident they become. And you won’t miss ferrying them around.

5. Dutch healthcare – is generally excellent and free, although there are processes to be followed. Keep an open mind. The default position of most Dutch doctors is for you to go away and take two paracetamol four times a day and come back in a few days if things don’t improve. Be polite but stand your ground. Change doctors until you find someone you can work with. There are international healthcare centres available if you don’t find a suitable local doctor.

The ‘negatives’ –

1. The weather – good days are not as common as rainy, gloomy, cold days. When 50 Shades of Gray was first published I thought was it an academic paper on the Dutch weather. If you can adjust quickly and accept ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing’ and get kitted out for the rain you’ll be a lot happier. Forget wearing heels – unless you want to break an ankle on the cobbled/ bricked streets rethink all footwear.

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. Traffic can be a nightmare, moreso when the weather is bad and bikes are abandoned in favor of cars. That said, urban areas are well planned, with lots of available green space. The Dutch are very used to living in smaller homes in close proximity to their neighbors, are are generally respectful of each other’s privacy. You wouldn’t expect to buy or rent a detached, spacious home in New York, London, or any other capital city and the same applies here. Housing costs are expensive.

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. Patience is a requirement and road rage is rare. Bikes and pedestrians always have priority. If in doubt give way to everyone.

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 or take public transport everywhere). Be aware the drinking age for teens (currently) is 16 for beer and wine, and 18 for spirits. This may be changed soon to 18 for all alcohol. If you come from a country where the legal drinking age is older, this may be an issue. My only comment would be that you don’t see hordes of teens drunk in the streets, and the majority learn to drink responsibly. Hopefully by the time they head for college/ university alcohol is not the lure it is for many kids having just left home.

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. (A real treat in the winter.)

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 – forget the diet.

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 –  seen by the Dutch as being ‘blunt’, or calling ‘a spade a spade’. I have experienced bluntness here that anywhere else would be considered breathtakingly rude. I attribute this behaviour to the weather (months smothered under a blanket of gray), but my Dutch friends disagree, shrug their shoulders and admit they could well be the rudest people in Europe. The Dutch in general are not courteous, or thoughtful, or interested, do not smile and for them to engage in frivolous activity tantamount to complete decadence. There are, however, wonderful Dutch people who are the exception to this rule, and are apologetic for the behavior of their less polite nationals.

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. That said, the selection of produce and availability of foreign foods has increased tremendously since we first arrived.

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 to remain sane.

One thing we do agree on as a family is that the experience of living here has been interesting, and shown us a different lifestyle with a more balanced work/ life ratio, which can only be beneficial. However, this can be VERY frustrating in the workplace when everything finishes at 5 p.m. despite timeframes and deadlines. Things get done in their own time and at their own pace. Many have tried to change the Dutch work culture – none have succeeded.

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? There are some things you do need to bring with you which you may need urgently before you’ve had time to adjust to available Dutch alternatives. You may find this article useful!

Living in The Netherlands: What to Bring with You

About wordgeyser

Our anglo/american family used to live in four countries (USA, Canada, UK and the Netherlands) on two continents, separated by distance, time zones, circumstance and cultures. It has been a scary, enriching, challenging place to be. The only things guaranteed to get us through were a sense of humour and the amazing people met along the way. . . This year everything changed with a move for us from the Netherlands, – and a move along with us for our son and his wife from the UK – to Houston, Texas, the same city as our daughter. With our youngest in Vancouver, Canada, we are now all living on the same continent. How this happened, and more importantly why, will be the subject of this ongoing blog...
This entry was posted in Advice for New Arrivals in the Netherlands, Dutch Culture, Expat Experiences, Family Life and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Living in the Netherlands: The Good, The Bad and The Frustrating.

  1. Gibbie says:

    We moved to NL 14 years ago from the UK being an English family and our children can speak fluent Dutch and English. Your observations are spot on, excellent article. We are sometimes interrupted and directly questioned when in a restaurant being overheard when the kids just switch between English and Dutch with ease. So why are you here? Why the Netherlands? Answer, we just make a living in NL that is it, and if we were not so polite, we would add we would not shed one tear if we had to leave. Beware coming to NL it is unlikely you will ever feel very welcome and getting anything done is a long arduous journey that requires much lip biting. Consider working for a company that employs a wide mix of cultures otherwise it is possible life will become very dull and mechanical, with change being oh so slow, even when it is blindingly obvious to a blind man, every man and his dog has to be involved in any decision! So if you are a get up and go, let’s make it happen type, you better do it fro 08:30 and finish at 17:00 sharp! Good luck! Or Goed so! Lekker coffee! comes first! When travelling especially to campsites around Europe remember to do the yellow number plate check first before deciding to stay, too much yellow can be overwhelmingly awful!

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  3. Love the honesty. I’m moving to the Netherlands in the next month or two, so trying to cram as much info as possible beforehand!! Thank you 🙂

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  5. I love this list and wholeheartedly agree with you. I just moved to the UK after 4 years in the Netherlands and was (and am still) amazed at how quickly things can be accomplished here compared to there. I sorted an internet connection in under a week, a bank account in a day, and on and on and on. People are soooo nice, cars let you cut in, bus drivers help. BUT, all that said, I miss biking. I miss the support for bikers. I live in Oxford, a bike-friendly town, and am too terrified to bike the few miles to work. So you win some and you lose some. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Cait says:

    I was not aware of the perceived rudeness of the Dutch. I also wasn’t aware of the positives. Thank you, I am now considering visiting the Netherlands at some point.

  7. Dan says:

    Thank you, very enlightening. We are considering the possibility of moving to Netherlands (Young family)

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