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!