I honestly can’t remember what it felt like to not know anything about the Netherlands. There are certain aspects of the country that are completely unique, and only something you can truly understand if you have experienced it for yourself.
This article is mainly for you lot out there who decided to move to the Netherlands from your home country. However, I bet you fellow Dutchies can relate if you’ve stayed or moved away and miss it!
So let’s get to it.
1 Delicious snacks, yet a healthy lifestyle
The second I arrived in the Netherlands it was immediately noticeable to me that almost everybody is in shape! My first thoughts were ‘well everything must be healthy.’ How wrong was I. Stroopwafels, bitterballen, frites en fritessaus, kibbeling (I know, I know, it’s fish, but it’s battered!), FEBO vending machine food like croquettes, cheese, appeltart, poffertjes, hagelslag (because why not eat that in the morning). Then, of course, there are the amazing Christmas/New Year snacks, like oliebollen, chocoladeletters, speculaas, kruidnoten…I could go on and on. I’m not going to pretend I haven’t binged on any of these. My partner and I must have eaten about 20 chocoladeletters between us since they started selling them, just because we can.
So what’s the best way to combat all of that? Biking! The Dutch do it so well. The bike lanes make it so much safer and easier to cycle to places – unlike places like London (which frankly can be dangerous as hell). It makes you get out by either cycling or walking to work, or to the shops. Even for no reason at all, other than just enjoyment.
Admittedly I had not owned a bike for about a decade before I moved to the Netherlands. I’ve somehow managed to cling to my very first bike I bought here, which will be two years next spring (someone please tell me how it hasn’t been stolen yet?!). It’s honestly one of the most refreshing things about the Netherlands and the best way to experience the country.
Immersing yourself in a different language is an experience in itself. This is especially true if you’re trying to learn Dutch. It honestly took me months just to master the ‘chhhhhh’ sound, like clearing your throat, as I’d never had to do it before. That is unless you’re moving to Amsterdam, starting your life there, in which case you might find more people speaking English (or Dutch friendly enough to speak in English).
Going to a shop was scary at first, not knowing what the labels said and having no idea what the shop assistant is asking you. It’s really rewarding when you finally get your head around some of it. Just make sure you master ‘sorry, ik spreek geen Nederlands.’ 😉
Liking this article? Be sure to follow DutchReview on Facebook! Or subscribe to our Youtube or Instagram account!
3Traditions and culture
Depending on where you have lived in the world, in my experience, some traditions surprised me. One was what happens over the Christmas period. Forgive me for my ignorance, but I assumed that most of Europe celebrated the Christmas period exactly the same. I had never heard of Sinterklaas before moving here.
In the UK, the only big day is Christmas day itself, and nothing really happens until then. Cities put up the Christmas lights and it’s usually a huge event with a countdown and a famous person turning them on. The tree goes up 12 days before and then down 12 days after Christmas day. ‘Father Christmas’ comes on Christmas Eve night with his Reindeer’s pulling his Sleigh all the way from Lapland. Both the gift-giving and celebration all occurs the next day on the 25th. I remember my mother wondering why I bought presents so early and I told her it’s better because of Sinterklaas deals. She responded with ‘what?’
For those of you who may be reading this with the intention of moving here and have no idea what I’m talking about – in short: Sinterklaas arrives in the Netherlands by steamboat in mid-November from Spain (this year, it’s at Apeldoorn). He arrives with his Zwarte Piet assistants (yes, the heavily debated tradition, let’s not go there today). But this year, that will not be the same. From there, he travels around Dutch cities on (usually) his white horse. The official Sinterklaas celebration is then on either the night of December 5 to the day of December 6. Christmas day itself is still celebrated, but it’s just not the main gift-giving occasion.
Why is this cool? For me, it’s because celebrations start early and that hypes me for Christmas day. Also because it involves all the delicious food that I never would have had before, if I had never lived here. It’s all a much better way of doing things as the Christmas day itself isn’t ALL about the gifts, which I think can sometimes happen in other countries. Who can complain at a longer festive period?
4The great outdoors
I honestly don’t know what I’d take photos of if I didn’t live in the Netherlands. The Netherlands is a very picturesque country. Even if you have never lived here, you only have to log on to Instagram to see how many people are posting about it. Whether it’s walking along the canals of most of the Dutch cities, like Amsterdam, or biking through the tulip fields in spring, there is always something nice to look at. Then, when visiting cities like Rotterdam and Eindhoven, you get an appreciation for architecture and modern living if that’s your thing. In general, it’s just a beautiful place to be.
5Law and work
Apart from living in the Netherlands, working can also be different. People tend to work less hours (Brits are workaholics), and value home time as much as work time. The pay and therefore the standard of living tends to be better. People in the Netherlands overall tend to be happier. Especially Dutch children, as in 2013 UNICEF found that Dutch children were the happiest in the world! You can’t argue with that.
Another difference (depending on where you are in the world), is law. As we all know, Cannabis is decriminalized. Why is this a big deal? Well especially if you’re an international, it’s always super interesting to see how things work in different societies. It makes you either a lot more open-minded as a person, or gives you another view on how different countries do things.
Where I am from, cannabis possession alone can carry a prison sentence. People buy from backstreet dealers, who usually grow their own cannabis in attics. There is an absolute zero tolerance on cannabis and it is even classified as a class B drug (not considered a ‘soft’ drug). What has my experience in the Netherlands taught me? Different drug policies can work – it’s also definitely not without its faults either. It’s great to have knowledge of different ways of living. I’ve written this one here, as it’s something that constantly crops up when I tell people I live in the Netherlands. People also find it really interesting when you talk about it, as more often than not, it’s a very different way of dealing with things than other countries. Knowledge can only be a good thing right? 😉
The Netherlands is a small country, meaning that it is so easy to travel from one side of the country to the other. This means that you can explore every corner of the country within the same day. Say what you will about train prices, but the fact that the ticket cost is the same whether you buy it two months away or 20 minutes away, means that you can travel where you want, when you want and not get caught out with extortionate prices. I’m used to having to book 3 months in advance for a specific time for a single day trip and still paying stupid prices. If you wait until the day, it can set you back hundreds, even if the journey is a couple of hours. It’s definitely not without its faults, but it means that everyone, in general, is a lot more travelled.
Also, being sandwiched between Germany and Belgium, and being within adequate driving distance of France and Luxembourg, it means that if you wanted to go further afield, it’s possible within the same day (but why would you leave the Netherlands anyway? ?)
Are you in love yet?
So, how can I summarise how living in the Netherlands would change your life? You’ll live in a world with delicious Dutch treats, rekindle your love of cycling and the great outdoors. Your camera and phone would go into overdrive at all the beautiful things to capture.
Even more so if you use this to your advantage and travel a lot. You will immerse yourself in traditions that you may have not have known existed. You will experience a country with a different way of doing things, different laws, different work and spending habits – overall, you’ll become more knowledgeable on what works and what doesn’t (who doesn’t love healthy debate)? Trying to get your head (or your tongue) around a new language and trying to work out what everything means. This can sometimes be a pain, especially when you can’t pronounce anything correctly AT ALL, but it is all part of it.
Aren’t we a lucky bunch.
How has living in the Netherlands changed you? Looking forward to your comments!
Hey! Don’t forget to follow DutchReview on Facebook in order to not miss out on any other good stuff!
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in December 2017 and has been updated by Kavana Desai in November 2019 for your reading pleasure.