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

bitterballen

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.

2Language

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.’ 😉

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3Traditions and culture

Image: Flickr/Tom Jutte

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

Hiking in the Netherlands
Image: Carmen Monge

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? 😉

 

6Travel

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!

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Feature Image: David Mark/Pixabay

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.

29 COMMENTS

  1. I also came to the Netherlands for 3 months in the Spring of 2016, and that’s when I decided that I want to make this my home country! I officially moved here three months ago, but have been coming to NL for loooong visits before my residency got approved in September.
    For me, two things stand out so far:
    1. The fact that as a child, I didn’t even know that a country called ‘The Netherlands’ existed!
    And then all of a sudden, for two years, it became the obsession of my life. Just the quaintness of the country, and the fact that systems here work much, much, MUCH better than in my country.

    2. When I heard my first Dutch word when I was visiting Amsterdam in 2014, I almost SWORE against the sound of language – like WTF is that sound you just made with your throat!?
    But now I am pretty fluent in the language, I understand everything my Dutch family-in-Law says now so I’m no longer left out of conversations (which has both its ups and downs, ha!)

    But yeah! Those are my two highlights that I could type out for now, but there are surely maaaaany more for me concerning my living in this little country below sea level!
    Thanks for your post by the way,

    Vriendelijke groetjes!

  2. Thanks for sharing!
    I believe the impact depends on different factors such as the time lived in Holland, circumstances, age, own origin and own culture, etc. I lived there 13 years. First two years as a student were not easy. Then I adapted and lived it fully. My years in Holland have absolutely been a gem. I will list the impact (in points) Holland has had on me or others close to me:

    1. It strips you off complexes, if you wish to survive the culture shock and differences and participate in the Dutch living. Adaptation to the Dutch culture trains and stregthens you. It transforms you.
    2.You learn to be assertive and love yourself more. You realize that politness can sometimes foster lack of courage and the Dutch environment pushes you to adjust your approach. You learn to say “No” without fear of social norms and take “No” for an answer without being affected emotionally. You learn to accept differences in opinions and not take expressions of opinions personally.
    3. You learn to dissagree with what you do not appreciate and express it defending your views with arguments rather than emotions. You learn to dissagree or participate in a debate focussing on the issue and not on oneself.
    4. For better or worse you learn to love rules or structure even though it is often said “Nieks moet” (= nothing is a “must do”).
    5. You learn to appreciate the sun more. You learn to not allow the rain be an obstancle in your daily life or love of life and what it has to offer.
    6. Life for some begins at 30, for others at 40. You learn to appreciate life as it is.
    7. You learn to get to know people by sharing a meal together. And you learn to do the same quite soon. In many cultures people do not invited to their home unless they know you well. In Holland you are invited to their house for a (simple) meal precisely because they would like to get to know you better. This is not about the food, it is not to celebrate the food or to celebrate you. This is a time to socialize over a meal cooked for you.
    8. You learn to love living and quality of life. In spite of wealth and consumption the society gives importance to enjoyment that goes beyond consumerism/materialism.
    9. Happiness and strength is often sought within. (You learn exactly that soft drugs are not the answer, as often is believed about Holland due to the reputation re. coffeeshops. The majority of who I have met that consume soft drugs are not Dutch. This is not coincidental.)
    10. It gives you a great opportunity to know other cultures besides the Dutch culture. You can have a great expat life or local life. Particularly the bigger cities offer more of this. The Dutch usually like to explore. You have an opportunity to learn and share.

    These are but a few ways life in Holland can impact one’s life.

    • Wow, that’s sooo good written, I can sign under. I’m here for 2 years now and I’m finally starting to appreciate it, after I’ve been “transformed” under all of the above stated factors. ☺️

  3. […] Shockingly, some people actually leave this little gem of a country. Once you have left there are certain things you will see, do or eat that will flood you with nostalgia for the land of stroopwafel and windmills. It makes you think that leaving the Netherlands should never be an options. Here’s just 5 of the millions of reasons you’ll miss living in the Netherlands. […]

  4. Trust me. I’m Dutch. Born here in 1989. And no one is living in this dream world ur seeing cause ur making it out to be like a movie. Which is complete BS. People here don’t get payed enough. Young people with zero background tends to get twice as much salary as those knowing what there doing working in that field all there Life to contribute. Just so they can get kicked out or make half the $$$ of a 20 years old idiot with zero experience. I can go on and on what isnt fair about this corrupt country of ours. It’s SUPER corrupt. But yeah, keep celebrating ur ignorance 😉

  5. While I do agree that the majority of people here don’t get paid enough, I do not agree that jobs are taken by young people. As a person who just came out of uni and in my mid-twenties, I can tell you that finding a job has been a nightmare. Most entry level position require a minimum of 3 years WORKING experience (because some companies do not consider internships work) and most of the time those entry level position jobs are taken up by people who are over qualified. This leaves young people like me in a very tough position where it is practically impossible to match the employers requirements.

  6. I was just looking for information about the language, law, culture in the Netherlands. Thank you very much, very interesting and necessary article for me.

  7. As a foreigner you tend to see mainly the brightside.
    I had to move from the Netherlands to the UK at the ripe age of 49 simply because the excellent dutch social security system meant i could not get a job in spite of 5 languages and lots of customer service experience offer.
    It meant i would be too fear or so they said
    I did so because it was a bonus that i was going to live in the most beautiful country in the world
    Scotland. Wages are low, social security hardly exists but never without a job because of being multilingual.
    I would dread returning to the Netherlands. Too different, as small as Madurodam and very expensive in every way

  8. I came to the Netherlands two years ago as a contract worker from the UK and stayed , Im 55 years old , not been easy but shoudnt be , If life is what you make it then Ill make it Orange!

  9. Moved here from Australia 3.5 yers ago after meeting my now wife whom i met in aust when she was there on holiday i am now retired so moving was not such a major problem
    I love the traditions here sinterclass ,zwarte Pete , Christmas , New Years celebrations with carbide shooting and fireworks here are great i hope they never loose any Of these traditions
    Everyone here has a birthday party gebak coffee then beer or borrel a spirit drink geneever with hapjes , a plate with bits of cheese meat gherkins and other small treats on it ,to cut it short you are always eating drinking celebrating someone’s birthday this gets a little tiring sometimes as you might have 3 or 4 in the week but no you cant miss any of them
    It is all great fun but sometimes a bit over the top maybe in time i will get used to it , i will keep practising , overall it is a great place to live with friendly people and so many really good traditions
    Cheers

  10. I read this and well… I have been thinking about moving there, it is more of a love situation. My problem is, I don’t know where to look for a job!!! I work at an NGO here in Mexico (I am also French, so I dont worry about Visa), but I really don’t know where to look, can somebody help me? I am trying to study a Masters, but it is super expensive. I am also a certified Spanish teacher, that I could do!!! Does anyone know where I can start looking? I also wanted to open an online shop for Mexican handcrafts, please say that might work! Any help is pretty much welcomed!!!

  11. I read this and well… I have been thinking about moving there, it is more of a love situation. My problem is, I don’t know where to look for a job!!! I work at an NGO here in Mexico (I am also French, so I dont worry about Visa), but I really don’t know where to look, can somebody help me? I am trying to study a Masters, but it is super expensive. I am also a certified Spanish teacher, that I could do!!! Does anyone know where I can start looking? I also wanted to open an online shop for Mexican handcrafts, please say that might work! Any help is pretty much welcome!!!

  12. Well I was excited about the Netherlands and living there. Learning my Dutch was a little slow because my friend spoke English to me and that was our home language, although I could read dutch fairly easy. I got residency in February. I have P.T.S.D. and disabled from past tragedies in my life and wanted a quiet place to live. The Netherlands was just that,quiet and laid back, but not a place to move to with P.T.S.D. The law here does nothing to protect it’s citizens. A peeping tom on a second story apartment…so what was the reply. A man (stranger to me) attacked me with a huge thick board, in America would be attempted murder, was called mishandling. I had to have 2 surgeries and replace a perfectly good pair of glasses that was smashed off my face. The man got 100 hours community service and they thought that was a stiff sentence, not even a slap on the wrist, never even a night in jail. So, I was assaulted and had to pay for new glasses and suffer almost a year, I do not feel safe in Netherlands, and am trying to get me and my things back to America where at least people are punished for crimes.

  13. I am emigrant during 20 years. The first country was Portugal (till today it is a part of my heart ) The second one was England. I can’t say nothing bad about this country, but the weather is little bit complicated. If you emigrate into this country you have lot facilities to start your life in England. ( You don’t feel the inequality very much information for the family . If you don’t speak English they have a translator. In any government agency.) In the final the third one is Nederlands . The most buitiful country I have never seen .In this country, everything is well thought out. People in this country are very hardworking.Compared to England there is little information for immigrants.Well, in my opinion, the Netherlands is the best country for immigration.

  14. I like your post, there is one thing that bugs me though and that is describing Sinterklaas as part of the Christmas period. It is not, it is a completely different and independent holiday.

    The fact that people give gifts at Sinterklaas in the Netherlands while in other countries it is more common to do this at Christmas, does not make Sinterklaas a Christmas holiday. You also would not describe Christmas as an extension of the Saint Nicholas holiday, so why do it the other way around?

  15. If you don’t feel like talking about the discussion then don’t include it. Don’t include a picture off ZP just talk about Sinterklaas because that’s what it’s mainly about.
    And please for other people reading this. Do your own research and don’t make a decision based off this weird rose collored review off the Netherlands please.

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