When I initially sat down to brainstorm for this article, it was quite difficult to think of a topic that had not been discussed by writers before me about integrating into Dutch life.
Every author who writes about Holland talks about the same themes and usually begins by stating that Holland is the land of clogs, tulips, cheese, bicycles, marijuana or something along those lines.
However, it was only after hours of pulling my hair out that I realized that most had forgotten one crucial thing in their articles: to discuss what an immigrant really needs to know once they arrive in The Netherlands.
When I say what they really need to know about integrating into Dutch life, I’m talking about how to integrate as seamlessly as possible into life in the lowlands. While everyone knows the boring facts about obtaining your BSN or finding the best mobile data package, I have compiled a list of the do’s and don’ts to living in Holland and really integrating into Dutch life, this to ensure that your fellow Dutch inhabitants will not be able to tell that you have just stepped off the plane at Schiphol.
The most obvious place to start on our journey to successful integration into Dutch life begins in the first place you find yourself in after the airport: The Train Station.
The train stations in Holland are incredibly scary and if, like me, you come from a country where you miss the train, think “f*ck it” and go to the nearest pub for a pint until the next one comes along, then being in a train station in Holland will probably send you into a stress-induced coma.
The station is a hotpot of lost tourists, time-conscious, working commuters and beautiful blonde-haired creatures, gracefully Olympic sprinting through the station and down the escalator to catch their departing train with a minute to spare. Then… there’s me, one foot below the rest of the Dutch population, squinting at the departure screen, furiously scrolling to find when the next train departs to Amsterdam Centraal, while also weighing up the potential success rate of me obtaining a koekje from the Albert Heijn before catching my train.
However, after several episodes in various train stations across the country, I have finally cracked the code of how to blend into the crowd in the train station and have compiled a simple list of dos and don’ts to ensure that you too can fit into this mystifying maze of excellent time-keeping and public transport in the Netherlands.
1DO purchase an OV Chipkaart and DON’T buy paper tickets
Having an OV Chipkaart is the equivalent of having a backstage pass to the Oscars if you’re a tourist. No longer must you face the embarrassment of carrying around a paper ticket for every journey you embark upon.
Now, you hold the holiest of all grails: For just €7.50, you too can be the owner of such a magical card and can strut into the station, nonchalantly avoiding the pay machines and arrogantly swiping your card at the check-in point without even stopping in your stride (that is until you realize that you have no credit on your card and have to return red-faced to put €20 on your Chipkaart.)
If used correctly, this card will ensure that Dutch people will have a very hard time identifying you as a tourist and if you can manage to find yourself a Dutch friend (with a special discount card that you mere mortals wouldn’t even understand), it will allow you take advantage of a 40% discount on every journey. Ka-CHING!
2DO attempt to board the train as soon as possible and DON’T allow on-board passengers room to disembark
No matter what country you come from, the majority of individuals are brought up to obey certain public transport etiquette such as letting an old person have your seat or thanking the bus driver on your way off the bus.
One such train etiquette for those waiting to board any form of public transport is to allow room for those disembarking the vehicle to safely exit so as to avoid any injuries or potential stampedes. Such etiquette is not the case in Holland and should you stand back to allow your fellow commuters to disembark, you have failed at your attempt at Dutch integration and must return to your home, pack your bags and head for the airport.
No, this rule is one that is not and probably will never be practised in Holland and should you wish to remain living in the Netherlands you must follow these crucial steps to blend in while boarding a train:
- Wrap your belongings as tightly to you as you see the train approaching in the distance.
- Slowly begin taking steps closer to the edge of the platform, linking up with fellow passengers on your left and right to create an impenetrable, compact herd.
- As soon as the train stops, rush with your herd towards the opening door.
- Those in the middle may find themselves obliged to create a small pathway to allow those on the train to get through the masses to the platform, however, should you find yourselves on the side of the herd, feel free to continue to push your way towards the door.
- If you feel that your herd is failing you and not making progress, you can always jump ship to the next entrance and push from the rear.
- Board the train and elbow your way to the nearest free seat in second class.
3DO stare at your fellow passengers and DON’T mind your own business.
Success! You’ve boarded the train and you have now taken your seat along with your fellow peasantry in second class.
Now, to complete the initiation process, you must focus all of your intentions on your fellow passengers. Dutch people on trains have an incredibly annoying habit of staring at anyone who opens a bag of crisps, answers their phone or sneezes and coughs too loudly. To become one of them, you too must stare at these culprits, boring your disapproving, inquisitive eyes into their soul until they are shamed into a cone of silence for their entire journey.
Should you find yourself as the culprit, well, I usually just stare back and wink until they look away.
And there you have it! You’ve done it. You have passed as a Dutchie in the train station and stage one of your integration process is complete.
Are there any do’s and don’ts we missed out on? Let us know in the comments below!
Editor’s note: Last published in September 2015, updated to October 2019 for your reading pleasure.