Before you move to a new country, The Netherlands or otherwise, you are sure to be showered with tips, trick, anecdotes, recommendations and more than a few warnings.
When I announced I was moving to the Netherlands, it went a little something like this:
‘Don’t smoke anything.’ – or the alternative – ‘SMOKE EVERYTHING!’
‘Be careful out there, keep your wits about you! You know it’s a land of vice and sin!’ – said by my dad in a half-joking, half-serious voice.
‘Watch out for the canals, many a fool has fallen right in.’
‘Maybe you’ll get to sail along the canals in a boat?’
Needless to say, not all of these were correct, relevant or necessary. I have seen one windmill in four months, not a single tulip and I have yet to be invited on to a boat. Moreover, my host of advisors managed to leave out some key aspects of life in this sinking land.
1. The Kingdom of the Netherlands
The Kingdom of the Netherlands is the official title given to the sovereign state of the Netherlands, Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten by King Willem-Alexander. A Dutch King, I mean who knew? Likely a great number of people, yet I was not one of them. The King resides in Villa Eikenhorst on the De Horsten estate in . He is mostly a figurehead but he is celebrated in true Dutch* style every April 27 with King’s Day.
*Dutch Style = lots of orange, lots of beer, lots of parties.
2. Checkpoints for bike lights
De Politie occasionally set-up checkpoints to ensure all bikes have lights. And I mean it’s a big deal. It begins with the circulation of the ‘Brace Yourselves Check Points Are Coming’ message, usually via WhatsApp. The next step is to buy some lights as yours are without a doubt broken, out of battery or non-existent. Take yourself to SoLow, Kruidvat, HEMA and Action to find empty shelves where bike lights should be. But fear not, even without a light you can survive the checkpoint. You can, of course, avoid the suspect streets. If that’s not an option though, fear not, I’ve got you covered.
You have three options:
- Hold your phone with a flashlight on as you cycle past the checkpoint. This one works best if you’re cycling alongside bikes WITH lights, you know, safety in numbers and whatnot.
- When you know the checkpoint is coming, hop off your bike and walk. Easy as pie!
- And finally, if worse comes to worst throw yourself – bike and all – to the ground. In the chaos that follows maybe, just maybe, your lack of lights will be forgotten.
3. Red Light Districts
4. Visa and Mastercard? Nee
Visa and Mastercards are, largely, not accepted here. Why in the world not? I’m still reeling from the embarrassment and confusion I experienced during my first several visits to Albert Heijn. Although no card means no drunken contactloos pinnen. And believe me, THAT is a good thing.
5. Dutch staircases
The rest of the world refers to them as ladders. How more folk have not fallen and snapped their necks I do not know!
6. It’s not a party without balloons
Mention the word ‘Netherlands’, anywhere outside of the Netherlands, and those around you will say one or all of the following – ‘Weed!’, ‘Marijuana’, ‘Roll a Joint’, ‘4-20′, ‘Blaze it’. And sure, that’s all cool, but do you know what’s cooler? Balloons. Not just any balloons – balloons filled with nitrous oxide, or, as it is more commonly known, laughing gas. The gas is a depressant type drug which slows the down the brain, leading to feelings of euphoria, difficulty in thinking straight and fits of uncontrollable laughter. In short, one heck of a high, even if it does last only for a few short minutes. You’ll often see lads with a canister, doing laughing gas straight on the street. It won’t last for long, as the government wants to ban laughing gas.
7. Cats, cats and more cats
The Dutch are cat people. Almost as much as they are bike people. Okay, that’s an exaggeration but truly, there are a lot of cats here. The University of Groningen even has its own cat – Professor Doerak. And yes, he has his own Instagram page.
8. So, how’s life in Amsterdam then?
When you tell people you are living in the Netherlands for the first time you will likely tell them the name of the city you will be living in. Let me tell you now that you really should not have bothered. They will continue to assume you live in Amsterdam, or at best that you live very close to Amsterdam.
Dutchies – You Gotta Love ‘em
Anyone can tell you that the Dutch are direct, blunt and cut straight to the point. But few told me about how nice Dutch people are! Waiters and shop assistants are always super friendly and make an effort to chat with customers. And every time the chain has fallen off my bike (many, many times) someone has been willing to help me or offer me a tissue for my oil-stained hands. It warms your heart, which is great considering how cold it can be here!
What have you found since living in the Netherlands for the first time? Let us know in the comments below!
Feature Image: Kirk Fisher/Pixabay
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in January 2019 and has been updated in July 2020 for your reading pleasure.