What it’s really like to be an expat in the Netherlands: a Twitter thread

What’s it really like to be an expat in the Netherlands? Are you welcomed with open arms to the land of the tall, or shunned for being different?

Despite the Dutch’s typically overwhelmingly liberal and tolerant attitudes (to drugs, sexual orientation, and religion to name a few), attitudes towards foreigners can sometimes leave much to be desired.

With huge amounts of people moving to Holland, life for expats must be pretty good, right? Well, maybe not. How the Dutch are Different author Ben Coates once caused a Twitter-storm when he answered that question based on his own experiences.

Spoiler alert: he was brave enough. In fact, he unleashed the beast of just what it’s like to live as a foreigner in the Netherlands, from his perspective — as a foreigner living in the Netherlands. Can’t argue with experience, right?

Coates started off with a few compliments. In management speak that’s called a “feedback sandwich.” In normal-talk, we call that “I like you — buuuuuut.”

And here’s the but.

Ouch! That’s a mighty big ‘but’, and we cannot lie. We know that living in the Netherlands isn’t all tulips, bikes and sunshine (the last one for sure), but Coates does bring up a pretty solid point about how the Dutch act:

Wait a second, this is a white male criticising his host country that he’s so fortunate to live in! Get out the pitchforks, the permanent markers and the angry…oh, he knows it. Good on ya Ben!

Keyboard warriors are the worst. There’s something about hiding behind the mass of technology that is the internet that lets people think they can say whatever they want — with no consequences.

He’s definitely got a point. Without going into the expat versus immigrant debate (because that’s a whole other can of worms), we already know that Dutch directness can get pretty unpleasant sometimes.

For Coates, a recognised expert on living in the Netherlands as a foreigner, he says the attackers are not limited to a minority, which is particularly concerning.

According to Coates, Dutchies tend to measure the behaviour of all foreigners by the actions of just a few. Coates argues that most expats in the Netherlands actually do attempt to integrate themselves into Dutch culture.

Obviously, as a bunch of expats running a website targeted towards expats we could be a little biased in supporting Coates — but, we think he does make a valid point.

So did he unleash the full dragon of Dutch Directness? Or did Dutchie’s come to him with open arms, tears in their eyes, and say “Het spijt me”? Well, a lot of both to be honest.

On the one hand, quite a few Dutchies and ex-pats came out of the woodwork to agree with Coates. It opened up lines of communication, and a lot of Dutchie’s actually came out in support of Coates.

Some other expats also joined in with some examples of xenophobia they experienced while living in the Netherlands.

But, this is Twitter, and of course, some Dutchie’s didn’t quite agree with Coates’s thoughts on his new country.

And, of course some people took it a little too far (although perhaps helped prove Coates’s point along the way? (P.S. Language warning for the screenshots in the following Tweet)

As expats, it’s always concerning for us to hear that our own are being mistreated; and we’ve been subjected to the wrath of Dutch directness once or twice before.

What’s it really like to be an expat in the Netherlands? We’ve asked our readers

We opened up the question to our own Facebook group (get over here and join if you haven’t already!) and thankfully none of our members had experienced much hate.

“They treat me like one of their own,” said Marie, who says she’s made herself at home in the Netherlands. “Frustrations? When they hear a *hint* of an accent they switch to English. This happens me less where I live and more in De Randstad.”

Switching to English is one of the more common woes among group members. However, many reported only good things.

“I love it. Feels like home most of the days,” said Liana. “Dutch people: super sweet, honest and kind. They are the best.”

Whew! While Ben Coates’s experiences are certainly not limited just to him, it’s a relief to know that it’s primarily keyboard warriors who are giving the Dutch a bad name.

What have been your experiences of living in the Netherlands as an expat? Have you found Dutch people to be welcoming, or downright standoffish? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below! 

Feature Image: Ben Coates/Twitter
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in December 2019, and was fully updated in November 2020 for your reading pleasure. 




Avatar
Samantha Dixon
Sam isn’t great at being Dutch. Originally hailing from Australia, she came to study in the Netherlands without knowing where the country was on a map. She once accidentally ordered the entire ice-cream menu at Smullers. She still can’t jump on the back of a moving bike. But, she remains fascinated by the tiny land of tall people.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Being Canadian and living in the Netherlands for the past 36 years. In general the dutch people are friendly enough indeed but one does remain a foreigner. Considering i ‘m from an immigration country it has made it easier for me to adapt to the dutch society. Of course you also have people that are less tolerant but again these types you’ve in every country. Keeping in mind the Netherlands thanks Canada every year by sending tulips to Canada for Canada’s involvement in 2 world wars liberating the Netherlands. Again stressing i ‘m Canadian when it comes to being discriminated I don’t let it bother me when dealing with such people. In all it does remain difficult when living abroad but one must make the most of it. Dutch people are friendly indeed but i do find it difficult in becoming friends with them due to the fact they in most cases remain at a distance.

  2. True that Dutch people are direct and I do prefer that than being a hypocrite which I experienced in other European countries. In Netherlands there’s way more respect to foreigners and human differences than any other European country. I live in Amsterdam for five years now and I’m thankful for this life. I have decided to wear hijab without suffering any consequences; if I was in Spain or France then I would have lost my job immediately as there’s an anti-Islam reaction. What was funny is the reaction of Dutch when seeing me for the first time with hijab was “you look beautiful” or “you look different”; the most of non-Dutch reaction was “did you get married?” or “where’s the ring?”. Incredible right! They assume that a woman is forced to wear hijab and she cannot decide to wear hijab on herself when Dutch didn’t question that as they believe that every woman in this country is free.
    Funny from Mr. Coats that’s he is splitting between foreigners, if you’re Muslims then the label is “immigrants” if you’re not then you’re an “expat”. Depending on your religion you will be part of the elite foreigners or downgraded; isn’t this a pure racism!?

  3. I live in Maastricht, so maybe I have a different experiance as those who live in the north. Limburg is different. The Limburger is not so direct. My advice, dont have long toes. (lange tenen). Learn the language, and if possible, the dialect. And remember, it is worse in the UK.

  4. Having read this article. My experience isn’t that different, being a Dutch woman in the UK. I think these sentiments are the same for every expat/immigrant, as a group you have been given the honour to be responsible for all that isn’t going according to plan for some, but they don’t mean to offend you personally.

  5. Well Samm, this is like touching the opened wound. Because right now UK is leaving Europe and i’m a Spaniard living in Liverpool.
    So also there are perceptible xenophobia here.
    A don’t live here for so long but the people which came to Liverpool earlier told me it’s getting worse after Brexit.
    But backing to chat about Netherlands, then I’m not afraid if not everyone is the utmost welcoming. Like Spain they still are Europe and their currency still is Euro!
    I hope it helped, thank you!

  6. ”As a French woman married to a Dutch man, I couldn’t agree more. Some people even told my husband, in front of me, that there are too many people coming to live in the Netherlands”

    But what did they say when they picked themselves off the floor?

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