12 realisations every expat in the Netherlands can relate to

There’s a saying that goes “celebrate the little moments, because one day you’ll look back and realise they were big moments.”

It doesn’t exactly roll of the tongue, and when I first read this quote many moons ago, I rolled my eyes at the tragic “instagramable-ness” of the quote. “People will really try to make a quote out of any obvious sentiment” I thought.

Ironically, since that very first eye-roll, I’ve come to realise how very true that simple thought is. If you don’t take the time to reflect and celebrate the small moments, who will?! Before long when you look back and realise that they were in fact big moments, it’s too late, and the sands of time will continue to run.

My recent ‘small moment’ of significance, is my one year anniversary of landing here in the Netherlands (shout out to the 9th of July!) Hence, I’d like to invite you all, my dear readers, to take a trip with me down memory lane.

In honour of these past 12 months, I’m celebrating by sharing my 12 realisations, opinions, and tidbits about the Netherlands that I have gleaned over my time here.

Cyclists rule the roost

And that’s all there is to it. Most cyclists are impatient, some like to take their time, but all are in it for themselves. It’s just the lay of the land (pun) here in the NL.

Want to test this theory? Walk in front of a cyclist and see what happens. Image: 1681551/Pixabay.

Dutch people like to pretend they are very healthy people

I say pretend because some of their typical foods include: stroopwafels (hello diabetes), gevulde koek (I’m biased, these are just delicious), bitterballen (hello, high cholesterol), frikandel (whatever the hell that is) and kaassouffle (another fave, so no comment) amongst many others.

But, I kid. All that cycling around keeps them fit as paarden!

All Dutch people can speak English

That is something every modern tour-guide, book, person, and website will tell you and it is indeed the truth. What they fail to elaborate on is the fact that “Dunglish” is also spoken by many Dutch people.

For example, a Dutch persons cousin and their niece/nephew is truly only understood if you first get a short family history to understand which relative we are referring to. Neef/niggie means cousin AND niece/nephew, but is fully dependent on context.

A “normal” cup of tea is black

BLACK. That means no milk. It’s the tragedy of a nation that so few Dutchies understand why on earth I would drink milk with my tea — and even fewer Dutchies would ever do so themselves.

Earl Grey tea and hot milk. Is there any greater combination?! I think not, but apparently the Dutch think otherwise.

Going Dutch is the way to go

Love it, hate it, who doesn’t like a good bargain? I have heard some crazy stories of Dutch people being cheap though (like insisting on showering at the gym to save on water costs at home) but the benefits of this phenomenon are also that splitting the bill at a restaurant is a breeze.

Going Dutch is the way to go. Image: Priscilla du Preez/ Unsplash

If you’ve ever had a group dinner you’ll understand why it’s so important that you can pay only for the water and broodje that you had, and your mate Jelle can settle his steak, frites and red wine on his own account.

Never trust apple weather

Ironically, even though I know this, Apple Weather is still the only weather app I have on my phone. Dutch people swear by Buienradar, but based on personal experience this is also not the most reliable (I can practically hear you forming your argument as I type this.)

But here’s my top advice for being fashionable and weather-ready, despite what your choice of app says: just wear whatever, pop on a jacket, and take an umbrella. Rather hot and overdressed than wet and underdressed, right?

Never trust the weather in general

You rise in the morning and see a welcoming, sunny day. Yet what that sunny day will fail to reveal is that its master plan is to pour all afternoon, leaving you stranded at work with no umbrella or jacket because you were gullible and let yourself be lulled into a false sense of security. See #6 regarding all-weather clothing.

Always have an umbrella handy. Image: Ethan Hu/ Unsplash

The Dutch limit overseas vacations to a small number of areas

When you ask Dutchies about their valuable vakantie tijd, the destinations will include Bali, Thailand, South America, and occasionally a bit more Asia (Japan, China, Singapore.) This is a gross generalisation based on a sample of my many Dutch friends, but I don’t think it’s too far from the truth.

Also, the norm here is to take about six weeks of solid vacation time. It’s appealing, but how do you survive the rest of the year without a break? It’s remains a Dutch mystery I suppose.

The Dutch healthcare system leaves a lot to be desired

Am I wrong? Seriously, I want to hear if I am?! I have heard really tough stories from friends who have struggled to see specialists and get adequate medication to alleviate their symptoms.

doctor in the netherlands
Paracetamol is the way to go. Image: Negative Space/Pixabay

For any expat it’s enough to make you take a trip to your birth country for all the procedures and meds you might need — but then you consider how expensive basic insurance here is and you figure you may as well try make the best of what you’ve paid for!

Schiphols bag scanners are the best thing since sliced bread

No jokes. There’s no hassle about trying to fit all of your toiletries into a tiny plastic bag. At Schiphol, I’m just told to “Keep everything in your bag”. Simple pimple. It’s about time the rest of the airports join us in 2019.

Spreek jij Nederlands?

This one is for the expats: When you are coming in or out of the Netherlands and you hand over your residence card at passport control the question they will undoubtedly ask is: “Spreek jij Nederlands?”

It’s like a trick question, a test to see how much you truly deserve that residence card and if you really should be in this country.

The answer to this question is always: “Een beetje, maar ik leer”. Even as my Dutch improves there’s always that split second (okay, multiple split seconds) when I think in English and get too shy to speak Dutch so I just pretend I don’t know.

The strangest Dutch word

Magnetron. It means “microwave”, but sounds like the name of the newest Transformer movie that I’ll be able to catch in my local Pathe next month at the “Unlimited Night” screening.

What realisations did you come to after living in the Netherlands? Let us know in the comments below!

Feature Image: Cornelia Ras/Pexels
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in July 2019, and was fully updated in September 2020 for your reading pleasure. 

Shaakira Vania
20-something year old traveller, coconut lover (Seriously-anything coconut), and Libran. I recently made the cross-continent move to Amsterdam and spend my weekends exploring the country, meeting new people and telling myself I will finish a book every month (a promise I'm yet to keep). If I had to sum myself up in three words they would be: quirky, curious, and meme-lover.


  1. A “magnetron” is the name of the electromagnetic wave generator in a microwave oven. Same word in English.

  2. movie to catch in your local Pathe while all the dutchies make it impossible for you to enjoy the show. That was my first realization…and after more than a year is well confirmed. Dutch have no respect for others at all. Garbage people

    • Sorry to hear you apparently seem to attract disrespectful people. The great majority of Dutch people that I know are actually very respectful. Then again, judging by the tone of your comment, it could be a case of “what goes around, comes around”..
      For your sake, I hope you were wise enough and went back to wherever you came from and no longer feel surrounded by “garbage people”.

  3. The thing with these articles is… usually expats settle in or near Randstad and only get to see the actions,quirks and habits of the people in that area. Not everyone is the same,just like for example,there’s a difference between people from New York or let’s say Dallas. Same goes here,people up north are very different from the one’s down south.
    I guess what I mean to say you ought to travel the whole country and stay a while in every region to make an accurate overall statement about the Dutch in general. Often I really can’t find myself or the people around me in the articles about “The Dutch”

  4. I haven’t had any problems with doctors appointments or medications at all! Not to mention my coverage is much much better here than in the states. Overall to me the healthcare system is much better in NL.

  5. #9 sadly is true. Up until about 2006 we had the most perfect healthcare system, run by the government, but then (I suppose in pursuit of the American system), it became privatized and quality went downhill rapidly from that moment on.
    Prior to 2006, my full insurance would set me back less then €60/month, no waiting lists, practically no own risk fee and just excellent healthcare in every discipline.
    These days, the insurance companies determine literately everything that’s healthcare related and it completely sucks. Their profits run into billions whilst proper healthcare has been completely dismantled.

  6. I’m not an expat but I sure enjoyed this list. Love to see how you expats look at u Dutch people and what is considered weird for you guys.
    Starting to believe that we truly are kinda weird 😀

  7. Your 1000% wrong about the holidays.
    Aruba, Curaçao, New York, Florida, Spain would be #1 and the Dutch Love Canada and the Rocky Mountains.
    I can think of 20 others before any of your list even comes into focus
    Sorry I am not sure who your friends are


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