Having lived in the Netherlands as an Indian for the last two years, I am at that awkward phase of expatriation where I feel like a fish out of water everywhere.
I have picked up on things here, like being as straightforward as possible; but still stayed true to where I come from, like having a steaming cup of masala chai almost every day.
Living in the Netherlands hasn’t been the smoothest mostly because of culture shocks of just how expensive it is here, and the sun constantly playing hide-and-seek with you.
So here’s a list of things I wish I knew before I moved to this flat land of cheese!
Dutch directness is refreshing
Let’s start with one positive. I mean it and seriously, so! Imagine knowing where exactly you stand with a person, knowing exactly what they want, and knowing that you can actually trust what they’re saying without having to take their intentions into account!
Coming from India, where being overly polite goes a long way, this was one of the most refreshing things for me to experience.
Having always been described as straightforward, I had a rude awakening about how untrue it is when it came to talking to Dutch people. Confrontation, on the other hand, is a whole other story.
Dutch weather: the original 50 Shades of Grey
When I say that the sun plays hide-and-seek with you, it does not take into account the number of days it was freezing cold even when the sun was out.
The sun is like that flakey friend of yours who always cancels on you, but when you eventually get around to hanging out together, you end up having the best time.
On some days, the sun is out only for aesthetic purposes to get that perfect ‘gram.
To say Dutch weather is shitty does not do justice to the kind of winter blues you might feel here. Even if you’ve gotten used to the lifestyle, I still get tired of putting on layers upon layers just to go out for groceries.
I don’t want to give you the age-old advice of “you need to stay active! You shouldn’t let temperatures that stop you from feeling your face get you down!”.
It is good advice, but I am going to do you one better. Here is some practical advice for you so that it’s easier for you to actually stay active:
- Have a hot drink beforehand or get one on the go. This will warm your body from the inside, and honestly, it’s like a warm hug in a cup. BUT invest in a flask because the Earth is dying, people.
- Know where you’re going, and get there faster. Remember, you don’t want to take a contemplative stroll; you want to get out of the cold faster. Walking fast, or any physical activity will increase blood circulation, and will definitely make you feel warmer.
- If you don’t know where you’re going, and you have to use Google Maps to navigate, then you can download the route indoors, and use it offline. Just turn on the navigation, put on your earphones, and listen to what the voice is telling you. Google is your friend; don’t be afraid to use it.
Indian food is not easy to make
And also, I’m terrible at cooking. Cooking is a useful skill to have for anybody. The countless hours I have spent with my mum on the other line, telling me what exactly I need to do to get that smell in my kitchen to smell like something actually cooking.
Being an Indian, and not having the patience to cook when I live abroad did not help at all. Indian cuisine is expensive, and usually not at all what you’d like it to be (putting copious amounts of chilli in a dish does not make it Indian).
Yes Amma, if you’re reading this, I miss your cooking. Living in the Netherlands as an Indian is hard.
Of course, this gave me the opportunity to explore other cuisines, but one can eat out only so many times without it putting a hole in your pocket, and screwing up your health.
Makes it harder when you prefer vegetarian food or if you don’t particularly like cheese or bread. Yes, I’m one of those people who can tolerate pizza only in small doses.
So get your mum/brother/ex-boss on the phone! Get your recipes together and get cooking, good lookin’ (and then send me some food because I really do hate cooking).
Try not to convert to your home currency
Especially if you don’t come from a first world country! Completely block that currency converter on your phone, because all that it’ll bring you is stress, stress, and even more stress.
I know not thinking about money is a luxury that not everyone has the privilege of doing. At one point, I cut down on socialising altogether because I always felt like I was spending way too much money. Going out with friends felt like a luxury I couldn’t afford.
The Netherlands is an expensive country, but there are ways for you to enjoy living here. What helped me a lot was learning how to cook, to shop the discounts, and really cut down on unnecessary expenditure.
Invite friends home for dinner instead of eating out, and go Dutch! Cook something from your country because everyone loves trying food from around the world.
Learn how to bike for your daily commute and don’t hesitate to put on your walking shoes when you are too afraid of Dutch bike traffic.
You don’t even have to spend money every time you go out: be a nerd, grab a book or your laptop and find a library! They are the last public places where you can actually spend hours, without being expected to spend money.
I come from a semi-privileged background, so my tips may not be helpful for everybody. So, if you have any other tips, let me know. Seriously. I’m still learning to live a frugal life, and it doesn’t always go well.
Become a master at time management
This one is paramount because being late does not bode well here at all. There are two kinds of Indians in my experience: the ones who arrive half an hour early, and the ones who arrive half an hour late.
Yes, not all Indians are late. I kid you not, my parents arrived at the airport almost 5 hours in advance for an international flight!
When you come from a country where you go to the bus stop and hope that the bus you have to catch comes in half an hour tops (because the public transport people care about the schedule less than you), you tend to start seeing time for what it really is: a social construct which doesn’t have to be taken seriously.
Or the opposite is true: it’s a social construct that has to be taken a little too seriously. This is something you will learn when living in the Netherlands as an Indian.
But the point is, when everything around you works like time management actually matters, you should probably find a way to adapt. I mean, haven’t you heard about the infamous Dutch agendas?
So, remember that most of the time, when it’s not a social appointment and when someone says you need to be somewhere at 9:05 am, they mean that to the minute! Alright, not to the minute. You can arrive at 9:01 am and they won’t mind.
I could go on and on about this because there’s just so much to talk about! I haven’t even touched on discrimination. But I should stop now and ask about you.
Are you living in the Netherlands as an Indian? How are you dealing with your choice to move here?
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in February 2019 and has been updated in March 2022 for your reading pleasure.