The expat parent community around Rotterdam and The Hague
The expat parent community in South Holland (Zuid Holland) is vibrant, diverse and supportive, but nothing beats a bit of inside knowledge on the best groups to join and things to do in Rotterdam and The Hague to find your marks as an expat in the Netherlands.
Think South Holland, think edgy Rotterdam. Stately, regal The Hague. Delft, all pretty porcelain and quaint vistas. And student paradise Leiden, of course. They may have different personalities, but South Holland’s cities and towns – home to global HQ’s, world-renowned universities, United Nations agencies and one of the biggest ports on earth – are seriously international. With one in 10 residents being foreign, there’s a huge support network for the expat parent community in South Holland. And lots of things to do in Rotterdam, The Hague, and their neighboring cities: sporting, cultural and social activities, the great outdoors, you name it! What’s more, international schools in the area all offer varied extra-curricular activities to keep your kids well engaged and integrated outside the classroom. Pauline, Digital Marketing Manager at the British School in The Netherlands (BSN), located in The Hague, is a native Rotterdammer. She recommends resident expat families invest time in getting under her home town’s skin to understand what really makes it tick. “Discover the city one area at a time,” she suggests. “Take a walk through Kralingen, Hilligersberg or Karalingse Plas, or discover Kop van Zuid: where high rise buildings stand side-by-side with Hotel New York. That’s where all the emigrants left in the 1940s/50s looking for new lives in the US, Canada and Australia. This connects up to the Deliplein, with its great Fenix Food Factory.”
Here’s our lowdown and tips about South Holland for expat families and their children, from the people who live there.
Join an expat-friendly social club
For expat families in South Holland, it can be tricky (and tiring) to build a social life with kids beyond the daily term-time grind, occasional Saturday birthday bash or playdate/sleepover. And when your teenagers’ best friend and confidante is an electronic device, it’s probably time to join a club.
Forget coffee mornings and origami, though. Think excursions that even your grunting offspring may actively want to participate in.
InTouch hosts expat-focused events in Rotterdam for members, including international food nights, family barbecues and baby/toddler groups. Older expat children with designs on pursuing higher education in The Netherlands may be interested in joining International Students Rotterdam (ISR), which also hosts events. The American Women’s Club of The Hague, the German International Club in the Netherlands (also in The Hague) and the British Club of The Hague, all have kids’ sections. The city’s Spanish-speaking expat community may want to try the Spanish Association of The Hague, which also offers family activities, while The Australia and New Zealand Club has events in The Hague and Rotterdam.
Delft Mama organizes playgroups for young children as well as offering invaluable parenting advice, while expat parents in Wassenaar make a beeline for The Clown Club, a popular international childcare center.
If members’ clubs are not your cup of tea, join a meetup! The Delftians have informal get-togethers, while families with older children might be interested in Expat Republic Rotterdam or the many other Expat Meetups in the city. Leiden Expats, similarly, has events which help expats settle into their surroundings.
International schools offer loads of activities
Pauline says BSN, along with other international schools, offer extracurricular activities for children of all ages.
“Life at BSN is about so much more than our classrooms,” she says of the school, which has four campuses across The Hague.
“Our wide range of clubs, groups and activities – both during and after school – offer students the chance to extend and enrich their interests, as well as provide opportunities for personal development.
“Schools’ extracurricular activities are great for integration, as students mix and form new friendships, in some cases outside their own year group or campus as they learn new skills, or perfect existing ones. The lessons learned through collaboration on after-school projects, hours of dance rehearsal or dedicated sporting practice are invaluable. It is through a full range of clubs, activities and sports that schools help students find their true passions,” she continues. “At the BSN, students, staff and parents are actively encouraged to get involved in co-curricular activities at the school – coaching, advising and passing on their own expertise wherever possible. The busy co-curricular life helps families to integrate with both the school and Dutch local community.”
And it’s not just the kids who benefit from the rich, global-minded environment of their learning institution. Because international schools welcome students from all over the world (BSN has 80 nationalities!), chances are you will come across other families who come from your home country. At the very least you will encounter like-minded expat parents who face the same questions and challenges you do, and that solidarity breeds a powerful community spirit.
Online resources for the expat parent community
Need English language swimming lessons in Delft? Want recommendations on Italian-speaking nannies in Dordrecht? Trying to find a Gaelic football team near Wassenaar? The online expat community in South Holland probably has the answer to all your whos, whats, whens, wheres and whys!
A British mother of twins living in Rotterdam advises: “Join online communities such as Rotterdam Mamas, which is a valuable support network in the city. Also check the Rotterdam UIT agenda for child-friendly events.”
In fact, expat-geared Facebook ‘mama’ groups can be found across South Holland, and are a great way to make friends or find playmates for your little ones.
Rotterdam Expat is a really handy guide to life in The Netherlands in general, while Expats in The Hague is chocked full of useful, up to date information with an active community which shares advice and opinion. Leiden Expats fulfils a similar role.
Official resources: expat centres and children health centres
Recently-arrived expat parents in South Holland may want to head to dedicated ‘expat centers’ across the region. Rotterdam Expat Center, The Hague International Center (which also covers Delft) and Expat Center Leiden are treasure troves of help, advice and listings for expat families in the area. The Rotterdam-based mother adds: “consultatiebureau (children’s health centers) tend to have a lot of information for expat moms, and they should be able to set you up with new contacts.”
Integration: make it a family affair
If the idea of striking out on the family tandem overcomes you with dread and embarrassment, fear not! There are stacks of activities for expat families in South Holland which will keep you sane while preserving your kids’ street cred!
Going to a football match is a rite of passage for many Dutch families (check out this cute video if you need convincing) and can be for expats too. Cheer on one of the local clubs Feyenoord, ADO Den Haag or Excelsior. For the musically-inclined, the Viotta Youth Orchestra Association caters for children and youths of different ages and musical abilities, while budding actors may want to explore Stichting The English Theatre in The Hague, or the International Drama Group of English-Speaking Associates (IDEA) in Dordrecht. SKVR in Rotterdam, meanwhile, offers art courses for children.
In summer, hit one of the many festivals celebrating cultural and ethnic diversity. Try the Feel at Home Fair in The Hague or in Rotterdam De Parade, an open air theatre festival in June which includes special children’s programs – a fun way to learn some Dutch too.
Staying for a short time in the Netherlands: how to feel at home
Those who are coming to the Netherlands for just a few months to a year may have trouble figuring out where to stay, what to do and how to fit in when they get here.
If you’re coming to the Netherlands for work on a short-term assignment, your company may offer guidance with housing, setting up utilities and language classes. Even if you have all that help, short-term expats still need to figure out how to feel at ease. Expatica explains how short-term expats can make the best of their brief time in their temporary home away from home.
Pick your own short-stay apartment in the Netherlands
Most companies that send employees on overseas assignments for a few months provide housing, but it’s often in everyone’s best interest if the employee gets a say in where they are staying — especially if the employee has a family they will temporarily leave behind. If possible, work with your employer to ensure that the short-term apartment rentals from which you can choose are in good, safe locations; are clean and modern; and, perhaps most importantly, are comfortable and welcoming. Soon-to-be expats who have been given the opportunity to find their own short-stay apartment have the chance to truly find a place to call their own. There are a few rental agencies in the Netherlands specialised in short-term rentals that can find you an apartment that’s not only close to your office but close to the expat community — a perfect combination.
Relocate with the things that remind you of home
Even if you are only on assignment for a few months, it’s important to ensure that your short-term rental feels as homey as possible. Bringing every single sweater you own, a couch or a collection of books you definitely will not read just eats up a chunk of the relocation budget with which your employer may have provided you. Instead of hauling all your home goods to the Netherlands, bring only the necessities and the things that remind you most of home: framed photos, a particular scented candle, the drawings your children made you, or the blanket you use when cuddling on the couch with your loved ones. After a long day at a foreign office and without the familiarities of home, these little touches may be just what you need.
Lean on your host sponsor
To ensure the success of short-term international assignments in the Netherlands, companies will often pair up the employee with a locally based sponsor or mentor. Take advantage of this valuable resource: these sponsors are often experienced expats and understand the culture shock and frustrations you may experience — they can help with anything from setting up internet in your short-term rental to navigating the city. Not only can they guide you through the day-to-day formalities of establishing a temporary residence in the Netherlands and getting to know your new colleagues, they can help put you in touch with local clubs, organisations and other opportunities to socialise in your free time. For short-term expats travelling without their families, the host sponsor can be vital to staving off homesickness.
Schedule (virtual) family time
Short-term international work assignments have been rising in popularity, but the cost-savings come at a price: employees with spouses and/or children must be willing to leave their families behind for months at a time. If you’ve never been separated from your family for such a long period of time, it’s important to prepare for it — especially since you’ll be working with a time difference. Schedule regular video chats, especially at important family times such as morning and bedtime. If financially feasible, have your loved ones come to visit for an extended weekend or longer.
Join the expat community
Since you won’t be staying in the Netherlands for a long time, the best chance to make friends is with your fellow expats. Becoming part of the local Dutch community can be difficult, even for long-term expats, so don’t feel discouraged if, after a few weeks, you still can’t say anything beyond “alsjeblieft” to the cashier at the grocery store. Join an expat group in your new city, or find a meetup that hosts gatherings around your favourite hobby. Even if you are missing your family, a few new friends can help make the Netherlands feel a little bit more like home.
Settling into Dutch life: Your first week in the Netherlands
If you’re new to Holland you are most likely wondering how the Dutch people live and approach Dutch life. To help you settle in and adapt to the Dutch way of life, we’ve put together a short guide to cover the basics such as relocating your belongings, health insurance and opening a bank account.
Welcome to the Netherlands! As a new arrival, you are likely to have lots of questions about your decision to emigrate to Holland. Despite being proud of your new expat status, you won’t be alone in wanting to blend in and adapt to the Dutch way of life with little delay. This guide provides brief advice for those who are new to Holland.
Relocating your belongings
Unless you’re moving to the Netherlands from another EU country, you will need to make a declaration at customs for your household effects, although you probably won’t pay tax. Expats may also be exempt from Dutch registration tax and import duties on importing a car. For detailed information on international removals, air and road freight, shipping companies, see reloocation options for moving to the Netherlands. There are strict regulations about bringing a pet to the Netherlands.
Immigration/registration when you are new to Holland
Citizens of EU/EEA countries or Switzerland can live and work in the Netherlands freely but almost everyone else will need a visa and a work permit (including, as from January 2017, Japanese nationals). As from 2017, there are new rules on intra-company transfers. Regardless of your country of origin, you must register in the municipality in which you’ll be living. After registration, you’ll be given a Citizen Service Number (BSN Burgerservicenummer), which you’ll need for tax and social security services. Once you have you BSN you can apply for a DigiD, which will allow you to access government websites, e.g. make hospital appointments and file tax returns. For comprehensive information, see Moving to the Netherlands: Guide to Dutch visas and permits.
Health and social insurance cover when you’re new to Holland
You must take out Dutch healthcare insurance, in order to access the Dutch healthcare system, even if you already have health insurance in your country of origin. If you’re from the EU/EEA/Switzerland, you must do so within four months of registering (see above); if you’re not working, or you’re studying, you can use your European Health Insurance Card. Everyone else must take out Dutch health insurance within four months of receiving their residence permit.
Almost everyone who lives in the Netherlands must also pay into the Dutch social security system and in return can claim various government benefits.
How Dutch people open a bank account
If you’re working in the Netherlands, your employer will pay your salary into a bank account; it’s faster if this is a Dutch bank account. You’ll usually need valid ID, proof of address and your BSN to open a current bank account and in addition, proof of income to open a savings account in the Netherlands.
Paying tax when you have emigrated to Holland
If you’re living or working in the Netherlands, you’re usually classed as a resident tax payer from day one and taxed on assets worldwide. You pay tax to the Tax and Customs Administration Board via your employer and local taxes to your municipality and to the water board. Highly skilled migrants may benefit from the ‘30 percent tax ruling’ (in effect 30 percent of the wage is tax free). If you’re an employee, tax will be deducted from your salary each month but it still might be worth completing a tax return at the beginning of every year in case you are due a tax refund. Find out how in Doing your income tax return in the Netherlands.
Finding employment when you’re new to Holland
Its 2017 5.1 percent unemployment rate is one of the lowest in the EU. You must have your BSN (see above) in order to work in the Netherlands. Unless you’re from an EEA country or Switzerland you don’t need a work permit. Everyone else does. There are plenty of options for finding employment in the Netherlands.
Where do Dutch people live?
Three-quarters of rental accommodation in the Netherlands is rent-controlled social housing but higher earners and expats are unlikely to qualify, so you’re likely to have to rent privately. There’s a shortage of properties just above the rent-controlled level (EUR 710-1000/month) in cities like Amsterdam, so it can be hard to find accomodation. Consider using a certified rental agent; they’re knowledgeable about cities and different neighbourhoods, hear about property before it comes onto the open market, can negotiate contracts and help you with all aspects of the move. As soon as you have an address, you need to inform the municipality.
Setting up utilities and communications
It’s common for utility costs – gas, electricity and water – to be included in monthly rent charges in rented accommodation, with your landlord issuing you with an annual account showing payments and costs. If they are not, or you have bought a property, you can usually transfer them from the previous occupants or get connected through the main providers. The same applies to TV (most of which is cable), internet and telephone. There is no TV licence in The Netherlands.
Enrolling in education when you’re new to Holland
The education system here is likely to differ to that of your home country. You must register your children with the municipality and with a school. Most children start school from the age of four although it’s not compulsory until five and formal structured learning doesn’t start until six. Full time education continues until 16 and at least part-time until 18.
Around the age of 12, children sit an exam (the cito-toets), to determine the type of secondary school they’ll go to: VWO (pre-university education), HAVO-school (higher general secondary education) or VMBO for vocational training – some schools offer all levels. Secondary school places are allocated by ballot so if you’re applying to a popular school, be prepared with a second or even third choice. Once at secondary school, as long as students score an average of six out of ten, they will be awarded a high school diploma and can have a place at a university or other further education.
Certain private and international schools in the Netherlands are subsidised by the Dutch government so might not be as expensive as you might think.
Dutch life: Driving
You must be 18 to drive in The Netherlands. Drivers from EU/EFTA countries can use their own driving licences (although Dutch laws are applicable) for up to 10 years if issued before 19 January 2103 or 15 years if issued after that date. Almost everyone else has to exchange their licence for a Dutch licence within 6 months of taking up residency and carry an international driving licence or permit in the meantime.
Dutch life: Childcare
Childcare in the Netherlands includes public childcare centres, child minders and playgroups but there are often waiting lists, so organise as soon as possible. You may be eligible for childcare benefit for certain registered childcare options.
Arranging insurance when you are new to Holland
The Dutch take out high levels of insurance compared to other countries. In addition to compulsory health insurance and social security, you’re advised to take out contents insurance and if applicable, homeowners/house and car insurance. Many Dutch people also take out liability insurance (e.g. covering you in case you case damage to someone else’s property and legal insurance, giving access to legal advice.
Learn and speak the language like a dutchie (Dutch person)
Although English is widely spoken, learning Dutch will help you feel more at home in the Netherlands, will open up more job opportunities, and will make everyday interactions easier. It could also be fun and a good way to meet people. The Education Executive Agency lends money for lessons, municipalities sometimes run courses and you may be able to go on a course through your employer.
Retirement and pensions
The Netherlands is rated as one of the best places to retire on the Nataxis Global Retirement Index and has one of the best pension systems in the world according to the Mercer’s Global Pensions Index 2016. If you’re living and working in the Netherlands and making Dutch social security contributions, you’ll be eligible for a Dutch pension, supplemented by company/occupational and private pension schemes. You may be able to combine EU/EEA/Swiss state pensions and transfer international pension funds.
Dutch life: Social and cultural life
The famously liberal society, the high quality of living and the fact that many people speak English makes the Netherlands an attractive destination for expats. For a whistle stop introduction to the country, see A brief introduction to the Netherlands.
Don’t mistake the Dutch direct manner of speaking as rudeness – it’s just different to what you may be used to. While people are friendly it can also be slow to form deep friendships – but hang in there. To find out more about the Dutch people and culture, see Guide to the Dutch: society and working culture. Get out there and join in. Check out the Top 10 places to visit in the Netherlands and the Top 10 things to do in Amsterdam. Find out The best places to celebrate Dutch carnival. Discover hidden gems in The Holland Handbook: places undiscovered by the masses. Go to one of the Top Dutch Festivals 2017.
According to a recent Oxfam report, the Netherlands has the most plentiful, nutritious, healthy and affordable food in the world! Start your culinary journey with our Top 19 Dutch foods – with recipes.
The Netherlands is a country of surprises. Check out The best inventions you didn’t know were Dutch and 30 interesting facts about the Netherlands.
Click to the top of our guide to settling into Dutch life: Your first week in the Netherlands.
13 habits you have to lose in the Netherlands
Political correctness and closing the curtains were just two habits American expat Melissa Adams had to lose in the Netherlands.
Living in the Netherlands changes you in the smallest ways. Losing some of your foreign habits will certainly help you integrate better into Dutch culture.
In California, I thought nothing of jumping in my mini-SUV to drive three blocks to the nearest store for something small. Since totalling that vehicle in 2009 (long story), I haven’t driven a car. There’s also no need to drive in Amsterdam, a village built for horses, where bicycles outnumber people. Since the city is flat as a Dutch pannekoken, and parking is pricey as gold, everyone from CEOs to parents, kids and hookers rides a bike, rain or shine – or more likely rain, wind and more rain.
2. Riding an expensive bike
While many Americans spend hundreds if not thousands on bicycles that only leave the garage for weekend recreation, Dutchies commute on ‘beater bikes’ painted in garish colors to make them easier to find in a mile-high stack. Then they lock them up with industrial-size chains that could secure an army tank, although such tactics do little to deter thieves who naturally repaint their ‘new’ rides before selling them on the black market.
Despite their distressed looks, Dutch commuter bikes, omafietsen (grandma bikes) and bakfietsen (cargo bikes) are the epitome of function used for carting kids, groceries, plants and appliances, and often decorated with flowers to liven up their looks.
3. Buying on credit
We Americans pay double digit interest on credit card balances, but Dutchies don’t spend more than they have. Debit cards are widely used and help people live within their means — or until their bank account hits zero. The net benefit is priceless freedom from credit card debt.
4. Political correctness
There’s no PC in the Netherlands, where everyone from the janitor to the CEO can and will criticise you. Dutchies are so direct they can come off as rude. Sufficiently angered, they’ll curse you with a deadly ailment – typhoid, tuberculosis, cholera, small pox, or The Big C. ‘Sterf aan kanker!‘ (Die of cancer!), they’ll shout, swearing by disease like no other nationality.
Yet although their lack of PC may irritate the thin-skinned, no one ever has to guess what a Dutchie is thinking.
Americans are known for leaving generous tips. Since restaurant staff in the US earn below minimum wage, waiters typically ‘brown-nose’ customers to earn a decent wage through tips. Dutch restaurant staff don’t go out of their way to insure prompt service; they’re paid adequately, so customers should be grateful they’re allowed in at all.
6. Assume everyone speaks English
Amsterdammers are among Europe’s most fluent English speakers but the Dutch capital encompasses some 180 nationalities, including many Turkish and Moroccan residents, plus an older population with less polished English skills. In the Netherlands, just as in any foreign country, it’s rude to start blathering away in English before knowing what language your listener understands.
Dutchies are a punctual lot – and they expect the same of you. This became clear to me when a doctor explained ‘you’re sitting in someone else’s chair’ after I arrived 10 minutes late for an appointment.
Agendas are taken seriously in the Netherlands – and displayed prominently in bathrooms, where the inevitable ‘Birthday Calendar’ (De Verjaardagskalender) hangs. Ever frugal and efficient, Dutchies use these perpetual calendars, sans days or years, to avoid purchasing and updating a new one each year. Covertly erasing a few entries from one could wreak havoc in your Dutch friend’s life.
8. Work before play
By Dutch standards, Americans are workaholics who slave 40+ hours, 50 weeks a year to earn two weeks of annual vacation. Europeans average 37.5 hours a week but Dutchies work only an average of 30.6 hours per week, the least in Europe.
Your Dutch date may greet you with the obligatory three kisses on alternating cheeks but don’t expect much romance after that. Plan to split the dinner bill while your sultry eyes compete for attention with the night’s Ajax match. On the upside, Dutchies are typically quite tall and well-built. If you cohabit with one, be sure to document every possession and bank account you have, as without a samenlevingscontract (living-together contract) you might miss more than romance.
Dutchies despise over the top behavior. ‘Doe maar normaal, dan doe je al gek genoeg‘ (Just act normally, that’s crazy enough) they say, reaching back to Calvinist roots that preach lack of flash and fanfare. That mindset evaporates on Koningsdag (King’s Day), when the orange garb appears and everyone in the Netherlands acts as crazy as humanly possible.
11. Closing the curtains
Again, it’s all about Calvinist roots and having nothing to hide. No matter what they’re doing or how intimate, true Dutchies keep the drapes open.
12. Using a dryer
Many people in Europe don’t use a dryer for anything other than hair. Why use a fancy machine that requires expensive electricity when radiators and the wind provide the same function?
13. Owning no winter clothes
In sunny southern California, I owned one light coat that rarely came out of the closet. Given the damp, changeable Dutch climate, my wardrobe now includes an array of winter jackets, scarves, boots and mittens In all weights and colours.
16 traits that make you proudly Dutch
Congratulations – you’re not afraid to give your opinion, nor offended when small children tell you off, and you’d never reject anything free. That’s just the Dutch way and you embrace it.
Every nation has certain ways of doing things, albiet in a generalised, stereotypical way. But some idiosyncrasies deserve embracing and can teach outsiders a new way to do things. Here are 16 signs you were born, raised or lived in the Netherlands – and proud of it.
1. Your pocket diary is amongst your most prized possessions
Planning is key. After all, besides your work, you need to keep track of your fitness schedule, your yoga class, next week’s sale at your favourite store, your best friend’s birthday, that undisturbed evening of ‘quality’ time with your boyfriend, Friday night dinner with your colleagues, your old high school reunion and your weekly vegan meet up. You want to go and have a drink? Sure, I have a spot in my schedule Thursday next week between 5pm and 6pm.
2. You’re not surprised or offended when small children tell you off
Dutch children are encouraged to be self-aware and opinionated from an early age and while opinions in the Netherlands are divided on this particular subject, adults generally listen to good arguments, even if given by a seven year old. And if the adult thinks the child is wrong, he will try to educate the child on the matter rather than tell him off.
3. While you don’t want to downplay the importance of wearing a bicycle helmet in other countries, you would never put one on yourself
You see your bike as a natural extension of yourself. It’s not just your bike, it’s your primary means of transport and without it you are nothing. You commute to work on your bike, you drop your children to school on your bike and you’ve mastered the skill of cycling and texting without causing accidents, while navigating crowded intersections and ‘accidentally’ passing stop signs. Why don’t the Dutch wear helmets?
4. You’re prone to complaining
It doesn’t matter that you live in one of the happiest and richest countries in the world, there’s always something to complain about. If not the weather it’s the health system, the government, that guy next to you in the overcrowded train who came into your personal space and especially all those other people that are always complaining.
5. You don’t feel the urge to make big fashion statements
You prefer the casual look and even on a night out you’re spotted wearing jeans and sneakers. But behind the scenes you’ve made an effort to pick out the exact right combination of jeans, shirt and sneakers, wishing to awe with your nonchalant-but-trendy look.
6. You like to leave your curtains open all the time
You’re not easily shamed and you don’t care if people watch what’s going on in your living room. You have nothing to hide after all, right?
7. When it’s your boyfriend’s birthday, you congratulate his parents
Me: “Congratulations with your son.”
Future mother-in- law: “Congratulations with your boyfriend,” followed by three kisses on the cheek.
And onto the next family member, friend, or acquaintance. You personally congratulate all the guests that have already arrived before you sit down to enjoy the party; that’s just the way Dutch ‘circle parties‘ go.
8. You would never expect your date to pay the full bill
You understand Dutch dating rules – you go Dutch and you share bills. As a student you make a meal with friends and spread all costs of the ingredients evenly, calculated to the last cent. They will call you out if you forget to transfer the money into their account straight away, even if it’s only a euro.
9. You’re not nationalistic – unless you’re watching football
Generally you see yourself as a ‘global citizen’, unless you’re watching the European or World Championships in football, during which even your cousin — who normally dislikes sports — turns into a fanatic supporter screaming and shouting ‘Oranje’. Hup Holland Hup!
10. You never turn down something that’s for free
As a thrifty Dutch, you don’t like to part with money, so nothing cheers you up more than an unexpected discount – except if you can get something for free. The fact that you don’t like mints is irrelevant; you happily walk by that girl who’s freely distributing a new brand of peppermint-flavoured sweets twice to add another bar of ‘happy’ to your day.
11. You’re not afraid to give your opinion, even if it offends others
You wear your heart on your sleeve and you’ve been labelled as ‘rude’ more than once, but you prefer to think of yourself as being ‘direct’ or ‘honest’ and you wish more people would appreciate that. You’re also known to have an opinion on everything — even subjects you hardly know about.
12. You’re proud of the liberal stance the Netherlands takes on smoking marijuana and prostitution
Soft drugs are legal in the Netherlands but you’re not interested in smoking pot yourself and you wouldn’t want to be found dead in the red light district. You’re also aware all that liberality here is a façade, as lately the government has been on a behind-the-scenes quest to close down as many coffee-shops and red-tainted windows as possible.
13. You worship the sun with a passion
Even if it’s only 12 degrees Celsius, at the first sign of sun in March you dig a skirt out of the back of your wardrobe, jump on your bike and meet your girlfriends on a ‘terrasje’ to celebrate the end of winter with as many as glasses of wine you need to make you forget about the goosebumps on your bare, white legs (because in reality it’s still freezing cold).
14. Marriage doesn’t mean much to you but you think everyone should be able to get married
Marriage isn’t seen as a big thing and church weddings are an exception rather than the rule. Marriage is mostly seen as a way to arrange the legal paperwork for a partnership. On the other hand, most of us Dutchies hold the firm belief that everyone has the freedom of choice and lifestyle – as long as they don’t harm anyone else with it – and thus should be able to marry. [Top Dutch facts: the Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalise gay marriage.]
15. You’d rather start an argument than let anyone jump the queue
If it’s your turn, it’s your turn, and you rather start a full blown argument in a crowded shop than allow anyone to jump the queue ahead of you. You know many will try, so you watch everyone like a hawk.
16. Your respect of rules leaves much to be desired
Sure you respect authority and rules, but only if they’re convenient for you. After the smoking ban was introduced, a good portion of all bars kept placing ashtrays on the tables inside, risking high fines with the motto ‘Dat moeten we toch lekker zelf weten’ (It’s our own business and no one else’s).
Ready Steady Go Dutch: The realities of going Dutch
From frugal living to a paracetamol approach to healthcare, expats from the Netherlands talk about the nuances – good and bad – of living a Dutch lifestyle.
Whenever two or more expats and internationals get together, the conversation inevitably turns to the pros and cons of life in the new country. The newest arrival in the group is always full of questions for the old hands.
Attitudes to going Dutch vary widely. Some people find Dutch healthcare cheap and fantastic; others find it expensive and over-reliant on paracetamol. Some people are driven crazy by all the red tape, while those from more bureaucratic countries have no trouble cutting through it all.
As for the benefits? For a Norwegian, it’s the cheese. For a German, it’s the 30 percent tax rule. For a Canadian, it’s living in a less materialistic society. For a Russian, it’s the freedom to express oneself. For many other internationals, it’s the chance to explore a new culture and learn about themselves in turn.
Here are just some anecdotes from Ready Steady Go Dutch about what expats – with varying lengths of experience in the country – would tell the international community about moving to the Netherlands.
Dutch attitudes and social norms
We are used to living with less than we did before – which is a good thing. When I go back to Canada, I am overwhelmed with all of the stuff everyone owns. We have new friends and the Dutch are in many ways more sophisticated than our friends at home. And we have the benefit of bilingual children; we have learned a new language, and a new culture. – Canadian, 10 years in the Netherlands, entrepreneur
The structure, organisation and rules (even if I generally dislike the abundance of rules and regulations), the relaxed people and way of life, have made me calmer and more easy-going. Even if a lot of things – people, practices – still annoy me, I feel I have a lot more peace of mind than I had in my home country. – Borislav, Bulgarian, four years in the Netherlands, office manager
We have come to appreciate the differences between here and the States. Ultimately, the struggles are the same – family, money, politics and religion. – Patti, American, two years in the Netherlands, IT specialist
The worst thing is the changing political landscape, and the increasing antipathy towards foreigners. I don’t look foreign so I escape the worst of it. This country is not as tolerant as the propaganda would have you believe – and in any case who wants to be ‘tolerated’? – New Zealander, 12 years in the Netherlands, digital manager
Dutch approach to healthcare
We went to the doctor with our baby who was totally congested and he suggested we cut an onion in half and put it in her room. – Ozgur, Turkish, relocated from the US two years ago
Get using to being told, “Take a paracetamol and rest”. Do not get upset with this attitude either. It is actually a good way of handling problems most of the time. After all, the Dutch healthcare system works on optimising the average outcome. However, this also means, if you suspect something serious, you should be demanding. I would even advise doing your homework (asking doctors, if you know any, what might be the culprit, and Googling for information). That is because … if you have something unusual, the chances are they will be too late to realise it. There are some horror stories about such cases, so pay attention. – Turkish, eight and a half years in the Netherlands, academic
The Netherlands seems to take the approach of the survival of the fittest. But of course when the situation is indeed serious, the care here is superior. This nation is by far healthier than my own so they must be doing something right. You need to understand that you have a right to a second opinion and no doctor is God, which means that if you need something, you are responsible for asking questions and insisting on being heard. – Russian/Dutch, eight and a half years in the Netherlands, works in industry
It shocked me that I had to ask my doctor for a letter to see a gynaecologist and he could not understand why I wanted to go! My reason was simple, I am a woman, I was used to having my semi-annual checks, just to be sure everything was good! However, I must admit that it has its positive side. While back home I was always happy to get medicines, I am learning to let my body fight viruses on it’s own, so my immune is of course stronger. – Kenyan, five years in the Netherlands
Getting out and about
I had clearly underestimated the cultural differences, which seemed insignificant at first. During the first year, I thought the lack of choice in their supermarkets, their lack of love for the food I am used to, the ‘boring food’, questionable tastes, their lack of politically-oriented conversations, and sometimes their ‘directness’ were annoying. How did I manage? One of my colleagues told me one day that I should stop complaining about all this. That’s what I had indeed been doing for a few months. – French, three years in the Netherlands, policy analyst
I did not want to go out in the rain. A long-time resident expat told me that if I waited for it to stop raining, I would end up housebound so just dress for the weather and go out anyway. I took her advice. – Claire, American, 20 years in the Netherlands, psychologist
Being a person who was always on the move back home, having owned and successfully run my own business, I felt ‘trapped’ in this village with no friends, no work, no family. That was the hardest period of my life. I was like a toddler again, starting all over. – Kenyan, moved to the Netherlands for love five years ago
Een klein beetje! (Just a little bit). A recommendation to fellow expats, or expat-to-be: perfect reason to get encouraged for speaking Dutch is that it’s a language that I believe no one on earth can speak perfectly. So feel free to give it a try and be okay with all the mistakes you make. – Ozgur, Turkish, relocated from the US, two years in the Netherlands
Eat, drink and celebrate like the Dutch
Eating habits may be an issue if you think good food and good wine are important – people here just care less about that. Do not take offence for it though, because they enjoy life as much as you do. Plus you will eventually find nice bakeries, shops, etc., that will help you adjust. – French, three years in the Netherlands, policy analyst
Regarding food: Gezond means healthy but in reality it just means the food is not covered in mayonnaise. – Jess, British, five months in the Netherlands, IT consultant
We mix both traditions. So we give presents at Christmas and Sinterklaas. We cycle and skate a lot. And we cook pancakes for tea regularly and call it Pancake Tuesday or whatever day it happens to be. – Nicola, British-Dutch, 26 years in the Netherlands, journalist
Are the Dutch unfriendly?
How easy is it to make Dutch friends? Don’t expect to be invited to their home, say expats, but once you break the ice you will have a loyal Dutch friend for life.
Expats’ experiences of making friends in the Netherlands vary widely. Some foreigners find it hard to make Dutch friends but almost all say Dutch friends are for life. Some find Dutch directness refreshing, while others struggle to come to terms with culture shock. But does this make the Dutch unfriendly or difficult to get to know? Or is it the fault of foreigners not leaving their expat comfort zone?
Here is a selection of anecdotes from Ready Steady Go Dutch from expats with varying lengths of experience in the country about getting to know the Dutch and making friends in the Netherlands.
Getting to know the Dutch: are they unfriendly?
Most of my friends are expats. It’s difficult to make Dutch friends due to the cultural differences and I discovered that the Dutch do not open themselves easily. Nothing wrong with that, it is just something that we need to respect and consider before saying it out loud. I find the Dutch quite friendly and funny in a party or when having drinks, but don’t expect to be invited to a barbecue at their home. – Fernando, Portuguese, three years in NL, works in IT and guitar player
The people are harder to get to know at first, but once you do, you will have a friend for life. The Dutch are not rude at all. They can seem very direct but this is not out of rudeness. Actually they are some of the nicest, kindest and compassionate people I’ve ever met. But the language can make them seem quite rude sometimes. Roll with it. They have a brilliant sense of humour. – Julian, Australian, three years in the Netherlands, audio-visual industry
The Dutch can sometimes come across as quite cold, although having had time to get to know them, I’d put it down to them being cautious when it comes to friends and relationships. They can also be very, very direct, but that is not always a negative! – British, 24 years in the Netherlands, cross media developer
It is very difficult to leave all of your network and start all over again. This process is not an easy process anywhere, and especially in the Netherlands. It is an individualistic society, rather than the collective one I am used to, which makes it much more difficult to deal with.– Lebanese, four years in the Netherlands, working in IT
Colleagues did not come forward to help us settle in because they did not want to interfere. We would have loved some ‘interference’ to make us feel wanted. – Canadian, 10 years in the Netherlands, entrepreneur
How to make friends in the Netherlands
Trying to find real Dutch friends has proven to be very difficult. There is a huge barrier between work and home, going out for drinks after work with your colleagues seems to only happen once a year, namely the [holiday] ‘party’, which ends at 7pm so no one stays late. Also, things cannot be done spontaneously. The Dutch people I have tried to organise events with will not even consider doing something unless they have been given at least three weeks’ notice. – Victoria, South African, 2.5 years in the Netherlands, financial analyst
Don’t ask if your neighbour wants a cup of tea/coffee, they’ll just say no and still hang around. Just make the cuppa – they won’t refuse. – Nicola, 26 years in the Netherlands, British-Dutch journalist and editor
I no longer have a partner [but] it is easier living with a Dutch person perhaps, as it helps you discover more about the mentality, things to visit, etc., and it’s nice to be around someone who wants to share his culture rather than complain about it with you. – French, three years in the Netherlands, policy analyst
I had clearly underestimated the cultural differences, which seemed insignificant at first. One of my colleagues told me one day that I should stop complaining about all this. That’s what I had indeed been doing for a few months. Her tone helped me realise that instantly. So I tried to figure out how I could get around the issues. Before I knew it, I became almost as direct as them, met some Dutch friends who loved good food as well. I even started to talk about football and began to think it was the French who were annoying for talking about politics all the time without being experts. And I found out there are many, many perks to living in the Netherlands. – French, three years in the Netherlands, policy analyst
Expat clubs can be good but I have seen countless times that they are often groups of people who never integrate. A lot of people I know actually have few or no Dutch friends and are the ones that do a lot of expat activities. I don’t, and most of my friends are Dutch. I think this is key. The couple of people I know who mostly have Dutch friends are also not expat-club people. I would suggest, if you really want to feel and be a part of the place (especially in Amsterdam), then limit any expat exposure, go out to local bars, meet locals, make friends on the street. Yes, you actually can do that in Amsterdam. There are also quite a number of arts and music events that are in English but are not for expats or tourists (as much). Find out the Dutch traditional things to do at certain times of the year too. – Julian, Australian, three years in the Netherlands, audio-visual industry
I have plenty of international friends from previous and current jobs and I try to avoid those who identified themselves too much as expats. Why would you present yourself as an outsider from the very start? I do understand that some people have issues in getting out of their comfort zone, but I find many ‘expats’ too snobby and disconnected from the reality of the country they live in. The expats I hang out with are more citizens of the world than ‘displaced people’ longing for home. There’s so much to do in this country that I seldom get bored and when I do, I book a flight to one of the gazillion destinations connected to Schiphol.” – Fabiana, Italian, works for the EU
A Dutch checklist: 11 signs you’re still acting like a tourist
If you’re still offended by bad customer service and don’t complain about the weather, your warning bells should start ringing.
How can you tell a full-fledged expat apart from a tourist in the Netherlands? This checklist includes the top 11 ways to tell if you’re still a tourist in Amsterdam or have become an integrated Dutch local.
1. You don’t own a bike
In fact, you hate biking, and when you see a parent cycling with a child — or several — connected to a bike like appendages of a sea monster, you think, “How irresponsible. Those parents should be cited for endangering their kids! And they don’t even have helmets!”
The rest of us? We call them the Dutch Super-Parents. There are more bikes in this city than its 800,000 inhabitants, along with a network of paths complete with their own traffic signals. Cycling isn’t just a way to get around, it’s a way of life, and you’ll only understand that once you join in.
2. You don’t know what gezelligheid means
The closest English translation of this uniquely Dutch term is ‘coziness’. It’s the epitome of Dutch culture. Anything that creates a warm, fuzzy feeling — candlelit dinners, homemade biscuits, a cafe full of couches and rugs — could be described as gezellig.
3. You think Heineken is the best local beer
The only people who order this beer are victims of propaganda. There’s nothing wrong with ordering Heineken because it’s the only beer you’ve heard of on the menu, but locals know it’s not the best. Not to mention the Heineken Experience is a tourist trap, absent of any beer brewing, yet complete with lots of advertising and gift shops.
Save your money, find a brown cafe, and try some beers from other breweries you’ve never heard of. If you want a brewery experience, check out Brouwerij ‘t IJ. It’s located in an old windmill in east Amsterdam and has several craft beers on tap and a laid-back atmosphere. Get the sampler.
4. The only museums you’ve been to are the Anne Frank, Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum
By all means, go see these museums but remember Amsterdam has more than 50. If you get tired of the crowds, don’t be afraid to visit the less popular ones. See a full list here.
5. You’re offended by bad customer service
The Dutch are regarded highly for many things — art, cheese, water management — but customer service is not one of them. If you’re a local, you’re used to it. You know how to be direct and persistent about what you want. While waiting in cafes for someone to take your order, you don’t get upset or impatient but instead use the extra time to enjoy your friend’s company and the gezellig atmosphere of Amsterdam. What’s the rush anyway?
6. The only park you’ve been to is Vondelpark
Vondelpark is a wonderful park, but there are several others just as lovely. Oosterpark is generally quieter, with big grassy spaces, ponds and plenty of cafe options in the surrounding neighbourhoods. Less than 10 minutes east via bike from there, you’ll find Flevopark. On warm days, go swimming right off the banks of the Ij River. Then, enjoy the idyllic outdoor seating of the jenever distillery, Distilleerderij ‘t Nieuwe Diep, in the middle of Flevopark. Most likely, there will be no tourists here.
7. You don’t complain about the weather
If you don’t know what to talk about with a local, bring up the weather and watch them come alive with energy. They will have a lot to say. If you’re one of those people who claims to ‘not mind the weather’, you’re probably still a tourist. Just wait until your first winter. Daily rain and wet pants get old fast, and you’ll appreciate the sun like never before.
8. You comment on how steep the stairs are
In the 16th century, Amsterdam houses were taxed based on their width, which caused residents to build tall. Because spaces were so narrow, staircases were steep. These apparent deathtraps don’t even phase the non-tourist. Grab the railing, watch your step and don’t try to descend in the dark unless you have an affinity for body sledding.
9. Your favourite area to party is Leidseplein or Rembrandtplein
If we must sum them up in two words: tourist trash.
There’s nothing wrong with these squares, as long as you have patience for loud drunks, overpriced food and pushy restaurant staff. If you’ve been in Amsterdam long enough, you probably steer clear of these areas. They’re a bit tacky and tiresome for locals but fun if you’re still a tourist.
10. You forget to check in and out on public transportation
Everyone knows that when using public transportation you have to check in and out with your ticket or OV-chip card. If you don’t, your ticket won’t work a second time or EUR 20 will be deducted from your card.
11. You don’t eat herring
Herring is all over the place in Amsterdam and a Dutch specialty. It’s laid in salt for a few days and traditionally eaten by holding it up by the tail and then sliding it into your mouth bite by bite. Lekker? Some people say so.
Okay, so maybe I’m still a tourist too because I haven’t tried it.
Brianna Bemel / Reprinted with permission of Matador Network.
Brianna Bemel is a student of life. She lives with spontaneity but intention, playfulness but compassion, and ambition but flexibility. She is also a writer, photographer, outdoor junkie, traveler and dreamer. Thumbnail credit: Franklin Heijnen
Groups and clubs for expats in the Netherlands
There are groups and clubs covering all interests and nationalities to help expats in the Netherlands meet new people, make friends and settle into Dutch life.
If you are living in the Netherlands, the best way to make new friends is to get out and about. Many clubs and groups exist for expats in the Netherlands, covering a wide range of interests and nationalities.
Besides arranging the practical aspects of moving to the Netherlands, it’s also important to consider the social aspects of your new life. This can help reduce the effects of culture shock and isolation that some expats feel in the first months.
Expat clubs in the Netherlands – by nationality
Australian expats in the Netherlands
• Australians abroad in Holland: www.australiansabroad.com/hollandsite
• Australian and New Zealand Club of the Netherlands: www.anzc.org
French expats in the Netherlands
• Alliance Francaise: www.alliance-francaise.nl
• Amsterdam Accueil: www.amsterdamaccueil.com
• Francais Du Monde – Section Pays-Bas: fdmadfe.nl
Indian expats in the Netherlands
• India in Nederland: www.indiawijzer.nl
• Netherlands-India Assocation (NIA): www.netherlands-india.nu
Irish expats in the Netherlands
• Irish Club: www.irishclub.nl
German expats in the Netherlands
• Deutscher Klub in den Niederlanden: www.deutscherklub.nl
Greek expats in the Netherlands
• Greek community in Amsterdam: www.ellines.nl
Latin American expats in the Netherlands
• CLO Stichting – El Centro Latinoamericano de Orientacion: www.cloeindhoven.nl
New Zealander expats in the Netherlands
• New Zealand’s Global Network: www.keanewzealand.com
Singaporean expats in the Netherlands
• Singapore Netherlands Association: Facebook page | group
Spanish expats in the Netherlands
• La Asociacion Hispanica de La Haya: www.asoha.nl
South African expats in the Netherlands
• The SA Club in the Netherlands: www.southafricanclub.nl
British expats in the Netherlands
• British Society of Amsterdam: www.britsoc.nl
• British Club of The Hague: www.britishclubofthehague.com
• St Andrew’s Society: www.standrews.nl
• GNE (Genootschap Nederland-Engeland): www.nederlandengeland.nl
• Oxford and Cambridge Society of the Netherlands: www.oxbridge-nl.com
Advice and information for expats in the Netherlands
• ACCESS: www.access-nl.org | Helpdesk: 0900 222 2377 (20ct/min) | firstname.lastname@example.org
• Expatriate Archive Centre: www.xpatarchive.com
• Newcomer courses for children: www.hetabc.nl
Birth, babies and toddlers
• Passionate Parenting (information and seminars): www.passionateparenting.nl
• Growing up bilingual: www.growingupbilingual.org
Mothers’ groups in Almere
• ABCDE – Almere Baby Club for Dutch and English: www.abcdeplaygroup.nl
• Baby Sensory Nederland: www.babysensoryalmere.nl
Mothers’ groups in Amsterdam
• Childbirth preparation courses: www.bumpandbeyond.nl
• International playgroup: www.robbeburg.com
• The Playgroup: shop.englishbookshop.nl
• Amsterdam Mamas: www.amsterdam-mamas.nl
• Oya’s Childcare: www.oyas.nl
Mothers’ groups in Delft
• Delft Maternity and Motherhood Assistance: www.delftmama.nl
Mothers’ groups in Den Haag
• Birth preparation/baby massage: www.greatexpectations.nl
• Pre-school (English): www.thewindmill.nl
• International childcare centre: www.commealamaison.nl
Mothers’ groups in Eindhoven
• International play sessions: www.mumsandtoddlers.org
Mothers’ groups in Haarlem
• English Speaking Haarlem contact group: www.esphaarlem.nl
Mothers’ groups in Leiden
• Vogelwijk playgroup: www.homeinleiden.nl
Mothers’ groups in Rotterdam
• English-speaking family contact group: www.intouchexpats.com
Mothers’ groups in Voorhout
• International parent and toddler group: firstfriendsvoorhout.blogspot.nl
Mothers’ groups in Voorschoten
• Play sessions for toddlers: voorschotentoddlers.webs.com
Business and professional clubs in the Netherlands
• Amsterdam American Business Club (AABC): www.aabc.nl
• AEPH (Asociacion Espanola de Profesionales en Holanda): profesionalesholanda.org
• Australian Business in Europe: www.abie-nl.nl
• Connecting Women (The Hague): www.connectingwomen.nl
• European Professional Women’s Network (Amsterdam chapter): www.pwnamsterdam.net
• Junior Chamber International (Amsterdam): www.jciai.nl
• Netherlands British Chamber of Commerce: www.nbcc.co.uk
• Rotary Club Utrecht International: www.ikzie.org
• Society of English-Native-Speaking Editors: www.sense-online.nl
• Toastmasters of the Netherlands: www.toastmasters.nl
Culture, media and theatre for expats in the Netherlands
• Anglo American Theatre Group (Den Haag): www.aatg.nl
• InPlayers (Amsterdam): www.inplayers.org
• STET – Stichting The English Theatre (Den Haag): www.theenglishtheatre.nl
• International Drama Group of English-Speaking Associates (IDEA) (Dordrecht): www.idea-panto.nl
• Reading Circle Eindhoven (RCE) (Eindhoven): www.tcw.nl/rce
• Easylaughs (Amsterdam): www.easylaughs.nl
• Viotta Youth Orchestra Association (Vereniging Viotta Jeugdorkest; for children of all ages to join): www.viotta.nl
Gay and lesbian groups
• COC Amsterdam: www.cocamsterdam.nl
• Gay Amsterdam: www.gayamsterdam.nl
• Gay Tourist Information Centre: www.gaytic.nl
Politics and activist clubs
• Amnesty International: www.amnesty.nl
• Democrats Abroad: www.democratsabroad.nl
• Republicans Abroad: www.republicansabroad.nl
Social groups and clubs for expats in the Netherlands
• Amsterdam Expat Meetup Group: www.meetup.com/amsterdam-expat
• Club of Amsterdam: www.clubofamsterdam.com
• Eindhoven expat group: www.meetup.com/TheHubEindhoven
• English Speaking Haarlem (contact group): www.esphaarlem.nl
• Expatica Date: www.netherlandsdating.expatica.com
• Expats in Amsterdam: www.expats-in-amsterdam.com
• International Almere: www.internationalalmere.com
• Legal Aliens: www.legalaliens.eu
• Leiden Expats: groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Leidenexpats
• Meet in: Amsterdam | Eindhoven | Maastricht
• Rotary Club Utrecht International: www.rotary-utrecht-international.nl
• The Hungry Mind (The Hague): www.thehungrymind.nl
Women’s clubs in the Netherlands
• American Women’s Club of Amsterdam: www.awca.nl
• American Women’s Club of The Hague: www.awcthehague.org
• Connecting Women (The Hague): www.connectingwomen.nl
• International Women’s Club Breda: www.iwcbreda.nl
• International Women’s Club Eindhoven: www.iwce.nl
• International Women’s Club South Limburg: www.iwc-sl.nl
• International Women’s Contact Amsterdam: www.iwcamsterdam.nl
• International Women’s Club Rotterdam: www.iwcrotterdam.com
• International Women’s Contact Utrecht: www.iwcu.nl
• International Women’s Contact The Hague: www.iwcthehague.nl
• Mom2Mom and women’s church groups: www.trinitychurch.nl
• North American Women’s Club of Eindhoven: www.nawceindhoven.com
• Petroleum Wives Club of The Hague: www.pwc-thehague.com
• Pickwick Women’s Club of Rotterdam: iwcr.blogspot.nl
• Women’s Business Initiative: www.womensbusinessinitiative.net
Churches and religious societies
• Christ Church, Amsterdam (international Anglican churches): www.christchurch.nl
Locations: Amsterdam city centre, Amsterdam Zuid, Amsterdam Zuidoost.
• Christ Church, North Holland: www.christchurch-heiloo.nl
• Crossroads International Church: www.xrds.nl
• Expatica’s guide: Religious services in English in the Netherlands
Volunteer groups in the Netherlands
• Serve the city Amsterdam: www.stcamsterdam.nl
• Serve the city Netherlands: www.servethecity.nl
• Volunteer Centre Amsterdam: www.vca.nu
Bitterballenbruid: 15 things I never did until I lived in the Netherlands
After diving head-first into Dutch culture, expat Hayley recounts the Dutch cultural traits she has adopted since moving to the Netherlands.
1. Call people ‘unsavoury things’ (to their face).
“Ja, hoor!” “Nee, hoor!” “Momentje, hoor!” It still makes me chuckle every time.
2. Arrive at a party at 2pm and left at 6pm.
It’s not strange at all to set a time when everyone has to leave your birthday party. (Could it have something to do with the fact that it’s the birthday boy or girl’s job to buy all of the food and drinks for the occasion?)
If you work in an office, you’ll also need to buy cake for the whole workforce.
3. Electrical work.
Most rented Dutch houses/apartments come without light fittings… so you call an electrician, right? Wrong. You save money and risk your life by doing it yourself.
4. Look into other people’s houses.
Curtains are a rarity here, let alone net curtains. Even if there are window coverings, the Dutch are still inclined to open their windows and curtains to the whole world. Nose away!
5. Cycle, everywhere!
Just do it. You can hardly say no with the Dutch variety of bicycles and excellent cycling facilities – not least the cargo bike (bakfiets), where everything from grocercies to children get transported in the front cargo tray.
6. Accept that ice cream topping is a breakfast food.
Hagelslag (chocolate or sugar sprinkles) on bread, normally with lashings of butter, is a healthy start to any day, right? I think I’ll stick to my marmite, thanks!
7. Ate Frikandel.
Never again. Frikandel could be considered the Dutch and Belgian version of a hot dog. It’s a skinless deep-fried sausage, made of chicken, pork and beef.
8. Eat hot food from a vending machine.
The Dutch love all things deep-fried and hate queuing. A chain of fast food restaurants called FEBO solved these two problems in one, with their vending machine walls. More about Dutch deep-fried snacks.
9. Understand the difference between Holland and the Netherlands (but still say Holland).
Hup Holland Hup. Holland actually refers to regions on the west coast of the Netherlands (North and South Holland), while the official name of the country is the Netherlands. But back in the 17th century when these regions were the maritime and economic power provinces, the country became widely known as ‘Holland’ as most of the sailors and ships were coming from here.
10. Call Boxing Day ‘second Christmas Day’ and Easter Monday ‘second Easter Day’.
Why create more words when you can just add a ‘two’ on the end (Tweede Kerstdag and Tweede Paasdag)? One would argue that the Dutch language is super efficient in general, for example, the word for animals is dieren, and pets are huisdieren (house animals).
11. The lekker hand sign.
Pretty much anything can be lekker (delicious, tasty, yummy) but there’s also a funny Dutch hand sign to accompany it: you raise your hand to ear level with your palm open to your face and wave it back and forward a couple of times, while saying the word lekkerrrrrrrrrrr (roll that r!!). So whenever you eat something delicious, do this.
12. Own orange clothing.
Whether it’s King’s Day, football matches, or other sporting events, it’s a must to dress head-to-toe in orange. The sillier the better.
13. ‘Swear’ without getting a bar of soap down my throat.
Here you can say ‘je kunt’ (you can), ‘Kunt u?”‘ (can you? [formal)], and my personal favourite ‘kies mijn kant’ (choose my side) without so much as a bat of the eyelid.
14. Hear swearing on the radio at 9am.
Swearing just doesn’t have the same power here, and even the strongest swearwords are unlikely to cause any offence. Similarly, songs with swearing aren’t ‘bleeped’ out like in the UK: There’s no Cee Lo Green Forget You, instead you get the original version. Same goes for Lily Allen.
Really want to insult a Dutch person? Tell them they have cancer – horrible – but that’s Dutch profanity for you.
15. Have a calendar in my bathroom.
Weird, freaky or just super-sensible? At least, it’s the one place in the house where you have time to sit and do nothing but see whose birthday is coming up. I can go on about bathroom calendars.
What have I missed? Anything else you’ve noticed about the Netherlands you would add to this list?
Reprinted with permission from Bitterballenbruid.
Hayley (aka Bitterballenbruid) is 32 and lives in Hilversum, the Netherlands, with her Dutch husband and their cat called Paris (no, she didn’t name her – long story). Her blog Bitterballenbruid is about living in het Gooi, eating too many bitterballen, getting married in Holland, learning how to be Dutch, and dealing with the language. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter or check out her Instagram.
Finding Dutchland: 7 secrets to befriending Dutch women
If you’re an expat in the Netherlands you may be wondering how to make friends with seemingly aloof Dutch women. This guide explains it all.
Ahh, Dutch women. We have all heard that Dutch women don’t get depressed. They also have the happiest kids in the world. Who wouldn’t want to be friends with these tall, gorgeous, happy, blonde beauties with flawless biking skills?
A common complaint among fellow expats is how difficult it is for them to actually make friends with Dutch people. Expat forums are filled with questions and concerns on just how to infiltrate the local Dutch circles. Sometimes expat women spend their entire stay in the Netherlands not having any real Dutch female friends.
Being a seasoned expat for about six years now, I’ve gained some valuable insight on how to establish real, genuine friendships with these wonderful women. I’ve learned a thing, or two actually, about how not to make friends with them. Some of the mistakes I made are long-lasting and quite irreparable.
However, pure luck and a lot of practice has led me to some of the most wonderful women I’ve ever met. They’ve welcomed me into their country, their home and into their hearts. My Dutch friends even flew all the way to my wedding in San Francisco to celebrate my special day. An invitation to a Dutch bachelorette party and a wedding invitation that includes dinner are signs of a true friendship with a Dutchie.
I’d love to impart my wisdom on other fellow expats on how to make Dutch female friends. I guarantee that it will make your stay in the Netherlands, no matter how short or long, a worthwhile experience.
Here are my 7 fool-proof (Dutch approved) tips on making Dutch female friends:
1. Doe maar gewoon, hoor!
Just be ‘normal’. Being cool, calm, and collected goes a long way with making a good first impression among Dutch women. American enthusiasm should be casually put away until you become better friends.
2. Learn the Dutch language.
We’re in their country and no matter how obscure Dutch is, making a concerted effort to learn the lingua franca of the Netherlands demonstrates your seriousness of acclimating to the country. You can always make the excuse that everyone speaks English so why bother? However, making an effort to learn their language will be considered endearing and thoughtful to a potential new Dutch friend. Dutch can be a challenging language to learn, especially since the Dutch are notorious for switching to English to speed up the flow of the conversation, or to practice their English skills. Be stern. Throw in the words gezellig and lekker for good measure.
3. Develop ninja agenda skills.
If a potential new Dutch friend suggests to meet up for coffee, lunch or dinner date, pretend that you are busy for the next month or so. This will give you coolness points. Having an impeccable, precisely planned-out life is a character trait that many Dutch women pride themselves on. Look at your calendar, and pick a date that is four weeks away.
Insider tip: Once you’re ‘in’, randomly calling on Thursday afternoon to meet up for last minute drinks and or/dinner can give you ‘gezellig‘ points. Some will welcome the spontaneity as a breath of fresh air.
We all know Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither is a true genuine friendship with a Dutchie. Give them time to warm up to you and get to know you. It could take months, or even years. However, once you make a Dutch friend, you’ve more than likely made a friend for life.
Insider tip: The Dutch often are part of various circles of friends. If you can somehow crack the sanctity of the inner circle and one of them vouches for you, you are sure to have at least 10 new Dutch friends. This often happens if you fall in love with a wonderful Dutch guy who happens to also have like-minded lovely Dutch female friends.
5. Do not over-share in the beginning.
American women beware. Our idea of keeping it real by divulging in our innermost secrets and insecurities upon feeling a ‘connection’ with a potential Dutch friend can cause her to run to the nearest polder. Your ‘openness’ may be construed as not having the ability to keep secrets. It may also freak her out by being so candid about your feelings. I learned this the hard way.
6. Do not complain about the Netherlands, the Dutch culture or the people.
A common trait of the Dutch is that they are a very vocal lot with very strong opinions that can be considered as ‘complaining’. You’ll get the seemingly harmless question, “What do you think of this country?”. Let them do the complaining, politely nod your head and smile. Do not fall victim to their self-deprecating humour about their own country and their country(wo)men. If you are an expat experiencing culture shock, reconsider your readiness with making friends with the locals. I have a sneaking suspicion that it may not end well.
7. Do not drop by unannounced (especially during dinner time).
It is considered quite rude to show up to a Dutch friend’s home unannounced. Unexpected visitors during dinner time may find themselves either being sent away, or made to sit in the living room while dinner is being eaten. The Dutch usually do not embrace spontaneity, especially from someone new, in their routine-filled lives. Also, keep in mind that since everything is pretty much carefully planned out, such as the exact grams of meat per person, there is a high probability that there wouldn’t be any food to share anyway. Try not to take it too personally!
Thrown in for good measure: ‘Insider tip’ from a friendly random Dutch woman I met at Kurz hair salon – “If you have your heart set on making friends with real Dutch women, go for the home-run and wear three quarter white leggings. Extra bonus points if you wear it with brown boots.”
Reprinted with permission of Finding Dutchland.
Rina Mae believes being a (expat) mum never goes out of style. Finding Dutchland is a lifestyle blog offering inspirational and educational material for all women, with particular soft spots for expat women, pregnant women and newly minted mums. She’s a San Francisco native, recovering perfectionist, aspiring writer, accidental expat, and proud UC Berkeley alum. She divulges insider survival strategies for living a Dutched reality and surviving mummyhood, offering a daily dose of reassurance, motivation and camaraderie.
Expat life in the Netherlands: You’ve survived, now thrive!
Once you’ve settled in, it’s time to branch out in your new surroundings. Expat Linda A. Janssen offers ten tips to deepen connections and enrich the expat experience in the Netherlands.
Settling into life in a new country requires time and energy. You are often dealing with a different culture, language, and climate while getting accustomed to your new home, job, neighborhood, school and local community. Attention and effort are focused on dealing with mundane issues, learning new things and just trying to survive.
But, at a certain point you will begin to feel more settled. You will no longer think of yourself as having recently arrived. This is a wonderful time to seek out ways to broaden your experiences, become more fully involved in society, and enrich your daily life in the Netherlands. In other words, it’s time to thrive!
Here are ten suggestions on how you might do just that. Regardless of how long you have been in the Netherlands or how long you intend to stay, these tips will help you flourish in your new surroundings.
Learn something new
A great way for expats to experience personal growth, maintain mental acuity and meet others is to take up something new. Learn Dutch or another language. Take an art or wine-tasting class, or a course in writing, quilting or crafting. Start or continue your university education through individual courses or a specific programme of study. Take up a musical instrument. Learn to cook Dutch delicacies or your favourite foreign cuisine. You could do any of these activities elsewhere, but what makes the experience unique is doing them here.
Explore as a local, not a tourist
Expats will certainly want to visit many of the popular places the Dutch are known for. But also try getting to know the Netherlands better by exploring different parts in day trips and short excursions. Don’t just visit those attractions that typically draw the tourist crowds. Deliberately seek out lesser known places and regions which provide more genuine perspectives of Dutch life.
Expand your cultural horizons
Attending a cultural event works wonders for broadening one’s view of society and the world. Visit an art gallery, museum, cultural exhibit or the theatre. Attend a book reading or a band, orchestra or choral concert. Fresh eyes and fresh experiences bring fresh perspectives. Visit Expatica’s What’s on section for a selection of events in the Netherlands.
Celebrate holidays Dutch style
Regardless of how long you’ve been here, you probably have a general sense of the various holidays the Dutch celebrate. Rather than passively observing these holidays, consider participating more actively. Do as the Dutch do. Join in a local yard or street sale of your used goods on Koninginnedag morning. Visit the circus the day after Christmas. Go to an amusement park or furniture shopping on Easter Monday.
Follow an interest and join a local club, whether it’s a photography club, writing group,or wine-tasting group. Sing in a choir or play your favourite instrument in a band. Support an organisation or group whose cause or hobby you share.
Attend services at your preferred house of worship. Join a chess, bridge, mah-jong or scrap-booking club. Get involved, meet new people, enjoy yourself, all with a Dutch twist.
Brush up on Dutch politics, issues, history
Your knowledge of historical events, political concepts and important societal issues in your own country help provide context to current headlines. But that knowledge didn’t simply appear overnight. You learned about these topics bit by bit, over time and in both formal and informal settings. The same holds true for expats in a new country. One of the fastest and easiest ways to feel more connected to Dutch society is to become familiar with this country’s history and current affairs. In addition to radio and televised news programmes, there are many websites, local newspapers and magazines available in English as well as Dutch. Make an effort to learn about what’s going on and why. Seek the views of Dutch neighbours, colleagues and friends. Ask them to help explain issues simply and in their own words.
Forge deeper connections to Dutch society by contributing your time and effort in making life better. Needs are always great and volunteer opportunities abound. Help out at a school, nursing home, food bank, soup kitchen, homeless shelter. Donate your time and skills to a non-profit or public interest group. Get involved and help out.
Boost your skill set
Whether your career brought you to the Netherlands, you are temporarily between jobs, taking a break from employment, plan to return to the job market in your previous occupation or in a related line of work, envision a change in careers or you just aren’t sure, it’s time to review your skill set. Spruce up your CV. Enhance your marketability through training. Keep abreast of the latest developments in your current or possible future field. Attend a seminar, conference or symposium. Learn what it takes to enter the local or international job market. Consider seeking career counselling or life coaching. Enhancing your skills while in the Netherlands not only offers insight into Dutch and European business practices and perspectives, it also makes for a unique experience not replicated elsewhere.
Widen your circle
Certainly no two expat experiences are alike. That said, sometimes job, school and housing choices result in expats living and socializing together. Whether intended or not, they may find themselves living virtually parallel lives to the Dutch population. The shared experiences among expats that bring them together are not to be underestimated. But it is also important to consider broadening your friendships to include others. Invite your Dutch (or other) neighbours over for coffee. Meet a new acquaintance for lunch. Entertain. Branch out and initiate friendship with others who don’t mirror you in age, nationality or stage of life. Not only will you gain a friend or two, you’ll see the world and yourself through different eyes.
Get out and about
The Dutch are wonderful at getting outdoors and enjoying the fresh air. They recognize the importance of regular exercise for their general wellbeing. A few hardy souls will ride their bikes in the rain, joined by others when the weather improves. When the sun is shining and the weather is gorgeous, everyone gets in on the act. Take advantage of the miles of biking and jogging/walking paths through countryside and dunes. Join a running group, or voetbal (soccer) or other sports team. You’ll meet others and see the country from another perspective.
It might seem counter-intuitive to seek out new activities and adventures after having just gone through the challenging process of moving to a new country. Indeed at this point many expats are only too willing to settle into their daily routines. They may feel satisfied with living a relatively separate expat existence, comfortable with the notion of viewing themselves as guests in this country rather than full members of Dutch society. Some may even question how much more change they could possibly accommodate.
Yet this is precisely the time to dig deeper into the Dutch experience. The point isn’t change. It’s growth. When you go beyond surviving to thriving, you flourish and prosper. By trying some of the aforementioned tips, expats experience personal growth while they broaden their understanding and deepen their connections to the society they live in. This can only help to integrate expats more fully into their surroundings and the fabric of Dutch life.
These suggestions would certainly be beneficial to anyone having experienced the tumult of moving to and settling into a new place. But when that place happens to be in a foreign country, these efforts take on additional significance. By branching out into the community around you, you’re essentially expanding your personal horizons through the prism of Dutch society. You choose to become a part, rather than apart. The result is a fuller, more rewarding expat experience.
Linda A. Janssen writes articles on expat issues, and a blog at her site www.adventuresinexpatland.com.
She currently lives in The Hague, Netherlands.
The ultimate ‘inburgering’ tool: dog or kid?
Dog expert Laure-Anne Visele carries out a social experiment to find out whether dogs or babies are an advantage when attempting to integrate into the Netherlands. The result is surprising.
For those of you unacquainted with the word, ‘inburgering’ means ‘integration’ in Dutch. Personally, it took me a while to integrate after I’d first arrived from the UK. My first ‘house’ was an apartment in Amsterdam, where it took me two years to find out my neighbour’s first name. Fast-forward a few years, and here I am, living in the semi-countryside on the outskirts of The Hague.
After three or four years, my relationships with my Dutch neighbours still did not extend much beyond a distant greeting. Until 2008, that is, when I got the dog.
All of a sudden, I got smiled at ALL the time. People got really curious when they heard me speak English to him, and they loved to stop and chat about training methods, body language, the best dog food, or how sweet he was. It took me no time to get to know the regular dog aficionados in the village. Now I can’t go through the village without stopping for a chat.
Fast forward another year (to September 2009), and here comes Thom, our baby boy. Wouldn’t you know it, the connecting phenomenon works with him too! In two years, I have developed more Dutch social contacts than I had in the six previous ‘dogless’ and childless ones.
A social experiment
So I got to wondering: which of my two boys, the human or the hairy one, got me to integrate the most?
Men don’t tend to be that interested in the baby when am out on a walk. That’s despite the kid’s best attempts at charming them. I am not kidding, he is the KING waver-smiler.
(Sometimes I feel I am pushing the Queen around.) The dog on the other hand, has gotten me into countless conversations with men in the area. Mainly because he has his knack of placing himself square on the path of on-coming bikes, but OK, whatever starts a conversation.
Surprisingly enough, I think that my dog gets me more social interactions with women than my kid does. Perhaps people feel more inhibited with a baby than with a dog, fearing they might invade a child’s personal space. So they keep it at face-pulling, broad smiles and waving, but no real conversation with the kid’s mum. With the dog, on the other hand, women will often stop to ask me about him, or tell me how sweet he is. I’ve made a fair few really nice human connections that way, as I keep bumping into the same ladies again and again. After a couple times, we end up chatting about everything but doggies.
There is this super intelligent parrot in the neighbourhood, and he is absolutely in love with my kid. I am guessing the parrot appreciates the challenge of imitating the unearthly sounds of a ten-month old. He has a much more reserved attitude to the dog, this despite my dog’s polite, but obsessed, sit-stay (my dog is infatuated with this parrot. I have to literally drag him away). The parrot will dance about for the dog’s attention for a bit and then lose interest. As for the rest of the animal kingdom, there’s no love lost between them and my kid/dog team. So on this count, based on the population sample of exactly one parrot, I guess it’s kid 1, dog 0.
Kids in the village absolutely adore my dog, even the ones that are normally scared of dogs. That’s because I love to break the tension by showing off his tricks (finding my car keys in the tall grass is always a winner).
Children really go crazy when I let them participate. Show the same kids my baby and his latest incredible achievement, say, he walks, and they’ll just give him a cursory glance.
OK, that’s a tough one, because my baby is a right OAP magnet. When I am with the kid, I have to consciously walk really fast past the local retirement home to avoid a riot. But then again, my dog is extremely sweet to old people and they just lap it up. He is very gentle, and does this nudging thing with his nose. So I think that’s kid 1, dog 1.
And the winner is…
So, quick recap: the dog wins with men, women and kids. The baby only really wins with animals. They’re pretty much on a par with elderly people. So, if I’ve convinced you so far to get yourself a dog to connect with Dutch society, I’ d hold off a minute and read further…
Not all fun and games
My dog is also a bit of a social isolator:
• I feel guilty on a day-trip if he’s not with us–it’s a right palaver to organise holidays.
• He hates being alone so I often ask friends to come here, or I feel a bit bad leaving him behind.
• We can’t organise a baby’s birthday party in our home.
• My mother-in-law hates dogs, so it makes it really difficult to see them.
• I can’t always take him to friends if they have dogs that are not dog-friendly, and…
• He pees on my neighbour’s daisies.
So, I guess there are two sides to everything, and I guess a dog, like a child, will put your existing social circle under stress, and will help you create new connections.
Laure-Anne Visele is a pet photographer and dog writer. She also provides Dog services for expats in Holland. For more information, visit her website Canis bonus.
Cheese-slice, coffee and just one cookie
With 58 percent of Dutch expats suffering from homesickness, it seems certain types of food and drink, a collection of peculiar household items and the miracles of modern communications are the best remedies for what ails them.
A questionnaire completed by 1281 native Dutch members of Radio Netherlands Worldwide’s Global Panel shows that 42 percent of them never feel homesick.
So, clearly, more than half of Dutch expats do feel homesick to some degree some time or sometimes, and as many as ten percent say those times are frequent.
Predictably, family and friends are the ‘things’ that are missed the most, but other things may come as more of a surprise.
These include the Dutch landscape, which is known for its flatness and large amounts of sky, as reflected in many a 17th century painting; Dutch shops – hopefully ones with better service than is normally found in the Dutch capital, Amsterdam – and the daily bike ride or rides.
All of these Dutch ‘treats’ are missed by more than 40 percent of the respondents.
The Dutch language, however, does slightly less well in the homesickness pop charts, with only a third of the RNW expats saying they miss their native tongue. Now a cynical foreigner might tend to think that no one really ought to miss this strange-sounding, guttural language anyway.
After all, it never even caught on that well in the Netherlands’ colonies, other than becoming the dominant element in that even more peculiar South African language, Afrikaans.
But the lower number of people who say they miss their language could be a reflection of the fact that many Dutch expats have a partner or spouse living with them, possibly offspring too, in their current land of residence, and hence they can be as guttural as they like in the privacy of their own homes.
Some 70 percent say they still think in Dutch and 45.5 percent dream in it. Then there are the more than 42 percent who report getting down and dirty in Dutch when having a verbal dust up. This, surely, must reflect the presence of other native speakers in their immediate vicinity – although one can also imagine that swearing in Dutch at those who do not speak it could also prove an advantage, depending on the size and aggressive nature of the opponent in a given argument situation.
Next there are the typical Netherlandish foodstuffs which are so sorely missed. Whilst a non-Dutch person’s thoughts might immediately – and rather predictably – speed to cheese and, perhaps, chocolate, it seems the Dutch expat’s taste-bud and stomach-related nostalgia focuses more on the loss of easy access to copious amounts of raw herring – oft served with raw onion – or the compact, thin sausage (made largely, it’s reported, of the inedible ‘by-product’ parts of various animals) known as a frikadel or frikandel, or that other – some would say addictive – Dutch delight, and the cause of high-blood pressure in many a young child – salted liquorice.
However, as with the missing of family and friends, it seems that modern technology has provided something of a remedy for certain types of homesickness, including the one that concerns the palate; many food products can now be ordered over the internet if a shop which sells Dutch products cannot be found nearby.
Satellites, another modern development, mean that many a Dutch expat now enjoys television from home – and even from next-door Flanders – courtesy of RNW’s own BVN Dutch-language TV station, while RNW’s Dutch radio service also reaches across the globe.
Then there’s the internet, with things like Skype and other telecommunicational possibilities, and also the reduced cost of phoning abroad brought about by liberalised telecoms markets.
But, as the RNW survey shows, nostalgia and homesickness still exist nonetheless, so many an expat will try to mark special Dutch holidays as a way to keep the connection alive.
The national holiday, Queen’s Day, is marked by almost 25 percent of the Dutch expats, while the number who make and deep-fry the special Dutch doughnut balls or oliebollen for New Year is closer to 40 percent.
Top Five household items for Expats
2.Matching tea and kitchen towel set
3.Face flannel mitts or gloves
4.Birthday calendar in lavatory
5.Shopping bag from Netherlands
Then there’s the more tangible way Dutch expats deal with missing the land of their birth, by incorporating physical ‘reflections’ of life at home in their life abroad.
Number one on this list of ‘practical’ items is the typical Dutch cheese slice (a special utensil for slicing the less mature versions of Edam and Gouda cheese), which is found in over 84 percent of Dutch expat homes.
Others are matching tea and kitchen towel sets, face flannels that fit over a hand rather like a glove, birthday calendars (to be found in many a Dutch lavatory), clogs, Dutch flags and Delft blue crockery.
Some of the other items mentioned by the respondents: a biscuit tin, tea cosy, and, last but not least, a front door bell!
Finally – and returning to the stomach and palate – there are the alcoholic and beverage remedies. A number of the responding expats report enjoying a beer (Heineken, Grolsch, Amstel? We do not know) or a glass of Dutch jenever gin to ‘drown their homesickness’.
But others stick to good – Dutch? – coffee and a cookie; just the one cookie, as normally in Dutch homes only one is offered before the lid goes back firmly on the biscuit tin.
Margreet Strijbosch and Tessa Hoogvliet / Expatica
Survival tools for the Netherlands
Here is a light-hearted look at the essential tools for integration into Dutch society.
The Netherlands: famous for cheese, clogs, windmills and red light districts. However, there is so much more to this country, and its people, than meets the eye. As an expatriate, you may simply be able to watch the strange goings on in Dutch society from the sidelines. If your partner is Dutch, the chances are you have little choice about your involvement in some of the bizarre traditions and habits of life in the Netherlands. Here is a light-hearted look at the essential tools for integration into Dutch society.
Entrance into Dutch society demands the purchase of a bike. The Netherlands is flat and inundated with cycle paths. There are no excuses for not joining the masses and getting on your bike.
You gain intermediate cyclist status if you can stay upright whilst transporting a full beer crate fastened to the back of your bike, at least two children sitting in fietszitjes front and back and a saddlebag containing your weekly shop. The award of advanced cyclist is bestowed upon those achieving this in pour
ing rain and gale force winds whilst conversing on a mobile phone. Most Dutch cyclists have advanced status by the time they leave secondary school.
No winter is complete without stamppot. This is one of the staple foods (the other being erwtensoep or snert) of the Netherlands during the colder months. Stamppot is potato and vegetable mashed together. The vegetable varies but is usually cabbage, spinach or carrot. I suggest the use of a little imagination to concoct a desired colour or taste. Red cabbage, for example, can produce a rather festive pink feast.
Chilli sauce, sambal, knoflooksaus and appelmoes are mealtime frills that should be in the refrigerator. One or all of the condiments accompany most Dutch meals. One school of thought (mine) is that these highly flavoured sauces are essential to balance the blandness of Dutch dinners, or disguise the real contents of Dutch ‘snacks’ such as kroket and frikadel.
In this case, the importance lays not so much in the ownership of the item but in its placement. A birthday calendar belongs in the downstairs toilet. Without exception, the calendar must take pride of place in the smallest room in the house. This is an unwritten Dutch law.
To avoid embarrassment ensure that the calendar contains the birthday of all potential visitors to your home. At the risk of exposing a Nederlands secret – weak bladders are not a national affliction of the Dutch, the guaranteed visit to your facilities is to check scrupulously for their name on the birthday calendar.
Orange clothes and a hat
The purchase of at least an orange T-shirt and one hat is highly recommended for Dutch national holidays and celebrations. Some of the main events to wear your orange clothing with pride to are Queen’s Day (30th April), Prinsjesdag (3rd Tuesday of September) and any time when the Dutch national football team are playing, but particularly during European (EK) and World (WK) cups.
More chairs than you have storage room for are required for birthday celebrations in Dutch households. The circular arrangement of chairs is critical to be an accepted member of Dutch society. Moreover, the chairs are required to be as close together as possible to ensure clambering is necessary to enter or leave the circle. It is perfectly acceptable to borrow chairs from neighbours, friends or family in advance but it is not common practice to ask guests to ‘bring your own chair’ when you invite them to the birthday gathering.
With these essentials stored away in the kitchen, downstairs loo, shed and wardrobe, any buitenlander finding himself in the Netherlands is armed and better prepared for his journey into Dutch society.
Reprinted with permission from The Writing Well.
Amanda van Mulligen, British born, moved to The Netherlands in 2000 and is an expat writer. She runs The Writing Well, a company providing English language writing services. She is married to a Dutchman and the mother to one son. Amanda writes about life as an expatriate in the Netherlands, as well as about career issues.
For more information visit her website at www.TheWritingWell.eu or read her blog at http://letterfromthenetherlands.blogspot.com/
Dealing with that expat feeling
What do people mean when they say ‘I don’t feel like an expat anymore’, and how do we define expat anyhow?
The word expatriate conjures up several definitions across the international community. When I first encountered the term, I understood that it referred to someone who was no longer living in their ‘home’ country.
Where does ‘expatriate’ come from?
The etymology of expatriate, according to Merriam Webster online, is in keeping with my first understanding of the word.
To expatriate: to leave one’s own country, from Latin ex- + patria native country, from feminine of patrius of a father.
The connotations are rather negative; to withdraw (oneself) from residence in or allegiance to one’s native country or to be ‘banished’ from one’s homeland.
More positive, and the now accepted definition of expatriate is:
“Employees of business and government organisations, who are sent by their organisation, to a related unit in a country which is different from their own, to accomplish a job or organisation-related goal, for a pre-designated temporary time period, of usually more than six months and less than five years in one term” (Aycan and Kanungo, 1997)”.
I spoke on the subject to a couple of international friends over the weekend.
An expat spouse
The first, a woman from El Salvador (30) is married to a Dutchman. The couple recently relocated from El Salvador to Holland with their six-month old baby. My friend complained that she is officially known as an ‘expat spouse’ when really she feels like an expat in her own right. After all, she said, I am an expatriate, I am coping with living outside of the country and culture I know, and am having to carve a new life for myself in the Netherlands. She pointed out that her Dutch husband was never officially an ‘expatriate’ as he had come to Central America of his own initiative after having been accepted for a job he had applied for there.
When I asked another friend, an American woman (30), now married to a Dutchman she met in the Czech Republic, what the term ‘expatriate’ meant for her, the response was surprisingly negative.
“I see an expatriate as a young person who goes away to explore a new country, a wild-child vagabond type,” she said, describing the expatriates she met as “people with issues, who, for whatever reason, wanted to put as much distance between themselves and their home countries as possible.”
Living as internationals
Although both women are happy with their international lifestyles, their main concern about living as ‘internationals’ involves missing their family and wondering about their children’s sense of identity, especially when they have dual nationality. This could be compounded, said my friend from El Salvador, if we continue to travel, and the children don’t experience one country as the ‘homeland’.
True, the children of ‘expatriates’ will be more likely to experience feelings of ‘yearning’ or ‘homesickness’ for a homeland they may not be able to define.
I can certainly relate to this. The child of a Scottish father and Maltese mother, I had lived in five different countries, including Russia and Malysia, before my ninth birthday. I rarely felt ‘homesick’ as I was used to seeing the world as a place you travelled through. You made friends and lived in different houses which you picked up from and said goodbye to as a matter of course. But I was left with a feeling – a restlessness, a yearning for a place to call home.
While on holiday in Portugal, I discovered a word which is the best I have found yet to describe this feeling.
Saudade, which is the title of a song by famous Cape Verdean morna singer Cesária Evora.
The word is practically impossible to translate – look it up on the internet, and you will get a wealth of detail around its history and meaning.
Associated with the Portuguese music genre fado, it describes a vague yearning for something, which could be the homeland we long for, which lies truly nowhere, or elsewhere, or everywhere, or perhaps only somewhere deep within ourselves.