Life in the Netherlands is like living on a completely different planet. As a Canadian anyway..
From their bicycles to their tulips, their coffee shops to their stroopwafels, their language to their clogs. The Dutch do, say, think, wear and eat things I find truly weird.
Is the Netherlands my first choice of where to live? No. Are there things that are unique and special about the country? Absolutely! So I will spend my time telling you about it. The things I like, the things I don’t like and what is different between here and Canada.
First, for those who aren’t sure where the heck the Netherlands is. It’s Holland! You know, where Amsterdam is! Yes, yes.. That’s right, the place with all the weed. Now, for those of you who are still lost, here’s a photo:
Does it make more sense now? If you look on the map you can see Rotterdam, that’s the city I live in. It’s the biggest seaport in the world and I believe it may even be bigger than Amsterdam (but don’t quote me on that).
Ok what don’t I like about NL?
- I don’t like the size of the country, it’s too small and there are far too many people in it.
- The city I live in (Rotterdam) is very very multicultural, and instead of feeling foreign in one language I feel foreign in about ten.
- Friendships that I have experienced with my husband and his friends and people I’ve met are not at all like back home. There is no such thing as getting together last minute. You often have to make plans to meet up days or weeks (sometimes even months!) in advance. Like I know on June 10th if I’m gonna feel like hanging out with someone on July 21st. Good Grief!
- Their banking system is way behind! It still takes 3-5 days for some banking transactions I could do in 3-5 minutes in Canada.
- Getting an apartment isn’t anything like in Canada where you get a freshly painted apartment with wall to wall carpeting, with a fridge, stove and laundry facilities. In Holland you get… the walls. That’s IT! EVERY new apartment in Holland is a DIY project. Which is great if you love DIY, but if you don’t it’s a fucking nightmare. You pay your own heat, lights, water, everything. Also, there are no screens in the windows. What the hell is up with that!! They have mosquitos here the size of velociraptors and no screens??? Think you can have any apartment you can afford? WRONG! In many cases they decide who can rent which apartments based on your income. If you make a lot of money and want a nice cheap apartment, say maybe you like to save money or need it for other things. TOO BAD!! They save the cheap apartments for the people who make less money, you’re not allowed to have it. Then, when you want to buy a house, because the country is so damn small and crowded, a bungalow or something doesn’t exist. Unless you are a millionaire and can afford to buy a tiny patch of land outside a city to plunk a house on. You have the choice between a 2 bedroom apartment for 100k Euros+ or an attached 2-3 bedroom house for 200K Euros+. Wow, what a bargain.[/sarcasm]
- DAT KAN NIET (Translation: That is not possible) – I swear if I hear these words one more time I’m going to punch someone. Dutch customer service has improved a lot over the years but it’s still not to the level that people are used to in North America! Really good customer service in Holland is like winning the lottery, if it happens… enjoy it while it lasts!
- Driving in Holland is horrid, getting your license is WORSE. You have to pay anywhere from 25-40 euros an hour for professional driving lessons. Then it’s another few hundred euros to take a test, which can be very difficult to pass the first time around. Gee, you’d think they were just doing it for the money or something!
- The language… it is not exactly a beautiful language and can be very difficult to learn. When you try to speak Dutch, the people speak back to you in English. They LOVE English and they love to show off how well they speak it. After the novelty wears off for them, they want to know why you don’t speak Dutch yet.
- TV is often quite behind. Not as bad as in the early years when most of the shows were in Dutch and the selection of American shows they had was very limited to shows (like Alf and Roseanne) that just played over and over. It has improved a lot since I got here but I still find it difficult to wait for the shows I want to appear on Dutch TV.
- Wallpaper… paste… How long has it been since you hear those two words together? If you’re anything like me you’re probably thinking that combination went out in 1970 or so. Not to the Dutch! You know when you get your brand new apartment that needs all that DIY? Well even that is more difficult than you would remember back home. They have NOT discovered wallpaper with the paste already on the back yet! You know, the kind you just drag through warm water and shlup on the wall. No no.. the dutch still do the whole brush the gooey paste on the back of totally thick wallpaper. So. not. fun.
- Toilet observation shelves. Yes folks they actually have these! What are they? Well, imagine your toilet but rather than a bowl full of water, it’s a shelf in the back with the opening and water more towards the front. Aaaah yes you’re imagining it already aren’t you? Your fresh dump sitting there for your viewing pleasure. Am I grossing you out? Oh well, I have to live this and misery loves company! haha So, I still haven’t gotten to the best part. This special toilet has it’s own special room! Here in Holland, the toilet and the bath are seperate. Makes sense I guess but still, I can really appreciate a full bathroom. Who hasn’t been in a hurry and brushed their teeth while sitting on the toilet? Toilets are usually in little closet sized rooms in some hallway, and the shower is in the next room over. Only room enough for you, the toilet and a few magazines. There’s no excaping the poop shelf in a room that small.
- The Weather.. Dutch weather is all over the map. It changes at any time and sometime drastically. Dressing for the weather is impossible here. You pretty much have to pack shorts, a sweater and an umbrella wherever you go. Not only that, but from about October – April the sun does NOT shine. Maybe 3-4 days out of the entire winter are sunny.. otherwise it’s just grey and dreary. How depressing! In Canada, sure we get tons of snow but many many days the sun shines and it’s bright and cheery.. Not in Holland. Bright and Cheery just isn’t a winter emotion here.. Many people have these sun lamps to prevent winter depression, even the Dutch themselves!
So, Dutchies.. are you ready to hunt me down and throw me out of your country yet? Non Dutchies, bet you can’t wait to visit, can you?! Don’t worry though, it’s not all bad!
What I like about the Netherlands…
- Their love of flowers and plants. My god, how did I ever live in my apartments in Canada with no plants? I look back at pictures of my old apartments in PEI and Toronto and think wow, they are totally missing something! It’s the plants! They have huge windows here and they fill them up with plants. Every empty corner gets one… it’s beautiful. Not just that but the flowers! Not only tulips but every flower you could imagine. The best part is that they aren’t hellishly expensive like back in Canada. You can get someone a dozen long stemmed red roses without breaking the bank. They are actually so cheap you can just pick them up on your way home from work like you would a magazine or something. They are easy as heck to find too because there are so so so many flower shops here. They are on almost every corner, outside or inside every train station, in every supermarket, every mall… just EVERYWHERE! I love it!! People’s yards have beautiful gardens, their balconies are bright and colorful. It’s really nice.
- Apartments are laid out differently and I like that (except for the bathrooms). Where many apartment buildings back home have an apartment on each side of the building with a hall down the middle. The apartments here go all the way through. So you get much better air flow, nice big windows on each side of the apartment and even two balconies! I think I will probably find our new apartment pretty stuffy when we move back to Canada. I’ll miss my big windows.
- Tolerance… the people here are much more tolerant than back home. They accept what they can’t change and do their best to work with it, rather than against it. Whether it’s prostitution, weed, drug addictions or homeless people. They have found ways to battle these issues without making them WORSE. Something many other countries are yet to achieve.
- They seem to treat their workers better here. When I was back in Canada for vacation and saw all the girls STANDING behind the checkouts at stores and supermarkets I was thinking god, that’s shitty! Here in Holland they actually care about their employees and their health. They have special chairs that are good for the back etc, rather than leaving them on their aching feet. If someone gets fired from their job here, they automatically get 70% of their wage while they are unemployed. None of this crap we get in Canada where you pay into unemployment and when it comes time to try to claim it they give you 100 lame excuses why they aren’t going to give it to you.
- The market… what a great way to save money. Imagine an outdoor farmers market / flea market and you get a Dutch Market. Here in Rotterdam they take place in the city center every Tuesday and Saturday.. and they are HUGE! Many farmers make their livings at the market selling their chicken, eggs, bread, cheese, fruits, vegetables, you name it! It’s also MUCH cheaper than in the supermarkets so it’s a great way to buy lots of food for less money.
- They life a much healthier lifestyle in Holland, overall I mean. In Canada (and America) everything is so convenient. We all get our drivers license when we are young, we learn to drive ourselves around. Many of us have never travelled anywhere by bus or train and heaven forbid we walk anywhere, or bike! In Holland going out to eat is an event, in Canada it’s cheap way to eat without having to cook. When people do cook in the Netherlands, they cook healthy meals. Chicken dishes with Rice, Fish dishes, etc. Beef is expensive here and is not eaten as much as other meats. Unless it’s with a Turkey or roast beef dinner (which you also very rarely see here) you never get gravy. Not even at KFC! Very few of the meals cooked here require deep frying. People are healther, more fit and generally happier it seems. In North America there are so many more people overweight, lazy and one step away from a heart attack. It almost sickens me to think about it because even though I am one of them! I’m overweight and I can be lazy, thankfully I’m healthy though. When I think of what kind of shape I’d be in if I HADN’T eaten the things I eat here, rather than what I would have eaten in Canada, it scares me. I’m sure I’d be 500lbs by now and near death.
- The public transit. Ok, to be honest I’d rather a car anyday, but we don’t have one and therefor we rely on public transit. Between the busses, trains, subways and trams here in Holland you can get absolutely anywhere you want to go. It’s extensive and well run and kept quite clean and nice, compared to many other places in the world. The subways aren’t very deep underground either, unlike places like Paris and London.. I really like that. I get claustrophobic if they are too deep.
- I love the city centers. Having so much shopping in one area is great! I also love that most of the streets are walking only and can’t be driven on. You can just hop on the tram and get off in the middle of the city center and walk around shopping without worrying about getting hit by a car. You can wander from shop to shop, back and forth across the street without a care. Everything is within a few minutes walk and the city centers are always bustling with people.
- The architecture is lovely. I mean who wouldn’t love walking around Amsterdam, Delft or any other Dutch city and admiring the canals, canal houses, windmills, old buildings, even older churches. Holland has it’s own distinct look and it’s quite beautiful. It’s a shame that so much of Rotterdam was blown away in WW2, I can only imagine what a lovely city it would be if that hadn’t happened.
- Tulip Fields!! If you go outside the city in the spring you will see the tulip fields in full bloom. It’s absolutely breathtaking! For as far as you can see it’s just row after row of different colored tulips. Really it’s quite amazing.. Unfortunately it doesn’t last long. They are only up for a short time before they chop them off.. then the fields just go back to being green again.
- OMAFIETS!! This is the kind of bicycle I love. There are millions of bicycles in Holland and it’s a main form of transportation for many people here. I like the omafiets best, even though I haven’t had one.. if I did, that’s definately the kind I’d want! Unfortunately, all the ones I’ve looked at and tried were too big for me. Even the smallest women’s bikes.. damn those tall Dutch women!!
- Stroopwaffels – YUM! they are like 2 thin waffles with syrup in between, or stroop as it’s called here. They are yummy and can be bought in any supermarket. The best ones come from the market though, where you get them freshly made where they are still warm. Oooh heaven!
- The medical system here runs amazingly well in comparison to Canada. I don’t mean the medical care is better financially, but the effeciency that hospitals and doctor’s offices run with astound me. In Canada you can expect to spend anywhere between 1-3 hours waiting in your doctor’s office or hospital waiting room, regardless of if you have an appointment. When you finally do get into see the doctor, you feel as though they are trying to get you in and out of there as quickly as possible. It’s almost as though your explaination of your problem is a burdon to them. They just want to hear what’s wrong, give you a slip and send you packing. Here in the Netherlands I have not waited any longer than 10-15 minutes for an appointment in either situation. I have absolutely wonderful doctors who make me feel like they have all the time in the world and actively listen and show interest in my health. I have not had any serious illnesses here or been hospitalized, come to think if it I never was in Canada either. As it stands now though, if I had to choose where to have that happen, it would be here.
So there you have it. That’s my take on life in the Netherlands. I’m still learning!