Wed. May 29th, 2024
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Today, I celebrate having lived half a year in the Netherlands (read more about the move here). It probably would have been an adventure anyway, but with the Covid-19 in the game, it has been weirder than I would have ever expected. But this post is about the Dutch and the Netherlands and the first six months of my expat life -the good, the bad, and the ugly. What have been the biggest culture shocks so far for me, a Finn living in the Netherlands?

A disclaimer: Yes, I know I came to this country voluntarily and if I don’t like it, I can leave. I’m writing this list with my tongue in cheek, especially since I have no plans of ever going back to my country of origin, Finland. So my criticisms are not to be taken too seriously. I have also tried to make this list a combination of the good and the less good. Moreover, this list is not scientifically sound or conclusive, and I’m more than interested in hearing Your experience of the Dutch and the Netherlands -it might be very different from mine!

The Rudeness

A little search around various sites talking about the culture of the Netherlands shows they all say the same thing: The Dutch are so blunt and direct that they often get mistaken for being rude. No. I don’t mistake them as being rude. I genuinely feel and think that they sometimes truly are rude. And that’s quite a lot from someone coming from Finland, the country of unpolished directness and saying things as they are.

From a doctor’s office where the secretary pretty much yells at me that I don’t have an appointment there and I need to leave (even if I did have an appointment) to the cashier lady in the shop who throws the plastic fork (the kind that comes with your take-away lunch box) on the dirty line instead of handing it to me, the lack of commonsense politeness of the Dutch doesn’t even surprise me anymore. And I know that at this moment, 60% of my readers are saying “But they are nice if you are nice to them!”. No. I would not say so. One of the biggest culture shocks has been that no matter how nice you try to be, the Dutch don’t make much effort to be as nice back. The positive side of this is that whenever someone has some level of politeness and warmth in their behavior, I am so positively surprised that it makes the rest of the day for me.

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The Relaxedness

The Dutch are extremely chill. They take things in a relaxed manner, and the no-fuss approach they have taken towards e.g. the Covid pandemic has been quite impressive, no matter what opinion one might otherwise have of the political decisions taken in this time. Whereas in my native country, the citizens have perfected the skill of worrying, discussing, and hassling about everything into an art form (and the country’s favourite Covid-term in the media is “koronakuri”, “corona discipline”), the Dutch take things cool.

If the Dutch attitude should be expressed with any one word, it would be “Whatever”. This attitude applies to a whole variety of situations and contexts. Recently, was sitting at the local McDonald’s typing my keyboard when a mouse ran through the restaurant. Yes, a mouse. A small grey creature that had its tail pointing straight behind like a furry arrow. People looked at it, laughed, and continued eating. Nobody took out a mobile to try and take a picture of it and nobody made a fuss. Someone went and notified the shift manager, who came to have a quick look around and went back to work.

Why Is The Netherlands Such A Weird Country – Different Than The Rest Of The World

The Lack of Food Culture

Before I moved to the Netherlands to live with my Italian boyfriend, he warned me that the Dutch don’t have a food culture and that their understanding of dinner is grabbing a bunch of fries from a kiosk on their way home or ordering food and having a home-delivery service bicycle it to them. This turned out to not to be an overestimation. The Dutch delicacies are pretty much fries, bitterballen, and Bossche bollen. Ordering a fancy dessert named “Chocolate heaven” at a restaurant ends in you getting a plate with products bought from the supermarket, such as a tiny chocolate mousse and some random Easter eggs piled in a mishmash in front of you. And you pay 10 euros for that.

Finland is not exactly the land of cuisine either, so to find a country that competes in the same league of anti-cuisinity counts among my biggest culture shocks in its own right.

The culture shocks in terms of food are related to both to the lack of actually delicious local foods and to the lack of locals interest in cooking. On one of our recent trips to Italy, one of my first observations was the lack of couriers from UberEats and similar companies on the streets. In Italy, people cook at home or go to a restaurant. In the Netherlands, they eat fries standing up at a corner kiosk or order them home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

However, I have had some very nice food experiences in the Netherlands. These sandwiches at the Grand Café Esplanade at Tilburg University were very very good. Not fine dining, but easily among the nicest food experiences I have had in the Netherlands. Nobody can accuse Dutch cuisine of being too fancy: it is simple and down-to-earth, in good and in bad.

The Liberality

The Dutch live and let live. I come from a country where talking the dialect of the neighbor town makes people stare at you like you have come from the Moon to take over their home corners, so this liberal attitude is very nice. Same-sex couples walk peacefully at the streets and nobody looks at them. Sexual minorities are visible and it’s not a biggie. The liberal, accepting, and welcoming attitude is all-encompassing and definitely counts as a big positive surprise to me -even if it is not really a “shock”.

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The other weekend, we went to see the city of Den Bosch. There was a shop with sex toys in rainbow colors in the window, and not in some shady backstreet but quite in the center. I love this attitude where sex is not hidden from the everyday life, and it is approached with a light-hearted, accepting, and humorous attitude.

The window of a sex-oriented shop in Den Bosch.

It’s All about the Packaging

The Dutch are old marketing and trading people, and this shows. No matter whether you are looking for to buy a house or a mobile phone or going to a restaurant or to a hairdresser, everything is carefully packaged and marketed down to the most minutiae detail. Unfortunately, sometimes this comes at the expense of the content – everything might look nice on the outside, but the substance is not there.

Sometimes the packaged customer experience is amazing. My first time at a hairdresser in Tilburg was phenomenal. My hair was washed when I was laying down in a massaging chair looking at a green wall of real plants and listening to soothing music, and the hairdresser put a nice coffee and cookie into my hand before I had even had the time to ask for them. Everything was pretty, relaxing, clean, and nice. And branded.

Sometimes this packaging-orientation means that there is more attention paid to how things look like than what they mean. In Covid-times, a hand disinfection gel dispenser is a nice signal for the customers that the café, hotel, restaurant, or whatever service is on top of things and takes an interest in your health, but often you find that the dispenser is empty. More often than I want to mention, I have encountered a Dutch website that is very professional-looking, nicely set up with impressive texts, but I have no clue on how to find the information I need, all the links are dead, the information is inconsistent, or some function the website is supposed to have just doesn’t work.

The Dutch have the weirdest relationship to money I have ever encountered. They love it but they want to look like they don’t. Everything comes always down to money. If you can’t buy it, sell it, trade it, or monetize it, it doesn’t exist. They overprize things without shame and if you can’t watch your back, you might get fooled very quickly. The Dutch orientation towards packaging, marketing, and money count as one of the main culture shocks I have personally had here.

The Internationality

Everybody speaks English. Literally everybody. And the locals don’t frown at you when they have to speak English. They just do it. The Dutch don’t really seem to care if you are born here or not. It is an extremely easy country to move into. There are international clubs and societies everywhere, and expat groups in social media are vibrant communities where someone is always looking for company to do things. In most other countries, you would feel very left out if you don’t speak the national language. In the Netherlands, you can start feeling home even when your Dutch is yet limited to “dankjewel” and “lekker”.

From Culture Shocks to Acceptance and Appreciation

The Dutch attitude, based on my experience so far, boils down to “Whatever -live your life and let others live theirs”. This is so brilliant that whatever negative culture shocks I might have had, the combination of relaxedness and liberal attitudes in this multicultural country has won me over.

You can’t change the country or the people around you, and complaining and hoping things were different will bring you nowhere. I think the best way to survive as an expat is to keep an open and appreciative mind: Accept things the way they are, keep learning, and focus on the positives. Whatever really bugs and annoys you is just part of the truth, and there is always more to discover. Also, whatever triggers your personal annoyance might actually tell more about you, your expectations, and your country of origin than about the new home country. It’s also good to remember humor and just try and give things the possibility to make you laugh instead of making you frustrated. Surprisingly, what you dislike you can almost always laugh at (if you find the right perspective, everything can be a little bit funny), and if you can’t laugh at it, then you should maybe laugh at yourself.

A bench in Den Bosch saying “Here is place for everyone”
Source: https://expatendeavors.com/
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By Lala