Well nothing can really prepare you for how you’re going to experience your new country. Depending on your personal tendencies and where you’re from some aspects like climate, language, food, making and building connections can be challenging. Fortunately, the Dutch with their modern outlook, mercantile acumen and Calvinistic attitude limit uncertainty, confusion and drama. The Dutch are honest, direct and transparent - they believe in modest living, individual responsibility and are rule-driven. By reducing uncertainty and stress, you know where you stand and you know what you must do ‘let op de regels’ loosely translated as ‘know and abide by the rules’. Read on for what you can expect!
Moderate marine climate give moderate summers and winters, with some remarkable exceptions in the last few years with tropical summer days. June to August are the summer months, where it is quite common to see young couples and families on their mopeds and bikes joining the stream of traffic heading out to the beaches like Zandvoort a popular destination West of Amsterdam. The country has a long coastline, sandy beaches, inviting western sea breezes with no mountains to stop any depressions. Rain can happen in all seasons – and it does. Like all other northern European countries, vitamin D deficiency is a risk, so ensure that you get the necessary sun or seek advice from your medical advisor before it becomes an issue. Otherwise there are stunningly beautiful nature scenes all year round.
Dutch language is from the same family as English and German and apparently easier to learn for English speakers than learning German which has many more grammatical cases. Many Dutch words are similar to English ones due to the Dutch colonists influence in the 17th century in America. The Dutch appreciate it when you make an effort to learn their language but are very happy to speak English if you struggle. Learning Dutch does take time, though Dutch music, books written especially for learning Dutch and films with Dutch subtitles can be a fun and an easy way to learn. If you have young children it will help you a lot, as reading stories out loud, singing nursery rhymes and songs in Dutch are usually done in more relaxed circumstances and your children will find it entertaining correcting you.
The Dutch traditional kitchen is quite basic, made up of vegetables, meat and dairy – simple and straight forward, but nevertheless hearty and filling. Today, the Dutch enjoy various other kitchens with quite some influence from Indonesian, Chinese and The Mediterranean. Various deep-fried foods like Frikandel (heavily seasoned minced meat sausage), kibbeling (bite size pieces of white cod), kroketten and bitterballen (meat based, seasoned finger food) are part of the modern Dutch cuisine fast, easy and satisfying at first. Start of the day breakfast is usually bread with a variety of flavoured sprinkles, cheeses and sliced meats, washed down with a selection of fruit teas, milk or coffee. Cereals and muselis are also popular. Lunch can reflect breakfast with sliced meats and cheeses washed down with a selection of the same beverages as breakfast. Salad, soup and warm meals can also be taken. Dutch working culture often offers a 30 minute lunch break in the cantina offering bread rolls, milk and beverages. Dinners are two or three courses of soup, potatoes, vegetables, meat. Then a dessert of coffee with cookies or pastries. There are many more Dutch treats to sample like poffertjes (cute baby pancakes sprinkled with icing sugar, treacle and generous helpings of butter), though some delicacies like raw herring swallowed down with raw onions take a special kind of palette and a longer time to develop a taste for.
So when you have got over most of your culture shock, feel a little bit more settled in and it dawns on you that making and building connections would be a good idea, here a few aspects to look at:
1. If you come from a spontaneous culture or have it in your nature, be aware of the wide-spread ‘do normaal’ attitude ‘normal is crazy enough’ as the Dutch saying goes. Continue and enjoy being yourself in constant evolution, just be aware of this aspect.
2. Introduce yourself to your close neighbours, they will like and appreciate this well mannered gesture, but make sure it’s not during meal times.
3. Marrying into a Dutch family doesn’t mean that you will obtain close family relationships that you need. In my experience respect their individualism, their circles of eating cheese and crackers while discussing a range of topics from politics and world issues to how relaxed and open their free society is. If you should need any help for moving house or a new infant, they are there always ready to help you. Though on the whole contact is reserved for birthdays, funerals and such. I was fortunate enough to be embraced warmly my mother in-law.
4. The Dutch make friends slowly and carefully, many of their friends are ones they have known for years, even from their early school days. So don’t feel too down crested if you haven’t made any after some years – it takes time.
5. Your connections don’t always have to be Dutch, there are many different other cultures in the same boat, even from your own that will do just nicely for which you will have more in common. If they happen to be Dutch, wonderful, if not, wonderful!
6. The English Speaking Haarlem Group, for example is one of the many social groups around the country that offer social activities and meet ups with strong support for young families. Keep yourself informed by joining and attending the various meet ups. Even create your own group if there are no existing groups of your interest.
7. There are various non-profit organizations that are always looking for English speaking volunteers as well as other language speakers. The Regenboog Groep for example, based in Amsterdam is an organization that helps people who are in danger of loosing touch with society and sliding into social isolation. Volunteers meet with their ‘buddy’ to listen and just be there with them. Also Volunteers meet up regularly to discuss their cases and get support from their advisor and fellow volunteers. Also a good way to learn aspects of Dutch culture that are not usually witnessed otherwise. Offering your expertise and life experience towards a very worthwhile cause is meaningful, worthwhile and very uplifting for your soul. Comprehensive training and expenses are covered by the organization.
There are many more aspects to expect when new and for which we can discuss another time. The Dutch culture is a modern, safe one that values free speech and expression – everyone has an opinion and people are very willing to share them with you. Have courage and immerse yourself into the areas that you find really difficult and practice dropping all the mental dialogue that arises about how things should be, as it doesn’t lead anywhere. Let your own views develop by mingling as much as you can with the locals and other foreigners - taking the time to build your new life without expecting too much. Enjoy the freedom and safety of this unique culture!
Avau Neueli is the author of this article and has lived in The Netherlands for over 20 years with her Dutch partner and young family.