This is the fourth and last title in this month’s expat blogging link up – it has been so much fun and I have loved reading about expat life through the eyes of fabulous bloggers across the globe – but it’s not quite over yet. Here is the last one – 5 lessons the Dutch have taught me.
1. Work Life Balance: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – the Dutch are work life balance masters. Leisure time is just that, and work time is kept to what is needed to get the job done. Many women work part time, and many parents arrange working hours around their home and family life. Watching the Dutch reminds me just what things are important in life. When the Dutch have free time they are out and about with their family, making the most of good weather, leisure facilities and the chance to be together. Just wander out on a sunny Sunday afternoon to see what I mean or a beautiful summer afternoon on any day of the week – the sun shines, the Dutch leave work early and head to the beach or a terrace. There isn’t a 24/7 culture here, and whilst that was one of the things I needed to get used to when I first moved here, it’s now one of the things I love. Not everything is open late, or on a Sunday – it forces us to slow down, relax and think of leisure time instead of errands and the demands of daily life.
2. Family Matters: The Dutch in general are very family orientated (some of my own in-laws are a huge exception to that) but I have learnt from those families around me, from society’s attitude, and from cultural tendencies that the Dutch visibly and noticeably cherish their parents and their children. Grandparents play a big role in the lives of their grandchildren and are a familiar sight on the school playground, actively busy in the daily comings and goings of their children’s children. It makes me more aware of what my children’s British grandparents miss out on on a daily basis and though I can’t change the physical and logistical aspects of living abroad I can make sure that my children cherish their family abroad by keeping them connected, ensuring they feature heavily in the conversations we have at home and keeping them in mind.
|Water into land? No problem.|
3. Adapt: The Netherlanders are like chameleons. If it’s cold and icy they get out their ice skates, leaving work early to head to the nearest frozen body of water (see point number 1). Kids are taken to school on sledges if the snow prevents bicycle use. In the height of sunny weather, the Dutch beaches and terraces are thronging with people. The Dutch people know they can’t travel far with Dutch so as a nation are excellent linguists, switching from Dutch to English, German or French at the drop of a hat. No serious hills in the Netherlands means a national winter evacuation to winter resorts to quench the Dutch thirst for winter sports. The Dutch manage with what they have, and if they don’t have it they go find it somewhere else. And if they really can’t find it they make it. Like land they can actually live on for example.
4. Say What You Mean: The Dutch do not beat around the bush. If there is something on their mind, they let you know about it. It’s not meant to be insulting, though for many expats that is the way it comes across – it is more about saving time and being honest. Blunt. Abrupt. Brash. It is in complete contrast to my British culture where politeness means softening a difficult message as much as possible, making it seem like less of a blow. What actually happens is that the message is lost in lots of frilly, woolly talk and the receiver of news is often a little confused about what the message means, particularly non-British conversation participants. So which is kinder? I can’t say that I have become as blunt as a Dutchman, but I am working on being more direct with my words and I do appreciate knowing where I stand.
5. Birthday Efficiency: Every year I watched my dad scribble all the family birthdays onto a new calendar as a new year dawned. The Dutch have a solution – the birthday calendar hanging in the smallest room of the house. I no longer transfer birthdays onto a calendar on the first of January, instead there is a birthday calendar hanging in the downstairs toilet with all the birthdays known to us. I never need to touch it, except occasionally to add a new acquaintance or put a line through those whose birthday no longer matters (yes, I am ruthless – wrong me and your name is scribbled out on the birthday calendar). More time on New Year’s Day to spend with family (see point 1).