British, Culture, Dutch, Expat, Food, Football, Netherlands, Sinterklaas, Sport, winter

15 Habits for 15 Years in the Netherlands

As regular readers will already know this month marks fifteen years for me in the Netherlands. It’s impossible to live in another country for fifteen years and not pick up the habits of the locals. Here’s fifteen things I now do that I didn’t do before I moved to the Netherlands*.

UFOs are just one Dutch habit I have picked up

1. Living local

I pretty much live life with everything on my doorstep. I walk six minutes with my children to get to school. In the Netherlands the average primary school child has to travel 700m to school. Within a few minutes on foot I can be at a number of supermarkets and even my local town is only twenty minutes walk. Life in the Netherlands (unless you head out to the sticks) is small scale and local. Hence, all the cycling. There’s less jumping in your car for every little errand.

2. Breakfast

Once a week we sit together as a family and eat breakfast comprising of crackers, cheese, cold meats and a variety of things that come out of a jar – like jam and pindakaas. It’s not the sort of breakfast I ever ate in England.

3. Stamppot

Once winter arrives the potato masher comes out and stamppot is firmly on the weekly menu. It’s a Dutch staple served with sausage and gravy which matches well with my British upbringing – Shepherd’s Pie and Cottage Pie were regularly served up for dinner. We Brits are no strangers to mashing up potatoes and vegetables so stamppot was an easy habit to pick up.

4. Soup

It may be my imagination, or my lack of culinary adventures back in Britain, but the Dutch seem to be more into making hearty vegetable soups from scratch than the Brits. You can buy everything you need in one packet in the supermarket so for the real cooking slouches you don’t need to do any food preparation at all. A healthy and warming habit to have picked up – which incidentally my kids love and if there is an easy way of getting vegetables into them then it’s a winner for me!

5. Natuurijs

I can not so much as remember a time I stood on a frozen body of water as a kid in England, let alone skated on one. Here in the Netherlands it’s as normal in winter (weather permitting) as putting on your woolly hat and gloves. Watching the excitement of my children on natuurijs is something I will always treasure even when they’re all big and grown up. I have even been known to venture out carefully to stand on the ice myself but certainly not going as far as putting ice skates on my own feet. (The habits I haven’t adopted could probably fill another blog post.)

6. Hagelslag

Having a box of hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles) as a permanent feature in my kitchen cupboard is not a habit I am particularly proud of but I defy anyone with kids to live here and not have it lurking somewhere in the kitchen. In my defence, I am stricter with it than most other parents I know as my sons have it only on special occasions and not as their breakfast staple. However, you will always be able to find a box in my kitchen cupboard.

7. Country Hopping

Essentially, I grew up on an island. We visited Wales and in later years Ireland, but country hopping wasn’t really something we did regularly because of the distance. And then I moved to the Netherlands – Belgium, France and Germany are practically on our doorstep. In our pre-children days my husband and I flitted off for weekends in one country or another on a regular basis. Sometimes, even just for a day. A nice habit right?

8. Supermarket Visits

This is related a little to the first habit. Supermarkets are close. I practically pass by after the school run so can pop in and grab things on my way home. My visits to the supermarket in England were strictly on a maximum of once a week basis. Frozen sections were large, even fifteen years ago in British supermarkets. In fact, supermarkets there on the whole were large fifteen years ago. Here in the Netherlands they are more local and smaller scale and the frozen food section generally nothing to write home about. It’s all about fresh. The baker, the butcher and the cheesemaker (my blog – I can make up words to fit) are still well visited as part of the Dutch shopping rituals. So these days you’ll find me in a supermarket or food shop more regularly than you would have done twenty years ago.

9. Orange Clothes

I am not sure if I ever wore anything orange prior to living in the land of the Dutch. It’s now a habit to dress in orange at least once a year to celebrate the Dutch king’s birthday. In-between there are football matches to dress in orange for – though sorry to say that 2016 is not looking like one of those years……..

10. Sinterklaas

Before landing on Dutch shores I had never even heard of Sinterklaas. Now I am an enthusiastic celebrator on the 5th December – and I have got used to hearing Sinterklaas songs for the month prior to the big celebration and three months after he has left the country whilst the children try to get out of the habit of singing “Sie ginds komt een stoomboot…” every morning. Some habits you just have to grin and bear…….

11. Pancakes

We eat pancakes probably once a month. In England this was an annual affair on Shrove Tuesday. It took me a long time here to accept pancakes covered with sprinkles as my sons’ dinner. But every now and then I just let it slide, tuck my Britishness away in my pocket and watch them devour pancakes as their evening meal. It’s called integrating I guess…..

12. Living life in Dutch

Obviously in England my life was conducted in the English language. My days now usually comprise talking in Dutch. I talk to my sons’ teachers in Dutch, I talk to people in the shops in Dutch, I greet and chat with my neighbours in Dutch. It’s one of the hardest habits I have picked up, but also one of the most necessary and one of the most rewarding.

13. Watching TV with subtitles

I no longer think anything of watching a TV program spoken in Swedish, Danish or German because shows are subtitled with Dutch. The Dutch, thank goodness, do not dub TV programs (with the exception of children’s programs), instead TV shows have Dutch subtitles. Not only is it a great way of picking up Dutch vocabulary, it also became such a normal thing that I miss them when they are not on my screen. And I am so used to reading them as I watch TV that the spoken language can change from English and I barely notice anymore.

14. Snacks

Before moving to the Netherlands the most exotic things I saw deep fried were fish and sausages – and I had of course heard about the infamous Mars Bar. The Dutch take deep fried food to a whole new level and have made an art of all things deep fried under the label of ‘snacks’. I affectionately refer to snacks as UFOs – Unidentified Fried Objects. You don’t want to know what is in the middle of one of those fried snacks you order at the snack bar. It’s a habit I get dragged along with as I am married to a Dutchman, and Dutch people like snacks. I remember my first snack bar experience – it was confusing and stressful. Being asked the question, “What would you like?” whilst faced with a billion unfamiliar things in the cooler before me was harrowing……

15. ADO Den Haag

My most recent habit that has formed is my regular attendance at the Kyocera Stadium in The Hague to watch my local eredivisie club ADO Den Haag play football. Aside, from my actual Dutch home, it’s become the place I feel most at home in the Netherlands. It’s my favourite habit to date.

*This post was inspired by 7 habits for 7 years in Germany by Let the Journey Begin

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