In response to an article I wrote for The Telegraph back in 2010 one helpful reader suggested that living in the Netherlands was easy because it is just like Britain. You can speak English and the culture is the same. He’s an idiot. The Netherlands is different and if you want to lead a happy life here you need to adapt. As is the case whenever you move countries anywhere in the world.
How much did I know about the differences I would face nearly eighteen years ago when I loaded my worldly possessions onto the back of a trailer and sailed over to Dutch soil on a freight ferry? Not much.
Now? A lot.
The Netherlands is Different
Put simply, the most important thing I wish I had known is that the Netherlands is different. It’s not the same as Britain in any shape or form.
That seems a little strange now, but even if you only come from the other side of the puddle that is the North Sea, the Netherlands is distinctly different in more ways than I can count from Britain, and from the neighbouring countries.
My dad once pointed out that despite Western European countries being so close together, they are all so different.
“Take France, Germany and Holland,” he said “Three completely different countries”. He meant of course the Netherlands…..
And he’s right. You wouldn’t compare the culture of the Netherlands to France – they are poles apart. The Germans and the Dutch? Again, not even close. And the Germans and the French… well, let’s not even go there.
And that is indeed the point. No matter where you move from, if you are thinking of moving to the Netherlands, expect it to be different and be prepared to go with the flow, mostly in small ways.
The People in the Netherlands Speak Dutch
Many expats make a conscious decision not to learn Dutch because the Dutch are so darned good at speaking English. It’s a mistake.
If you are moving to the Netherlands you cannot truly feel at home if you speak no Dutch at all. Without any Dutch under your belt you will feel isolated and distant when you are out and about.
If you are married to a Dutch person you will know what I mean when I say you don’t truly get to the heart and soul of each other unless you can speak each other’s language. My husband speaks excellent English. I speak reasonable Dutch. However, if he tells me a story in English but then recounts that same story to someone in Dutch later I get a lot more information from the Dutch version than the English one. The same applies when I tell my husband something.
Adapt and Accept to Live a Happy Life Abroad
Moons ago, when I was a newbie here, I was reading comments on an expat forum. A fellow newbie to the Netherlands asked why expats are so negative about the Netherlands.
She asked a reasonable question and a torrent of ranting and raving began in earnest about everything that is wrong with the Netherlands in their eyes:
- the Dutch are rude
- there is rotting food in supermarkets
- there’s so much dog poo on the streets
- the health service is lacking
- the streets are littered with inconsiderate cyclists
- Dutch food
- crazy driving and the ‘give way to the right’ driving rule
- the rain
- the lack of ability to form an orderly queue
- the search for public toilets
- noisy neighbours
I once attended a meet-up with other women who were married to Dutch men. It was a horrifyingly negative and scary experience which put me off meet ups for a long long time.
I could go on with examples of expat rants and negativity. But I won’t. You get the picture. When you move to a new country there are always differences, and in the beginning, whilst you miss home, you tend to focus on the negatives. It’s a normal part of the expat curve and go through culture shock.
Eventually you will adapt – some things you will embrace (like Invader Stu who has creatively taken on eating hagelslag on his bread and turned it into an art form) and other things you will never quite get on board with (attending a Toppers concert or enjoying any show with Paul de Leeuw as host are two examples that spring instantly to mind).
You don’t have to take on the habits, culture and beliefs of the locals, but you do have to understand why things are the way they are. And accept them.
Those that don’t do this stage well are those who dwell on the differences and long for ‘home’. The experience abroad will in this case never be a happy one.
Adapt. Accept. If you want more of the same then why leave home at all?
Get Yourself Ingeburgerd – It’s Worth it!
Contrary to the rumours, there is so much more to the Dutch culture than tulips, clogs, red light districts, smoking pot and cheese. Dutch culture will bite you in the butt on a daily basis when you first move here.
Whichever new country you choose to make home, you will need to adapt, accept and tolerate the things that makes your adopted home different. You can’t change things; but then isn’t that what expat life is all about?
Think of yourself as a potted plant. You moved, you’ve uprooted yourself but you still need soil to thrive. Get your roots into the new soil and get everything you can out of it so you can bloom.