Last month I published a blog post which threw up the question whether making local friends in the Netherlands is easy to do. The resounding response was no, not really. Luckily, there was also positivity from some thrown in for good measure.
Mixed Feelings About Making Friends With the Locals
Some of you indicated that making friends with Dutch people is nigh on impossible. Some commented that Dutch people are closed off (to expats) and that the local language is a serious barrier to friendships with the locals. Some locals said that even they found it hard to make friends with other Dutch people.
The good news is that there was positive things said too. One expat stated that there experience in the Netherlands was fantastic and she loves her Dutch friends, who continue to be friends despite repatriation back to the USA.
Comments indicated that the more effort you put in to making local friends, the more rewards there are to be had. Some declared that all their effort had been to no avail.
What Do I Think of the Dutch?
Dutch people are not openly embracing new people and swallowing them up into their social circle. They don’t always come across as particularly warm at a first glance. But to dismiss them as rude and unfriendly is scathing and unfair in my eyes. I find most, if not all of the people that I come into contact with on a social level to be friendly, interested and communicative. I am not including employees in shops, bars or restaurants as they are a breed apart……..
Short Term v Long Term Expats Making Friends
I think how you approach local relationships very much depends on your reasons for being in a foreign country, and how long you plan to stay.
Integration is of course not high on the agenda if your stay is short term. Then you are probably more likely to mix solely in expat groups.
There’s something to be said for the argument that if you are not going to be around for long then the investment from the other side (i.e. the local) is also a lot of effort for little reward.
Long Term Investment
I moved to the Netherlands in 2000 because I met a Dutch man. My plan at that time was to move here and stay indefinitely. Eighteen years later I have three sons, a husband and no plan to move back to my home country. This is my home, and so making long-term friends has been and will continue to be an important part of life in the Netherlands for me.
The Language Card
I have learnt Dutch as best I can over the years. I speak English when my family or friends visit, or at home alone with my children (as we are raising them to be bilingual). I’ve always made a huge language effort and it makes a notable difference making contact with local Dutch people.
The Dutch people I meet ask about where I come from, how I experience life in the Netherlands, whether I miss England, what I miss about England, and whether life in the Netherlands is easy for a Brit. There is interest. There are questions. Because I can talk Dutch with them. And it doesn’t matter to them that there is an accent, or that sometimes I mix my words. The fact that they don’t have to struggle along in English with me is a big relief for many.
The argument from expats is often that Dutch people speak very good English so they don’t need to learn Dutch. However, many Dutch people feel very unsure of themselves speaking in English. I have so often heard “I don’t speak English well” (when in fact their English is pretty good) and that means it is hard work for a Dutch person to speak continually in English to you. It’s easier to not bother so extra effort needs to be made!
The fact is that language is a barrier to local friendships. Someone is always speaking in a second language and it hinders deep conversation. Holding your own in conversations in a foreign language takes time and effort. A lot of time and even more effort.
The Culture Factor
There is also an issue of culture.
My husband and I grew up a matter of a few hundred kilometres from each other and yet our youths are different because we lived in different countries. So whilst he is reminiscing with friends and family about TV programs, music or the activities he undertook as a child I can only sit and blankly stare. And it works vice versa. Bagpuss? Fingermouse? Making Your Mind Up with Bucksfizz? Forget it – he doesn’t have a clue what I am talking about. Common ground is needed for the basis of a relationship.
Finding Common Ground
So where can you meet people you may have something in common with? If you are a parent with children in a local school then you have a great opportunity to reach out to Dutch parents around you.
My children starting school was a significant trigger for an increase in social contact with Dutch people. Suddenly there is automatically common ground; our children are in the same class, with the same teacher. We face the same issues. We share the same daily spaces. My experience is not unique. A comment on my previous blog sums it up wonderfully:
“I speak the language, which has made a huge difference, but it was when I started volunteering for school and community activities that I really felt I had a place here.”
Try chatting to a neighbour in passing (you live in the same street so there must be common things to talk about), join a hobby club or sports group, a choir or parent and toddler group. Ask someone to teach you a skill they have (I spent many a morning learning how to crochet over coffee with a neighbour, who then became a friend). There are more ideas here.
I’m not saying it’s easy at all – but there is another side to the story. The context in which you meet Dutch people is important – do you have anything in common to start from?
Feeling Comfortable in Your Own Skin Abroad Helps
It has taken years and years and years to build up what I would call any level of local friendships here – and then we moved to the other side of the country and I had to start all over again living with a regional dialect, and getting used to a different type of Dutch culture.
It hasn’t been easy and it feels like friendships run a more natural course as you get more integrated and feel more at home in your host country. If you feel more at home, you are more yourself, you have the confidence to join local groups, to tackle conversations in a foreign languages – to take the time to invest in relationships.
For those reading these posts before making a leap to the Netherlands, or anywhere else for that matter – don’t be put off. Moving abroad isn’t easy – no matter where you move to. However, there is always ALWAYS light at the end of the tunnel. You just need to make sure you constantly move forwards to get there.
All that said, my best friend, the person I go to when things are crumbling lives in England. We just went away together for a girly weekend. She is a friend I made at university – when we were eighteen. That is a friendship that has been built over the course of nearly *gulp* three decades.
So one final thought – think about the friend base you have in your home country – how long did it take to build those friendships up? Rome wasn’t built in a day as the staying goes…….