A while ago I wrote a post about what it’s like to live in London (have a look here if you’re interested), and I figured I should probably also do one about what it’s like to live in the Netherlands as well, especially as I have actually lived here longer than I lived in London. I have lived here in the Netherlands for about 18 months now, so I think I’m qualified to talk about what it’s like to live here as an expat Australian!
When people think of Dutch food they probably mostly think of cheese and oliebollen. Oliebollen is a pretty delicious deep-fried pastry ball, although it’s only really available between November-January as it’s traditionally a New Year’s food.
I’m not much of a cheese-connoisseur, but if you are then the Netherlands is probably going to be a bit like heaven for you. They do love their cheese and there are so many different types. Like the UK, the Netherlands has a lot of restaurants featuring cuisine from cultures around the world, as it is a very multicultural country, living in Amsterdam especially would give you access to a wide variety of different tastes. Traditional Dutch food is often either deep-fried like croquettes, bitterballen and meatballs, or a sweet pastry type food, like Oliebollen, Poffertjes, Stroopwafel, Appel Taart or Appelflappen.
They also often eat a traditional meal called Stammpot, which is lots of vegetables mashed together and served with some kind of sausage. Mostly though, Dutch people eat the same kinds of food as people in the UK or Australia, such as pasta, stir-fries etc. and most foods that you are used to buying will be available here, although you might need to learn the Dutch word for it! There are a few odd little things that I haven’t been able to get here in the Netherlands, like cooking chocolate or icing sugar in something other than a tiny container for dusting. Of course, you also can’t find things like vegemite or cadbury’s chocolate here, although they do have some very good chocolate so I haven’t felt like I’m missing out too much!
When it comes to the weather, the Netherlands is not too different to the UK. It’s very cold and sometimes snowy in winter, usually nice and warm in summer. Unfortunately this past summer hasn’t been that great, I felt like I blinked and it was over, but last year was lovely and hot. One thing that I do find annoying is the wind! Because the Netherlands is so flat, the wind blows straight through, and because we’re by the sea it’s often very windy. Since you’re usually riding a bike everywhere, it can be very frustrating constantly pedalling into the wind! In winter the wind is also bitterly cold, but at least the possibility of making a snowman kind of makes up for it.
If you’re planning on living in the Netherlands, you might want to make sure you can ride a bike. I’ve heard people say “There’s bike infrastructure, and then there’s Dutch bike infrastructure” and it really is true. The set-up for riding bikes here is AMAZING! Statistically there are more bikes than people in the Netherlands, which doesn’t surprise me at all, we have four at our house (for two people) and the Dutch ride their bikes everywhere. There are separate bike paths nearly everywhere, which means you don’t need to worry about cars or pedestrians when riding, which is probably why Dutch people very rarely bother wearing helmets. As an Australian this felt very weird at first, as we have it drilled into us from a very early age to never get on your bike without your helmet on, but it is much safer here because there’s very little chance you would get into an accident with a car. Even when you might be riding near cars, drivers here are very aware of, and careful around, cyclists. The Dutch are very ingenious (I think I may have mentioned this before) and you will often see whole families going for a ride, with child seats both at the rear and front of an adult’s bike, a trailer with a dog attached to the back or maybe they are riding a bakfiets which is a bike with a kind of box at the front for your children to sit in. Google it, trust me.
There are cars of course, and lots of free-ways to get around, although the speed limit on the highway is 130 km/h which scared the hell out of me at first! Dutch people do drive, but they generally use bikes and scooters more often if they’re not going too far.
The train system seems pretty good and simple to use, although it is pretty expensive, especially compared with the London tube. In Amsterdam there are trams as well although you really can get around pretty easily with just walking or riding a bike. Another cool thing about Amsterdam is that most of the ferries to go across the river to other parts of the city are completely free. You can take your bike, or a scooter even, on-board and then go and explore some more!
The Netherlands is very multicultural as I mentioned, so you are definitely going to meet people from all around the world. At Dennis’s old job he worked with a girl and a guy from Romania, a guy from Portugal and some Dutch people. I think now he also works with someone from Spain and a guy from Argentina, as well as local Dutch people. There are also quite a lot of Australians although mostly they are in Amsterdam or the Hague area. Of course you will also meet lots of Dutch people, and while some say that they are quite blunt and rude sometimes, they have pretty much all been perfectly friendly to me. Most Dutch people speak English very well (and often German and French as well) and when they realise I’m not Dutch they usually switch to English without me even asking them to. I think it’s funny that when I do ask someone (in Dutch) if they speak English because my Dutch is too limited for whatever the conversation is, they always say “oh, a little” and then immediately natter away in (what seems to me) completely fluent English!
There are plenty of things to see and do in The Netherlands and not just in Amsterdam. Of course Amsterdam has lots of must-see attractions such as the Vondelpark, Rembrandthuis, Van Gogh Museum, Anne Frank House, the Red-Light District and the Rijksmuseum, but it is definitely worth also getting outside of Amsterdam to see some of the other attractions around the country. There are lots of beautiful castles to see around the country, such as Het Loo Palace and Castle De Haar near Utrecht which hosts the Elf Fantasy Fair every year. If you’re a fan of the Dutch cartoon bunny Miffy (known as Nijntje in Dutch) there is also a museum in Utrecht dedicated to her! In Lelystad you can see a replica of the Dutch East India Company ship the Batavia (the original was famously shipwrecked off the West coast of Australia) and in the province of Friesland you can visit the oldest working planetarium in the world, the Eise Eisinga Planetarium (I wrote a post about visiting it here).
When it comes to culture the Netherlands is very open and multicultural, as I said. The Dutch are very relaxed and laid-back about people’s choices and beliefs which is why the Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage and even today you can stroll around Amsterdam’s red-light district to have a look at the legal prostitution business going on – and even partake if you so choose. Amsterdam is partly famous for the (limited) legalisation of marijuana and other soft drugs, although there are some restrictions on this (have a look here for more information) and I think the government is trying to make it even more controlled in future, particularly for tourists. One thing that bothers me a little is how so many tourists to Amsterdam basically go just so they can do drugs and ogle the prostitutes. Amsterdam, and the Netherlands, has so much interesting history, culture and attractions beyond getting stoned, and it’s a shame that so many people don’t seem to see that. As I mentioned when talking about attractions, the Netherlands has a rich art and maritime history which can be explored in so many awesome museums. There are also lots of great restaurants, theatres, clubs and other things you can experience, and not only in Amsterdam. I have been here nearly two years and I still feel like there is so much for me to learn about the Dutch people, their history and culture.
I hope this post has given you a bit of a taste of what life is like in the Netherlands. Each of the areas I have talked about really have so much more to be discussed and explored so please have a look around my blog at other posts about life here, as well as keeping an eye out for more posts about life in the Netherlands in the future – I am planning to start trying my hand at cooking some traditional Dutch foods over the winter so make sure you come back if you’d like to learn how to make some of the delicious foods I mentioned earlier!