expatsincebirth: Why I like living in the Netherlands
It's not all rain and raw fish. Expat Ute Limacher-Riebold finds Dutch society open and child-friendly as she pinpoints her top 10 favourite aspects of life in the Netherlands.
Sometimes it's nice to reflect on our expatriate lives and give thanks for all the good, new experiences it brings, no matter how little or large. In this post on what I like about living in the Netherlands, here are 10 things I celebrate in everyday life.
1) My Dutch friends.
First of all, I love my Dutch friends. This is probably the main reason I feel at home here and why I feel very uncomfortable when others complain about anything Dutch.
2) Tolerance towards neighbours.
Another thing I like here is the tolerance. I've mentioned tolerance before in another post, and the fact that in the Netherlands people need to be tolerant because of the population density. In my experience, neighbours tend to be more tolerant here than in the other countries I've lived in. During the yearly burendag, initiated by Douwe Egberts in 2006 and since 2008 joined by the Oranje Fonds, neighbours get together in order to get to know each other. In our neighbourhood we celebrate this with a big BBQ and games for the children.
Related to 1) and 2) is this feeling of gezelligheid and freedom, which I really like. In an interview I once said that I consider the Dutch mentality as refreshing: "Dutch people are happy people, they enjoy their lives and value the life outside of their career." Some may not agree, but having lived in Switzerland and Italy before coming here, I must say that the way to live here and to enjoy the free-time is much more relaxed and people are more easy-going.
4) They know how to party!
Yes, in the Netherlands people know how to party, how to have fun! At birthday parties it is custom not only to congratulate the birthday boy/girl, but also everyone else in the family. "Gefeliciteerd met de verjaardag van je zoon/dochter/man/moeder/vader..." And generally speaking about parties, I have to say that I've never felt uncomfortable or bored at a party here. There's always something going on and people know how to make you feel comfortable. I know that at this point some of my British or non-European friends would mention the greeting with three kisses because they feel very uncomfortable with kissing and shaking hands with people they barely know (and sometimes even friends), but for me it's nothing special. I'm used to kissing, shaking hands and hugging, having grown up in Europe.
5) I like that I can take my bike to go almost everywhere here.
We all have bikes – my children since a very early age. With my bakfiets I used to do my groceries with all three children in it (I can load up to 100kg). Not anymore, as they all can ride their own bikes now, but I still prefer doing my shopping with my 'favourite car'. The fact that everything is so close makes this aspect of the daily life very easy. What I really appreciate here is that people ride their bikes in different ways: In Switzerland or Germany, people usually have road bikes (or mountain bikes) and they ride in a bent position, face down, whereas here, people sit up straight on their bikes. I'm also happy to see so many old and/or disabled people in the street! They can go really everywhere with their rollators and they do!
6) The Netherlands is not such a big country.
Everything is relatively close. In The Hague area, if you're interested in culture, you can visit the museums in Rijswijk, The Hague (Mauritshuis, Gemeentemuseum, Meermanno, Kinderboekenmuseum, Museon, Foto museum, Escher in het Paleis, Beelden an Zee, Gevangenenpoort, Letterkundig Museum, Haag Historisch Museum etc.), and Leiden (Botanical Garden, Naturalis, Museum Volkenkunde, Rijksmuseum van Oudheden etc.), and of course there are even more in Amsterdam, Rotterdam etc. The Museumkaart enables you to have free or reduced access to about 400 museums in the Netherlands and even in some places in Germany.
Then, in The Hague, you can also visit Madurodam. You can visit the zoo: Diergaarde Blijdorp in Rotterdam or Sealife in Scheveningen. If you visit the Netherlands in May or June, the Keukenhof is a must. The Haagse Markt is an incredible market! You can find fresh fish, spices, nuts, grains, and loads of items from Asia and Middle East. For children there are plenty of in- and outdoor playgrounds, but the best 'playground' is the beach. The coast is beautiful. You can have long walks and bike rides in the dunes. Also the Veluwe (in Gelderland) is worth a visit. You can find precious informations about what to do with kids here and here. What's not to love?
7) The closeness to the sea.
If I should ever have to leave the Netherlands, I would terribly miss the closeness to the sea. Probably because I grew up next to the Alps (I could see the Monte Rosa from my room window), going to the beach always feels like holidays to me. And the beach is huge! We have great strandtenten on the beach where you can spend a whole day, the children can play and you can have a coffee or a meal. You are free to walk for miles and in the winter months people are even allowed to walk their dogs.
8) And the vast sky...
Every time we come back from Switzerland, we take a deep breath and enjoy the beautiful vast Dutch sky. I know that some people complain about the weather, but honestly, I've never lived in any country here in Europe where people were happy about the weather. What I like here is the generally mild climate. Generally – because we just had a few very cold and long winters – but you can still see the sky almost every day. While I lived in Zurich I remember that in the winter I barely saw the sky for months. We had to go up in the mountains to find some sun on the weekends, but in the valleys, it was quite sombre.
9) They love children.
I've experienced having a child in Italy and thought that there can't be another country where children are as much loved as there, but I was wrong. Here in the Netherlands I found the same kindness towards children that I was used to in Italy. I always got help to lift the stroller in a bus or tram (where there is always space to leave a stroller) and children are welcome in all the restaurants and public places.
10) Dutch people are very friendly.
I've rarely encountered people with a grumpy face on the street and usually, when I smile at people, they smile back. I tried to do the same towards people in other countries and was frustrated because nobody even noticed my smile... I know that some people complain about the Dutch rudeness, but I would rather call it straightforwardness. To someone like me (who doesn't like to pussyfoot around), this directness actually seems refreshing.
Do you live in the Netherlands and would like to add some positive things you like in this country? Please feel free to add them by leaving a reply!
Ute Limacher-Riebold has been an expat since birth. Born as a German citizen, she grew up in Italy, studied in Switzerland and worked in Florence, before settling in the Netherlands in 2005 with her husband, son and twin daughters. After working at the University of Zurich, Ute is now a freelance translator, language teacher and writer. In expatsincebirth.com she blogs about being an expat, multilingualism, raising TCK's (Third Culture Kids), and much more. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.
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