Like the Netherlands

expatsincebirth: Why I like living in the Netherlands

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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.

3) Gezelligheid

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!

Reasons to love the Netherlands

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.

Top things about the Netherlands

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!


Reprinted with permission of expatsincebirth.

Expat since birth: Ute Limacher-RieboldUte 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 she blogs about being an expat, multilingualism, raising TCK's (Third Culture Kids), and much more. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter. Photo credits (public domain): Pixabay. 


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18 Comments To This Article

  • Ute posted:

    on 23rd February 2016, 21:11:05 - Reply

    First of all, thank you for your comments and for taking the time to read my article.
    I read all the comments to my article and to summ it up: it all depends on your expectations and experiences, and on your very personal mindset. If you expect people to be in a certain way and they are not, if you expect life is "easier" or in a way that suits you better, and it is not, you will always be disappointed and frustrated. I may not have been in all parts of NL, that's true, and I may look like locals and have some advantages of being "accepted" and greeted more than some who commented, but I know by personal experience that being proactive and not taking everything personal helps a lot not to feel like an outsider (which I felt for many years myself).
    People can be somber and distant everywhere, maybe I'm just lucky so far %u2013
  • carrico posted:

    on 13th December 2013, 12:46:57 - Reply

    Yep, that slices it. I'm moving to So. Afrika. Life is such a Boer.
  • melancholicmess posted:

    on 11th December 2013, 21:58:27 - Reply

    I am an English speaking SAHM living in the heart of Limburg, which I have been told is the equivalent to the Deep South USA. I dare say I am the ultimate proof of how it really is like as an immigrant here because, firstly, there aren’t many Singaporeans here, certainly not in Limburg. Secondly, I live in a party of the country where there aren’t as many ‘varied’ immigrants as in the northern provinces where they come in all shapes, colours and sizes.

    1) My Dutch friends.
    When I first entered the inburgeringscursus, I was repeatedly assured that once I learned the language, I would have no problems making friends once I spoke Dutch fluently and especially when my children enter school later. Well, it’s been 4 years since my daughter started going to school and 7 years since I began speaking fluent Dutch and I haven’t made one single friend. I’ve tried my best - volunteering at school activities, helping with the Sinterklass and Christmas celebrations etc. and whilst I get a ‘thank you’, ‘how are you’, that’s about as far as it goes. No one seems interested to genuinely befriend me and the only one who did, later hit me up for a ‘donation’ for her Albanian in laws. I’ve tried to be as nice, polite and friendly as I can, most of the time of which is wasted since the people here don’t even know how to smile. Since last year, I’ve given up and now whilst I still occasionally volunteer, I’ve kept my distance. My assumptions were proven earlier this year when I received news that my father was hospitalized. After speaking to my mother on the phone, I had to go and pick my daughter up and shaken by the news, I couldn’t help but shed some tears as I waited for what seemed like an eternity. No one approached me and when I disappeared for a month after my dad’s death 3 weeks later, only 2 mothers came to me with their condolences afterwards. I was appreciative of it but I also knew it wasn’t an invitation for a friendship.

    2) Tolerance towards neighbours
    I live in an obscure part of town, cut off from everything and everyone else. As compared to other neighbourhoods, there are only 8 houses on this street, 2 of which don’t count since it belongs to a mother and daughter. Except for our house and our next door neighbor, the other houses are all ‘vrij stand’ houses which means that there is a fair amount of distance between the neighbours. It doesn’t make any difference though because even though we’re friendly with one another, we’re probably the ones who aren’t part of the clique. The other neighbours sometimes get together for barbeques in the summer or the regular birthday parties – sometimes we’re invited, sometimes we’re not. When I gave birth to my daughter, we got the cards and the visits but that was it. They knew I was gone for about a month after my father passed away but I didn’t get any sort of condolence message after that. And it’s OK because that’s how they are. I’d just be really mad if they claimed they were more than ‘gezellig’ to me. Because they’re not.

    I have contemplated on moving as I had felt bad for my daughter doesn’t live closer to her friends, who all live around the school and its proximity. However, a few people, including my own mother (who spent 3 months here) discouraged me stating that it was no guarantee it would be better for her or for us. I guess even though there is no ‘gezelligheid’ between us and our neighbours, it’s better than getting awful ones.

    (3) Gezelligheid (4) They know how to party
    There is no gezelligheid here whatsoever. For instance, I spent the first few years here going for the regular birthday celebrations and whenever we went, my husband and I would be left out of any of the conversations. Whenever we tried to join in, we were pretty much ignored. It doesn’t just happen with my in laws, it happens when we visit other people too. For instance, my BFF married my husband’s BFF and joined me shortly after I came here. I have known my BFF for a while and as such, have also become close with her entire family including her two aunts who live in Hamburg. Her Dutch in laws, however, seem to go out of their way to make me uncomfortable whenever we meet. The last time I met them was at my BFF’s daughter’s birthday party where we had to sit in the obligatory circle and the whole time we were there, they didn’t even try to speak to us. They spent the whole time talking to each other and pulled such grumpy faces that it was the last time we went anywhere near them. I told my BFF I love and her daughter but I couldn’t go through with that anymore, even if it’s just once a year. I mean, we weren’t looking to be their new best friends but would it kill them to make small talk for the 2 hours we were there?! Obviously, or else they would have at least tried.

    (5) I like that I can take my bike to go almost everywhere here.

    This is about the only redeeming factor about living in a small town in the Netherlands. I have always loved cycling and coming from Singapore, I couldn’t really do much of it. I am also epileptic and whilst a car is much handier, I am very grateful for my bicycle as it gives me the freedom to go wherever I want without having to worry about parking and payments. The only downside is the rain and winter weather when thermal innerwear is almost mandatory.

    (6) The Netherlands is not such a big country.
    (7) The closeness to the sea.
    (8) And the vast sky...

    Perhaps comparably to Germany, France and Spain, The Netherlands is a small country but all the places Ute listed are all in the Randstad area. Nothing was mentioned about places in the Brabant province much less in the Limburg area. And it’s much easier to get to the coastline when you are already in the Randstad area but when you’re further down south, it takes a lot longer and as such, we almost never get there. The vast sky is true and that is one of the advantages of living in a countryside where the tallest building is the 20 storey apartment blocks neatly stacked together thus allowing for the rest of the landsape to stand free.

    (9) They love children

    Yes, they do love children. Perhaps a little too much. Children aren’t taught respect here and I’ve seen many get away with things my own daughter won’t like throwing tantrums in the middle of the supermarket aisle. I’ve seen and heard how they speak to their elders and no one tells me otherwise. They grow up thinking they are the centre of the world and behave as such and by that time, it’s already too late for the parents to do anything about it. And even if they are respectful of their own elders, they are not necessarily respectful of all other elders.

    (10) Dutch people are friendly
    This must be a joke. The only reason they are friendly to Ute is because she looks exactly like them. The real trick is to be genuinely friendly to someone who is the exact opposite of you because on the surface, it would seem that you wouldn’t share anything in common. Whenever I go shopping, I am sometimes greeted by the staff who NEVER smile. They will say the obligatory ‘good morning’ etc. but those times that I do get a genuinely warm reception are very few and far between. In fact, they are friendly because I sometimes get greeted by strangers walking outside my house here. But it’s like they are on auto pilot and do it out of force of habit rather than sincere genuine warmth.

    I would think Ute is one of those lucky ones who have made it here and successfully. But I think it helps being a European and especially a German. Anyways, good on her but it doesn't happen to a lot of us.
  • Jane posted:

    on 10th December 2013, 08:11:36 - Reply

    A word of advice to those coloured expats:
    - if you come to NL, just present yourself as a Gay person
    Here is why:
    - Gay people have a 'special status' in NL, just like people from Israel.
    If you look around in Netherlands, you will quickly find out that both gays and israelis are allowed to receive let's call it 'positive racism', which means it is completely okay for these 2 groups to make positive remarks about their own kind, at the EXPENSE of other minorities, such as non-gays, or coloured people.
    Try it. This process started 20y ago, and now we reached a point where it is easier getting a job for gays or israelis (as an example) even unqualified ones, than it would be for say, 10th generation 'classic' minority groups who -are- dutch educated and qualified. Recently, NL started a campaign offering NL permit for any 'prosecuted gay' from the USSR. Soon, they too will feel elevated way way above english expats in NL, just because they belong to the 'elevated class of gays'. No offense, these are just the facts of the Netherlands politics.
  • Arundhati posted:

    on 7th December 2013, 03:19:24 - Reply

    People like to know EVERYTHING about you and your family. Not only are they rude, they are also unbelievably nosey!! I guess one's experience here also depends on one's color. If you are married to a Dutchie, don't be surprised if your Dutch brothers/sisters-in-law are treated much better! (THERE IS A LOT OF IMPLICIT RACISM AND DISCRIMINATION). Colonialism and discrimination are deep-seated and exist not only in the Corporate career. They are obsessed with Integration but actually that has no bearing on the way they treat you, really!

    They love to go on and on about how different you, your culture and country least these are the issues I am dealing with for some years here now. And I have often found people somber and un-smiling so can totally not relate to the writer's observations.

    The neighbors here are a blessing though, at least our current ones are (we have lived in two other cities/towns before).
  • carrico posted:

    on 4th December 2013, 22:18:53 - Reply

    Ever thought, old man, about visiting a third world country? I have, but never had the guts. Oh, well, there's one just blocks from my house........
  • Woods posted:

    on 2nd December 2013, 17:07:19 - Reply

    Ah well, it was a different kettle of fish in the late 60s and 70s. Amsterdam was a truly fantastic place to be then. All started to go pear-shaped around the mid-to-late 80s :)
  • carrico posted:

    on 2nd December 2013, 16:07:15 - Reply

    Holy Mackerel, Woods. I had no trouble collecting my pension from Berlin (West) after only 2 years. Financed our next house. Course this was in the Regan years, bombs were being thrown at disco's, American soldiers were being left to die in the street just across the boarder, Chernobyl blew, and Amsterdam/den Haag/Arnehm/Groningen saved our sanity. It's all good, dude.
  • Woods posted:

    on 2nd December 2013, 13:47:27 - Reply

    ...and I'm with Cheryl. And I'll add...even if you've lived here 40 years, as I have, you still won't get a full pension unless you moved here before you were 15, which I didn't. Nothing to do with paranoia at all - simply facts.
  • Woods posted:

    on 2nd December 2013, 13:33:50 - Reply

    'What I like most here is the total acceptance of gay people. Even those who condemn a gay lifestyle on religious grounds will be polite and open to socializing.______________Really? That's not the experiences of my many gay friends, some of whom have been threatened with knives and beaten on 'religious grounds' by...yes...let's say it...Moroccans.. I take it you don't hang out in gay clubs in Den Hague and Rotterdam then...
  • Solomon posted:

    on 1st December 2013, 15:50:13 - Reply

    I just joined my wife in Netherlands a month ago. And so far i have enjoyed my stay, the people are friendly. But i have not be able to get a job simply because i dont speak Dutch. Pls, anyone with useful information on how to get a non dutch job should contact me at Thanks
  • carrico posted:

    on 30th November 2013, 13:51:09 - Reply

    Heard an interesting song in the locker room recently. Think it's called, "Paranoia."
  • Cheryl posted:

    on 29th November 2013, 14:20:34 - Reply

    Well, the only thing Netherlands can offer really is jobs. But even that is relative. If you are in dire straits, I suppose a job in NL is better than no job at all.
    There is absolutely nothing else likeable:
    - they can be very blunt (and they also mean to be mean to you)
    - at work you will notice the dutch talk amongst each other about you, because they are jalous of you holding that job instead of a native dutch
    - at the building where you live, the neighbours will talk amongst each other about what you are doing, again because they are jalous. This becomes especially a problem if you ever even try to rent your place out during holidays. They will pass your details to the municipality who will ask you to submit a 'rental permit request' (which of course municipality will never grant you).
    - whenever a dutch approaches you with any questions, it will almost always be due to that person trying to find out if there is anything you are involved in which he can use against you (he will tell your boss/neighbour about it and get you in trouble)
    - if you give birth in NL, they will tell you that you are not allowed to show up at the hospital and force you to give birth at home, plus they will refuse to give you pain relief to deliver the same way they do in USA
    this is because they want to keep their costs down. Mind you, if you offer money, they still won't take it from you and deliver that service!
    - the shops opening hours are a big problem
    - if you want anything done, like plumbing, carpeting, etc, be ready to take a day off because these guys are NOT flexible
    - they have a legal system that won't allow a pedophile foundation ( to be shut down. They call it 'freedom of speech'
    - when you set up a limited company, the tax man will 'deem' that you as a director made at least 40.000euro p year, even if you made a loss, and even if you disagree or do not have the cash. They do this because they want to force you to pay the 52% tax on this salary ('gebruikelijk loon')
    - they tax your employment salary 52% (that's right, you are working 48% of your time to pay off your tax bills)
    - if you are lucky enough to make over around 100.000euro, they will tax you another 16% (so your cummulative is over 75%)
    - the 48% what's left,when you put that on the bank, they tax you
    another1.2%annually(pay it 50years and you handed it all over to MrTax)
    - if you die, your kids will get an Inheritance tax bill (up to 40%) on whatever you still managed to save after paying all those taxes.
    - they call their country 'open', but what they mean is that they themselves have gone out over the world to set up their dutch branches (think Shell, Unilever etc). So it is not directed at you at all. They welcome international business or anything international on one criteria only: what's in it for the DUTCH
    - if you try to move up the ladder at a company, even if you lived in NL 20y, speak the language, gained their nationality, chances are that management will never allow you to move up the ranks in that company, on the basis of: you are very well integrated, over qualified but unfortunately managing Dutch direct reports means that we require a native dutch who are even 'better' aware of dutch culture

    So, if you want a job, settle in NL. But don't let them put you down while you try to amass your first million, remember it is all about their jalousy.
  • carrico posted:

    on 28th November 2013, 16:26:43 - Reply

    You forgot the Dutch have great mouths: " Mind your step, mind your step." Never can tell what you might step in.
  • Jude posted:

    on 27th November 2013, 17:47:28 - Reply

    Great article.

    I had the pleasure of living in the Netherlands a couple of years ago and loved every minute of it! If I had it my way, we would be back there today.

    I agree with everything you say but would like to add a few more things:

    1) The Dutch love their animals and things are very pet friendly. I love the fact that you can take your dogs everywhere with you.

    2) The Dutch are also very clean and tidy and it was a pleasure walking around our neighborhood looking at the lovely yards and visiting friends with their tidy, clean houses.

    3) I also found that the Dutch take pride in their work and are always offering you a good deal whether it's with their business or not. You don't see that in too many places in the world.

    I also found the Dutch to be very friendly, progressive and open. I've definitely left a large part of my heart in the Netherlands and if my wishes come true, I will be back there again someday. :)
  • Igishangasufferer posted:

    on 27th November 2013, 17:21:08 - Reply

    What I like about Holland? The departure terminal at Schiphol and the international trains to the neighbouring countries!

    No honestly. How can that woman say, Dutch people are all happy and friendly. I only see grumpy and aggressive people around me! The only smiling and happy ones seem to be people with an African background. At least that's my experience and that of numerous expat and Dutch colleagues and friends. An old friend cam to visit me with his wife. Her first reaction: "What's wrong with them here? Why are they all so miserable and grumpy?" This goes for the Randstad. I realise that in certain parts of NL it is very different, like Twente or Limburg, for instance.
  • Matjan Tutul posted:

    on 27th November 2013, 16:54:32 - Reply

    I am half Dutch and I grew up overseas, so I think I can call myself an expat. When I first came to Holland I had to get used to that attitude which some people call directness and others think of as just being rude. I never got used to being called first name or 'jij' by complete strangers but I did become proficient in the three hugs ritual. What I like most here is the total acceptance of gay people. Even those who condemn a gay lifestyle on religious grounds will be polite and open to socializing. This was a main reason to settle here, and we have not been disappointed. People are generally open to newcomers and foreigners. We are residents of a relatively 'white' neighbourhood. A Turkish family decided they would open a grocery store. It so happened that they did it during school holidays and teenage neighbours offered help with painting the shop front. On opening day people brought flowers and cakes. At our church, when a black family from Surinam began attending Sunday services the sexton asked the father if he would be willing to join the collectors and the son if he would be an acolyte. He told me, later on, that there was no real shortage, but that he wanted the family to feel part of the community right away.
  • Darrell posted:

    on 27th November 2013, 14:42:15 - Reply

    You've captured my sentiments exactly. I was fortunate enough to have lived in the Netherlands for 3 years and loved everything you mentioned in your article. Additionally I enjoyed the variety of foods and even much of the Dutch cuisine! It's important to come into a new culture with an open mind and no judgements or you'll miss some of the best parts. Part of my heart will always remain in the Netherlands.