From frugal living to a paracetamol approach to healthcare, expats from the Netherlands talk about the nuances – good and bad – of living a Dutch lifestyle.
Whenever two or more expats and internationals get together, the conversation inevitably turns to the pros and cons of life in the new country. The newest arrival in the group is always full of questions for the old hands.
Attitudes to going Dutch vary widely. Some people find Dutch healthcare cheap and fantastic; others find it expensive and over-reliant on paracetamol. Some people are driven crazy by all the red tape, while those from more bureaucratic countries have no trouble cutting through it all.
As for the benefits? For a Norwegian, it’s the cheese. For a German, it’s the 30 percent tax rule. For a Canadian, it’s living in a less materialistic society. For a Russian, it’s the freedom to express oneself. For many other internationals, it’s the chance to explore a new culture and learn about themselves in turn.
Here are just some anecdotes from Ready Steady Go Dutch about what expats – with varying lengths of experience in the country – would tell the international community about moving to the Netherlands.
Dutch attitudes and social norms
We are used to living with less than we did before – which is a good thing. When I go back to Canada, I am overwhelmed with all of the stuff everyone owns. We have new friends and the Dutch are in many ways more sophisticated than our friends at home. And we have the benefit of bilingual children; we have learned a new language, and a new culture. – Canadian, 10 years in the Netherlands, entrepreneur
The structure, organisation and rules (even if I generally dislike the abundance of rules and regulations), the relaxed people and way of life, have made me calmer and more easy-going. Even if a lot of things – people, practices – still annoy me, I feel I have a lot more peace of mind than I had in my home country. – Borislav, Bulgarian, four years in the Netherlands, office manager
We have come to appreciate the differences between here and the States. Ultimately, the struggles are the same – family, money, politics and religion. – Patti, American, two years in the Netherlands, IT specialist
The worst thing is the changing political landscape, and the increasing antipathy towards foreigners. I don’t look foreign so I escape the worst of it. This country is not as tolerant as the propaganda would have you believe – and in any case who wants to be ‘tolerated’? – New Zealander, 12 years in the Netherlands, digital manager
Dutch approach to healthcare
We went to the doctor with our baby who was totally congested and he suggested we cut an onion in half and put it in her room. – Ozgur, Turkish, relocated from the US two years ago
Get using to being told, “Take a paracetamol and rest”. Do not get upset with this attitude either. It is actually a good way of handling problems most of the time. After all, the Dutch healthcare system works on optimising the average outcome. However, this also means, if you suspect something serious, you should be demanding. I would even advise doing your homework (asking doctors, if you know any, what might be the culprit, and Googling for information). That is because … if you have something unusual, the chances are they will be too late to realise it. There are some horror stories about such cases, so pay attention. – Turkish, eight and a half years in the Netherlands, academic
The Netherlands seems to take the approach of the survival of the fittest. But of course when the situation is indeed serious, the care here is superior. This nation is by far healthier than my own so they must be doing something right. You need to understand that you have a right to a second opinion and no doctor is God, which means that if you need something, you are responsible for asking questions and insisting on being heard. – Russian/Dutch, eight and a half years in the Netherlands, works in industry
It shocked me that I had to ask my doctor for a letter to see a gynaecologist and he could not understand why I wanted to go! My reason was simple, I am a woman, I was used to having my semi-annual checks, just to be sure everything was good! However, I must admit that it has its positive side. While back home I was always happy to get medicines, I am learning to let my body fight viruses on it’s own, so my immune is of course stronger. – Kenyan, five years in the Netherlands
Getting out and about
I had clearly underestimated the cultural differences, which seemed insignificant at first. During the first year, I thought the lack of choice in their supermarkets, their lack of love for the food I am used to, the ‘boring food’, questionable tastes, their lack of politically-oriented conversations, and sometimes their ‘directness’ were annoying. How did I manage? One of my colleagues told me one day that I should stop complaining about all this. That’s what I had indeed been doing for a few months. – French, three years in the Netherlands, policy analyst
I did not want to go out in the rain. A long-time resident expat told me that if I waited for it to stop raining, I would end up housebound so just dress for the weather and go out anyway. I took her advice. – Claire, American, 20 years in the Netherlands, psychologist
Being a person who was always on the move back home, having owned and successfully run my own business, I felt ‘trapped’ in this village with no friends, no work, no family. That was the hardest period of my life. I was like a toddler again, starting all over. – Kenyan, moved to the Netherlands for love five years ago
Een klein beetje! (Just a little bit). A recommendation to fellow expats, or expat-to-be: perfect reason to get encouraged for speaking Dutch is that it’s a language that I believe no one on earth can speak perfectly. So feel free to give it a try and be okay with all the mistakes you make. – Ozgur, Turkish, relocated from the US, two years in the Netherlands
Eat, drink and celebrate like the Dutch
Eating habits may be an issue if you think good food and good wine are important – people here just care less about that. Do not take offence for it though, because they enjoy life as much as you do. Plus you will eventually find nice bakeries, shops, etc., that will help you adjust. – French, three years in the Netherlands, policy analyst
Regarding food: Gezond means healthy but in reality it just means the food is not covered in mayonnaise. – Jess, British, five months in the Netherlands, IT consultant
We mix both traditions. So we give presents at Christmas and Sinterklaas. We cycle and skate a lot. And we cook pancakes for tea regularly and call it Pancake Tuesday or whatever day it happens to be. – Nicola, British-Dutch, 26 years in the Netherlands, journalist
Ready, Steady, Go Dutch / Expatica
Ready, Steady, Go Dutch was compiled by DutchNews.nl and ACCESS, based on the experiences of 150 expats. Order your copy at readysteadygodutch.com.
Thumbnail credit: Garry Knight.