Here is a light-hearted look at the essential tools for integration into Dutch society.
The Netherlands: famous for cheese, clogs, windmills and red light districts. However, there is so much more to this country, and its people, than meets the eye. As an expatriate, you may simply be able to watch the strange goings on in Dutch society from the sidelines. If your partner is Dutch, the chances are you have little choice about your involvement in some of the bizarre traditions and habits of life in the Netherlands. Here is a light-hearted look at the essential tools for integration into Dutch society.
Entrance into Dutch society demands the purchase of a bike. The Netherlands is flat and inundated with cycle paths. There are no excuses for not joining the masses and getting on your bike.
You gain intermediate cyclist status if you can stay upright whilst transporting a full beer crate fastened to the back of your bike, at least two children sitting in fietszitjes front and back and a saddlebag containing your weekly shop. The award of advanced cyclist is bestowed upon those achieving this in pouring rain and gale force winds whilst conversing on a mobile phone. Most Dutch cyclists have advanced status by the time they leave secondary school.
No winter is complete without stamppot. This is one of the staple foods (the other being erwtensoep or snert) of the Netherlands during the colder months. Stamppot is potato and vegetable mashed together. The vegetable varies but is usually cabbage, spinach or carrot. I suggest the use of a little imagination to concoct a desired colour or taste. Red cabbage, for example, can produce a rather festive pink feast.
Chilli sauce, sambal, knoflooksaus and appelmoes are mealtime frills that should be in the refrigerator. One or all of the condiments accompany most Dutch meals. One school of thought (mine) is that these highly flavoured sauces are essential to balance the blandness of Dutch dinners, or disguise the real contents of Dutch ‘snacks’ such as kroket and frikadel.
In this case, the importance lays not so much in the ownership of the item but in its placement. A birthday calendar belongs in the downstairs toilet. Without exception, the calendar must take pride of place in the smallest room in the house. This is an unwritten Dutch law.
To avoid embarrassment ensure that the calendar contains the birthday of all potential visitors to your home. At the risk of exposing a Nederlands secret – weak bladders are not a national affliction of the Dutch, the guaranteed visit to your facilities is to check scrupulously for their name on the birthday calendar.
Orange clothes and a hat
The purchase of at least an orange T-shirt and one hat is highly recommended for Dutch national holidays and celebrations. Some of the main events to wear your orange clothing with pride to are Queen’s Day (30th April), Prinsjesdag (3rd Tuesday of September) and any time when the Dutch national football team are playing, but particularly during European (EK) and World (WK) cups.
More chairs than you have storage room for are required for birthday celebrations in Dutch households. The circular arrangement of chairs is critical to be an accepted member of Dutch society. Moreover, the chairs are required to be as close together as possible to ensure clambering is necessary to enter or leave the circle. It is perfectly acceptable to borrow chairs from neighbours, friends or family in advance but it is not common practice to ask guests to ‘bring your own chair’ when you invite them to the birthday gathering.
With these essentials stored away in the kitchen, downstairs loo, shed and wardrobe, any buitenlander finding himself in the Netherlands is armed and better prepared for his journey into Dutch society.
Reprinted with permission from The Writing Well.
Amanda van Mulligen, British born, moved to The Netherlands in 2000 and is an expat writer. She runs The Writing Well, a company providing English language writing services. She is married to a Dutchman and the mother to one son. Amanda writes about life as an expatriate in the Netherlands, as well as about career issues.