I cannot believe it has already been a month since Andy and I moved to the Netherlands. Thinking back on how much went into this move and how much our lives have changed in a few short months is a bit mind blowing to me! It took an insane amount of work to get us here and I had non-stop anxiety wondering how our new life would be and if we were making the right decision. It is incredible how much we’ve learned in this short time and how different our new lifestyle is in contrast to that in the states. There is so much preservation of tradition in Europe, even in Rotterdam which is quite modern compared to most of the Netherlands and I find it utterly fascinating!
1. Biking Culture is HUGE
This is easily one of the first things we were introduced to upon arriving in the Netherlands. We knew before leaving home that we would be shipping our car over for ease of traveling between countries with our dogs BUT we also knew that we’d quickly be getting acquainted with a new mode of transportation and quickly we did! The Netherlands has such an impressive and extensive biking culture. Though the Netherlands has pretty much any route of public transportation you fancy; bus, subway, tram, train, uber, etc. I can honestly say that biking is the quickest and most efficient way to get around.
There are bike lanes and bike racks EVERYWHERE. We even have parking garages dedicated to biking in high traffic areas. Places with steep stairs have channels to put your bike wheels in so you can bring your bike up the stairs. Not only is cycling efficient here but it is also safe! Bike lanes are often completely separated by barriers from the road and if they are not, drivers always know the importance of looking out for riders. The biking culture is so extensive that people have adapted to carrying out all aspects of their lives by bike; whether they are riding home in the rain from the city center, cycling to another town, or bringing home groceries.
2. Visiting the Grocery Store is an Experience
Probably one of the top things I have not quite adjusted to is going to the grocery store. Remember that bike culture I was just talking about? Well, this extends to visiting and bringing groceries home from the grocery store. Gone are the days of driving the SUV to Costco and loading up for two weeks plus. No, no, no, that’s not happening here in the Netherlands.
If you want to go to the grocery store, you have to first decide how you will get there. Will you walk, take the tram, or bike? I often find walking or biking to be the most efficient, but then how will you bring groceries home? Most people do have baskets or saddle bags on their bikes, but there’s still a limit to how much these fit. This makes grocery shopping a much more regular occurrence. It is not uncommon for people to go to the grocery store multiple times per week. If that’s not your thing don’t worry. Delivery service is really good in the Netherlands. You can actually order your groceries online and get them delivered in a day or two which can be a huge help.
Once you’ve reached the grocery store though, good luck reading labels and boxes. Aside from the obvious things, you’ll likely come home with a few random things that you thought were one thing but are not. The selection is also different and there are many foods in the states that do not even exist here!
Upon collecting an odd assortment of groceries, you’ll throw them on the belt and, as the cashier scans them, quickly throw them in a bag or your cart.
Also, forget grocery shopping after work because most grocery stores close early. Most close around 6:00 PM, except on Fridays when they have extended hours (until 9:00 PM part of an old Dutch tradition.) I will say, a positive aspect of this lifestyle is that your grocery trips become more thought out and you don’t end up spending as much.
3. If You are Going Out for the Day You Probably Need a Backpack
This may not be common for everyone but as American expats who have just moved abroad, it’s common for us, especially on weekends. Because we choose to bike everywhere, visiting places that would be a quick drive from our house becomes a much longer experience. Most of the time, when we leave our house, it’s for the entire day, and we don’t come home until the evening. There’s really no quickly running back home when you’ve taken a 40 minute bike ride to another city. For this reason, we normally bring our backpacks along for anything we want to travel with (like our camera) or bring home (from shopping or anything else).
4. Not Learning the Language is TOO Easy
You may already know that people in Europe are incredibly skilled at speaking multiple languages compared to people in the states and the Netherlands is no exception. While this is wildly impressive (and makes me feel quite unworldly as an American) it becomes sort of a catch 22 as an American expat because almost everyone in the Netherlands speaks some degree of English. In my experience thus far, people speak English perfectly! (though they’ll say that they don’t) Almost immediately upon learning that you don’t speak Dutch, people will kindly switch to English. While incredibly helpful to start, this method of interaction makes it much harder for expats to learn the local language for the longterm.
5. The Work-Life Balance is Completely Different
American culture has become much more work centered than life centered (in my opinion), but the balance here is much more even. Employees do their jobs and do them well, but there is no expectation to put in hours beyond the normal forty. Also, because of the extensive public transportation options available, many people do not spend hours on end sitting in traffic for their commute. It is not uncommon for many companies to offer 25 days off per year, but at a minimum, a full-time employee would be offered 20. In fact, it is a law that employees receive holiday pay and vacation time. These differences lead to more quality time spent at home with the family or doing other meaningful activities (like planning visits to other countries, being part of a sports team, learning a new skill).
6. The Dutch ARE Blunt
One of the first things I read about the Dutch is how direct they are. In my short experience living in the country, I would definitely agree. On the other hand, this honestly does not bother me. Almost every interaction I have had with Dutch people in passing has been quite pleasant. They are just as friendly as anything you’d experience living in the states. More than anything, I think they are just honest and don’t beat around the bush. Some may find this characteristic to be a bit unsettling or interpret it as rude. I find it to be a quite natural and refreshing way of communicating! I say we all take a lesson from the Dutch and speak our minds. The biggest thing I’d keep in mind when speaking with the Dutch is to not take things personally. Be honest and direct right back!
7. Spaces are Smaller
I think this may be more of a shock for an old Southern gal like me. Texas has so many GIANT houses and huge plots of land in the country. Others coming from dense urban spaces may be less shocked. But still, compared to the US, everything is smaller here. This includes apartments, the furniture inside them, storage spaces, parking spots, cars, and even stairs. Everything! The Netherlands is quite small as a country, so I can only imagine this is an adaptation to that.
If you’re thinking about moving to Europe, do not expect a huge apartment with large bathroom and closets. You’ll have to adjust to a much “smaller” way of life. In the Netherlands free standing homes hardly exist. If they do are incredibly expensive. You’ll more than likely be sharing walls with your neighbors, and your house will be more of an apartment or condo style.
8. You Get WAY More Exercise
This little bit of information circles back to the methods of transportation that are available! Yes, people do still drive here. In fact, there are always cars zooming past our house just as there would in the states. Like I said earlier though, there are so many better ways of getting around. Parking is limited and expensive so walking, riding your bike, or taking public transportation becomes so much more convenient! You end up walking and cycling a lot more instead of driving a car.
9. Customer Service Takes on a Different Meaning
Customer service is definitely different no matter where you travel in the world! In Texas, we are so use to over-accommodating friendliness. If your business doesn’t have a high level of customer service, you aren’t getting paid. In the Netherlands, it’s completely the opposite. Minimum wages are higher so people at restaurants and in retail are not really working for tips. If you order a water, it’s not getting refilled unless you ask for another water. Additionally, you might have to call the waiter/waitress over to take your order. Don’t forget to also ask for your check when you’re done. That is just a difference in culture though to not make you feel rushed out. Dinners become much longer so you can’t be in a hurry! BUT, you don’t have to tip (unless the service was actually great) which makes going out to dinner a bit cheaper!
10. Food and Alcohol are CHEAP
I was on the fence about whether this deserved it’s own category, but it is an amazing part of living in the Netherlands! Going out to eat at a restaurant is about as much as it is in the US. I wouldn’t say that it is cheap, BUT, if you’re buying food from the grocery store, or especially the street markets, it is dirtttttt cheap. Not only is it cheap, but it’s high quality and delicious. Three of my favorite things are three of the most affordable; bread, cheese, and wine! What more could you need?! You can get a full loaf of fresh bread for less than one euro, and a large bit of cheese or good bottle of wine for less than 5! Andy got 20 avocado from the market last weekend for 1 euro. You cannot beat those prices for high quality food.
I could go on and on about what we’ve learned in just one month. So you don’t have a novel to read, I’ll save the rest for another time! Moving abroad has been challenging, and adjusting has not been easy, but I wouldn’t change it for the world!