Moving to the Netherlands as an expat – what to expect?
You’ve decided to take the plunge and are moving to the Netherlands to work here as an expat. You’re excited about this new adventure and you might be wondering what the Dutch are like, what the unwritten rules are, and just generally what you can expect from your soon-to-be home. Whether you come from another European country, the Americas, or Asia, you’re bound to notice some differences about the Dutch culture. We made a list of the five most noticeable things you will find out about the Dutch when you’re moving to the Netherlands.
1. Bikes Everywhere
If you’re moving to the Netherlands and you don’t know how to ride a bike, you better learn quickly. The Dutch ride their bikes pretty much everywhere. If you can reach your destination in biking in under half an hour, the Dutch will go by bike. And it’s not like they don’t have cars. They do, as the traffic jams will prove. They simply have the habit of riding their bikes.
Children learn two things from a very young age: swimming (because there’s water everywhere) and riding a bike. Also, given the parking fees in some cities, the bike is your best option to save money (and boy, the Dutch do not like to spend money on things they find wasteful).
So, start practicing now or take a biking class once you arrive in the Netherlands. And when you do go biking in the Netherlands, please don’t wear a helmet. At least, not if you don’t want to be the laughing stock of your company or neighborhood or frankly, anywhere you go.
2. No privacy
The Dutch are very open people. There aren’t many taboos left in our society and we talk about almost anything. The Dutch lack of privacy is very clear at night when you walk past their houses. You will see families sitting in their living room, watching tv, or having dinner. That’s right, the houses in the Netherlands have big windows that aren’t decorated with drapes or anything to keep glaring eyes out. The Dutch can be very unapologetic: I do whatever I want in my house and I don’t care who sees it or what their opinion is. By the way, it’s totally cool if you look inside. Just nod if someone sees you do it.
Another thing that the Dutch are known for is their directness. You may find yourself being ‘interviewed’ by your colleagues or neighbors. And you might think that the questions are a little too personal, but your Dutch colleague will find his questions perfectly normal. Feel free to interview your colleague back by the way. Go ahead, ask him anything, except don’t ask him how much he earns — that’s a total no-no.
3. Bad customer service
I don’t want to discourage you from moving to the Netherlands, but the one thing expats in the Netherlands complain about is bad customer service. If you’re used to being treated like royalty by customer service in your country, you’re in for a rude awakening.
Expats often feel as if they are treated like a number. You just have to realize that in the Netherlands, everybody has the same rights and duties. Expats are not an exception. Equality in the Netherlands is very important so whether you’re a cleaner or a CEO does not matter how you are treated at places like city hall, the bank, the supermarket, or your phone provider. Also, showing up somewhere doesn’t mean you will be helped. Because when it’s time to go for the customer service agent, it’s time to go. People can come across as uninterested and unwilling to look further than your question and going the extra mile.
The Netherlands is a very liberal place. Besides marijuana and prostitution being (semi)legalized, abortion is legal until 24 weeks, and euthanasia is also legal under very strict law. Also, same-sex marriage is legal and being open about one’s sexuality is something normal in general.
But don’t think that the Dutch are lawless. Although they complain a lot about the many rules in society, they do make sure to follow the rules to a T. There’s also weird schizophrenia in the general culture where they feel like everybody should be themselves and anything should be possible but at the same time believe that you should just act normal. What’s normal? Not standing out too much and living by the (unwritten) rules.
5. Happiest place on earth
And you thought Disneyland is the happiest place on earth. Turns out, the Netherlands is one of the happiest places on earth. What better reason for moving to the Netherlands do you need? Surveys have consistently shown that the Dutch rate their lives in the top 10 of the happiest people on earth (we’re currently at number 6).
It might have something to do with the working hours. Dutch people value their spare time a lot. We generally don’t do overtime, especially not unpaid overtime. We love hanging with our family and friends. Although the Dutch, in general, don’t have really close-knit ties with their extended family, they do value their close family a lot. Parents play a big role in their kids’ lives with moms often working part-time to be with their kids and dad’s having a ‘papa-dag’ (daddy-day) once a week.
The Dutch men and women are emancipated. The sexes are perceived as being equal although the traditional roles haven’t been rearranged in most families yet. Men value taking care of their kids just as much as women do though.
Wait, there’s more!
There are so many more things that can be said about the Dutch but in a list of five, we can’t include everything. These are things that didn’t make the list but might be interesting to know as well:
- Almost everyone speaks English. In fact, the Dutch are the best non-English speakers in the world according to this study.
- Guns are forbidden.
- Despite their openness, it’s hard to make Dutch friends.
- Credit cards aren’t widely used.
- You can drink the tap water.
- The houses are tiny.
- There’s universal healthcare insurance.
- The Dutch are very straight forward almost to the point they’re being perceived as rude. If they have an opinion, they will tell you about it.
- The Dutch don’t like drama. They are very down to earth people.
- Dutch don’t like ‘fakeness’– they might consider you being overly nice.
- The Netherlands houses some magnificent artwork from their great Dutch painters.
Still planning on moving to the Netherlands?
If you’re moving to the Netherlands, you’re probably going to have a great time! Sure, you will need some time to adjust to the customs and ways of the Dutch, but that’s normal for every country. Don’t be afraid to offend people because we aren’t easily offended.
Welcome to the happiest place on earth!
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