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Living in the Netherlands: 10 things to know before you move

When you move to another country you will always have to get used to it and discover the habits of that country. To feel at home as soon as possible, it is good to prepare yourself a little mentally (and in some cases physically). The Netherlands is a nice country to live in. It has beautiful cities, friendly people and is rated as one of the happiest countries in the world. Still, the country may also be called a little confusing and somewhat weird. Therefore, read below the 10 things you need to know before moving to the Netherlands as an expat, so you will be less likely to be faced with (funny) surprises!


1. Don’t call the country ‘Holland’

Calling the Netherlands ‘Holland’ is the same as calling the United Kingdom ‘Yorkshire’. It's a bit quicker to say, but it's just plain wrong. Holland is a region that occupies about one third of the Netherlands, so when you say ‘Holland’ you ignore the other two thirds of the country. What about poor Limburg? Utrecht? Friesland and Groningen? There are 12 provinces in total, including Noord-Holland and Zuid-Holland. Strangely enough, the Dutch seem to make an exception for the Dutch sports teams. People still shout from the stands or sidelines: 'Holland! Holland! Holland!' Don't ask us why.

2. You have to learn to ride a bike

You may think, "I already know how to cycle", but you are wrong. Okay, you may know how to move a bicycle by pedaling, but you don't know how to actually cycle through the busy cities, at least not like the Dutch do.

Cycling in the Netherlands means that you can cycle with your hands in your pocket, with a Christmas tree or seat on your handlebars, cycle while towing a second bike next to yourself, or confidently give someone (adult or child) a lift on the back of your bike. The Dutch are really the masters of cycling. You will really need to upgrade your skills.

Picture for Empty bike syndrome blog 1

3. It’s a very low country

You may know the saying: "While God created the earth, the Dutch created the Netherlands". What do you do if you want a bigger country? Right, then you just push the sea back. The Netherlands is a small country, but in theory it should be even smaller. For almost a thousand years, the Dutch have been draining land and reclaiming it back from the sea. They use windmills and pumps to drain the water and then build large barriers along the coast (called ‘dijken’) to keep the sea from taking it back. More than a quarter of the Netherlands should be technically under water and only 50% of the country is more than a meter above sea level. They play a dangerous, watery game. If you are wondering: ‘The Netherlands’ literally means ‘lower countries’.

4. The Dutch don’t queue

The Dutch are generally quite direct. So maybe this has to do with it too. Or is it because everyone is always in a hurry? We will probably never know, but one thing is clear: the Dutch don't stand in line (at least not in the same way as most people in other countries do).

When you have to come to work by public transport as an expat, it is advisable to practice this beforehand. And it is even better to observe for an hour before you start practicing. Many Dutch people already have a plan in advance. They can accurately estimate where the door of the train will stop, so that you can be the first to enter. All others, who do not have that insight, soon find themselves in the oppression and have to push and pull to make their way before all available seats are gone. There are no rules when queuing in the Netherlands. Survivors only.

5. Do you hear an alarm on the first of the month? Do not panic!

Every first Monday of the month at 12:00 you hear a loud noise throughout the Netherlands. It's deafening and reminiscent of an old air raid siren. It sounds like a good reason to run and hide. Yet the Dutch do not respond to it at all. That's because they know it's just the monthly test of the nationwide alarm system (which is designed to warn people of a sudden emergency) and nothing else.

This test makes it very easy to spot tourists and newly arrived expats. They will be the ones with a look of absolute fear and confusion on their faces.

But what happens if there is a real emergency on the first Monday of the month at 12:00 noon? Hopefully we will never find out.

6. You become a very healthy eater

Okay, you already knew that there is a lot of cycling in the Netherlands. And all that bicycle energy has to come from somewhere. In 2014, Oxfam's ‘Good Enough to Eat’ index ranked all countries in the world based on their diet (nutrition, health, affordability, etc.) and guess who came first? Right, the Netherlands. 19 of the 20 best countries are in Europe, but no one came close to the Dutch. So you are in the right place in the Netherlands for hearty and healthy food.

7. Most Dutch are very tall

Here is more evidence that the Dutch eat well. The people in the Netherlands have made up for life in such a low country by growing incredibly big. Research by the magazine eLife in 2016 found that Dutch men are the tallest in the world, with an average height of 1.83 meters. The Dutch should somehow make use of this superpower. The potential of 8.5 million tall men is enormous. Do you have an idea what we can do with this privilege?

8. The country is suffering from ‘orange fever’

It is probably not for nothing that the Netherlands is one of the happiest countries in the world. It was Frank Sinatra who said “orange is the happiest color”. And orange is precisely the favorite color of the Netherlands. It all started way back in the 17th century when William of Orange ascended the throne, and everyone realized what a beautiful, jazzy color orange was. Today the Dutch turn their houses and streets into an explosion of bright orange at the slightest moment. Especially during international sporting events (especially football matches) and Koningsdag (the King's birthday) you cannot walk down a street without seeing the color orange. You probably don't quite realize it, we even wonder if born and bred Dutch people know all this, but thanks to this ‘oranjekoorts’ (orange fever) we now eat orange carrots instead of purple and yellow. The Dutch developed the orange carrot in the 17th century by adding more beta-carotene (a natural orange pigment), and then grew so many that everyone soon forgot about the other types of carrot.

Carrots crop

9. Don't expect too much from Dutch birthdays

If you're going to make new friends and get invited to a birthday party, don't get too excited. Sure it's fun and an honor, but the Dutch aren't known for their lavish birthday parties. Something typically Dutch is the ‘kringverjaardag’ (circle birthday). You sit in a circle with three generations chatting, eating pastries, cheese and sausages and the strongest thing you will drink is coffee. Okay, maybe this isn't always the case. But ask in advance if ‘opa en oma’ (grandpa and grandma) will also come. If so, then you know enough.

10. You can't get a pint

And finally, a very important thing to know when you move to the Netherlands. The Netherlands love their beer as much as most countries, but they drink it with a little more finesse and style. Instead of selling beer in pints (0.50 l), they put it in smaller glasses, ‘fluitjes’ (0.20 l) and ‘vaasjes’ (0.33 l). A pint is really an unnecessarily large amount of beer, and fluitjes and vaasjes sound much more chic. It makes perfect sense: the smaller glasses help keep drinks fresher and it prevents people from getting really drunk too quickly. A Dutch beer is best drunk in one of the traditional Dutch pubs, known as bruine kroegen (brown pubs), and they really are just spectacular brown. Pay attention! The term 'pint' or ‘pintje’ is sometimes used in the south of the Netherlands. But this is not the same as a pint of beer in the United Kingdom, for example. A pint in the south has a capacity of 0.25 l. So remember this well, so that you do not get badly disappointed on your first night in a Dutch pub.

We could secretly continue with the list of Dutch idiosyncrasies. But we think this is enough information for now. After reading this, you probably can't wait to move to the Netherlands. Don't have a job yet? Then take a look at our vacancies. We love to help you find a new workplace in the beautiful, cozy and low Netherlands.

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