As a foreigner learning to get to grips with the Dutch way of well..everything and even though many things are similar to other cultures I experienced so far, my lovely Dutchies always find something to surprise me with… In my 6 months-ish in the Netherlands, I’ve come up with a list of “very-Dutch-things”. So here goes:
The first thing I noticed was that the Dutchies sure love their bikes! If you’ve been here even for a few days, you know what I mean. They’re everywhere! Storm or sunshine, heels or no heels, the bikes are there. Now you might say that you have bikes in your country as well, but trust me, you cannot ride a bike like a Dutch woman. You should not be surprised if you see a Dutch woman on a bike in heavy rain wearing high heels and a dress, biking through the raindrops while talking on the phone, carrying her bag and neatly balancing a baby in front of her as well. Please do not try this at home, we are not the superhuman Dutchies.I can tell you this though: beware of angry cyclists. Hell hath no fury like an angry Dutchie on a bike…
To this day, I still find it cute to see a room full of adult Dutch business men sipping milk during lunch. The same Dutch business men that maybe an hour before signed million dollar deals or had a meeting with Richard Branson or something of sorts. Priceless!
Now imagine that next to the milk glass above, they have a piece of toast with Hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles) on it. For lunch. I could not stop staring the first time I had lunch with my new team in the Netherlands. Not wanting to look like an impolite blonde, I started staring at my own “tosti”, which, by the way, had ham and cheese on it. I kept thinking, “are those chocolate sprinkles? No..they must be some seeds or something..But they do look like cocoa sprinkles..!”. On my way home I phoned a Romanian friend who had been living in Holland forever and asked him “Do you guys eat choco sprinkles with toast bread for lunch over here?” He confirmed the unthinkable was happening and that it had undeniably rubbed off on him as well. Yes, they do eat choco sprinkles with toast bread for lunch.
Personally, I will probably never get around to having Hagelslag on toast for lunch, but instead I just revert to the plain old “eating sprinkles from the box with a spoon” . It is, after all, chocolate!
4. NO CURTAINS
When I first moved in to my apartment I felt like everyone was staring in my living room (even though I live at the top floor of my apartment building, which also happens to be the tallest around the block…). There were no curtains! So for the first week I stayed with the light on 24/7 and the night curtains (yes, that, they have) pulled until a light bulb burned. Then I called my landlady and informed her that I am going to Ikea and she’s going to have curtains in her house. She’s a darling, really and we still giggle when we think of how desperate I was not to be the next sight of a voyeur.
I have no theory to why the Dutchies prefer curtain-less houses. You walk down the street and it’s the most normal thing in the world to look right and see what some family is having for dinner or what they’re watching on TV. It used to be the funniest thing in the world, and I used to giggle about it on the phone with friends from Romania but now I am so used to it that I don’t even notice it anymore.
Lekker is one funny word for me. I first heard it at the office. When asked if they wanted a cup of coffee, my colleagues would answer: “Lekker”. I, correctly, found it safe to assume it meant some sort of variation of Yes/Sure/Great/Yummy. However, people, experiences and feelings can be “Lekker” too. WARNING: don’t you go around calling your boss “Lekker”, as you would have just told him he’s yummy.. (Sure, you can call that tall, blonde, hot neighbour with blue eyes “Lekker”. And yes, chances are at least a couple boys in your apartment building fit that description.).
If there is one thing I dread most is asking someone out for dinner or drinks. Simply “popping by” at the pub after work is usually a no-go for the Dutchies unless it was agreed upon in advance. Four weeks in advance, that is. I don’t even want to talk about showing up at a friend’s house if you happen to be in his neighbourhood. Whaaaat? Without an appointment? Not unless you have a death wish and you want to be on social exile for the rest of your stay in the Netherlands.I first got to experience this when I proposed that my gym buddies and I do drinks together “soon”. It was a Monday evening. “Soon” meant that week. I kid you not, my three gym buddies pulled out their phones and came up with a time they were ALL free for a couple hours. Four weeks after. We did have those drinks, but by that time I was already accustomed to the Dutch way of schedules and we are good enough friends so I could make fun of them (I still do). And boys, if you are reading this, you know I love teasing!I was shocked at first, but now I have come to accept that this is how it goes and I go on my spontaneous trips and outings with my non-Dutchie friends. Although sometimes I feel this is rubbing off on me…I’ve said “let me check my agenda” more since I have come to the Netherlands than in my entire life!
7. BITTERBALLEN, FRIET & MAYO
VINCENT: But you know what they put on french fries in Holland instead of ketchup?
VINCENT: I seen ‘em do it. And I don’t mean a little bit on the side of the plate, they ******* drown ‘em in it.
I rest my case. Mayo overdose!
So this is about the French Fries in the Netherlands. You even see Dutchies walking on the street with a paper cone filled with French Fries as ‘to-go’ food. It’s amazing!
The bitterballen are a whole different ballgame. Served with mustard, they are THE best thing ever invented since toast bread. I can’t seem to get enough! I think I am addicted… They are some sort of meatballs but softer on the inside and crispier on the outside. Probably drowned in fried oil, but health reasons aside, they are my number one guilty pleasure or comfort food.
8. 4-DAY WORK WEEK
Yes, lovelies, you read this right. I have not one, not two, but countless Dutch friends who do a 3 or 4-day work week. The reason? It’s not rocket science: they love to take time to enjoy life. Now, all those agendas make sense…otherwise you’d need a PA to schedule all that free time! Some Dutchies even take days to work from home. More than any other nation I’ve seen! And I don’t mean “work days” where you spend the entire day at home doing one slide of a PowerPoint and call it work. They actually DO work! I asked a friend of mine if their boss doesn’t mind him taking a day to work from home every now and then. He told me that he uses those kinds of days to run his errands in between doing work. Work until noon, run errands for a couple of hours, have lunch, work for a couple more hours, pick up groceries, do dinner and then work another couple of hours. At the end of the day, it still amounts to a full work day. Except in the meantime you also did some house chores and ran your errands. This has also rubbed off on me a bit although I still don’t feel fully at ease asking my boss a day to work from home. But it sure is a great help to have this option when you have out-of-office engagements to take care of.
There’s more on my list, but for now, I will stick to these 8 traditions, some of which I have already adopted myself even without realizing. Life is good over here, folks…