Get the real lowdown on the Lowlands via the 10 chapters of Ready, Steady, Go Dutch:
Officialdom: dealing with the practicalities
So, you’ve decided, or your employer has decided, that you should make the move to the Netherlands. The first thing you have to do is deal with the paperwork. And once that is taken care of – and it can be a time-consuming process – comes the culture shock and finding your direction.
An Australian who has lived here for 20 years offers this sound advice:
I would always recommend to newcomers that they have at least some idea about what they want to do here before they start to settle.
Home sweet home: finding a place to live
Finding the perfect home in the Netherlands can be a daunting task, especially when you consider what you are used to back home. This chapter contains tips and anecdotes about finding a home, some thoughts about location and some things you should know about Dutch houses – from the steepness of the stairs, yes, even the toilets.
Do you work to live, or live to work? Does your work philosophy fit in with that of the Dutch? For many expats, the Dutch take on work has led to a satisfying lifestyle. While job satisfaction can add great value to one’s life, it’s only possible if you’re able to get a job in the first place. This feat was more difficult than some people imagined, so you may need to prepare yourself for pounding the pavement, or embracing the opportunity to start your own business or work on a long-dreamed-of project.
Daily life – the business of living
From the trials of the weather to trial by bike, from shopping in stores that shut at 6pm to testing out new food, your daily routines are bound to change.
Wise words from a German national who has lived in the Netherlands for 16 years:
Before you come here, really think about what you find normal, the implicit things. You will only manage to integrate if you are aware of what the differences are and that doing things differently mostly has a very good reason.
Play: making the most of your spare time
There are obvious and not-so-obvious ways that you can reach out socially and/or find entertaining activities for your spare time. Some of these provide a great way to get in touch with the native Dutch; others revolve around the cocial structures, which new arrivals bring with them. This chapter also looks at the social connecctions we are – or are not – making with our colleagues, neighbours and friends of friends
Family and Friends
The decision to move away from your home country doesn’t affect you, but your family – be they parents, siblings, spouses, children, extended family, or even friends who feel like family. Here is some insight on how moving to the Netherlands has changed some family dynamics, in happy and sometimes challenging ways.
Traditions and habits
Keeping your home country traditions alive while embracing new ones can be a tricky balancing act. You might find it hard to celebrate in the way you would wish to or to find a turkey big enough for Thanksgiving feast. And some Dutch habits – like eating raw herring or wearing bright orange to celebrate your nationality – may seem very odd to new arrivals. But joining in the Sinterklaas celebrations, learning to skate and stopping off for poffertjes after a cycle ride are an essential part of the Dutch experience.
Healthcare systems differ the world over, and while the Dutch system is acknowledged to be one of the best in the world by official organisations, it is very different to that which many internationals are used to. Your doctor functions more as a gatekeeper to the rest of the health service, you may not be able to get the periodic check-ups you are used to and you may find insurance very cheap, or very expensive.
As one respondent said:
Once you understand the health system, the better you can use it to your advantage. Be sure to get registered with a house doctor when you first arrive and book an appointment to meet him/her while you’re well. They will give you an overview of how the system works and the right numbers to call in case of emergency. trying to find out what to do and who to call in a time of panic, crisis or when you’re just not feeling well, is not advisable.
Learning the language
A huge advantage for international starting new lives in the Netherlands is the Dutch ease and willingness in speaking English. But this also, perhaps ironically, perpetuates a paradox for new arrivals. How can we improve our Dutch while the Dutch are busy improving their English? And do we need to ? If there’s so much English, then why put in the effort of learning a new language?
The best and the worst
Part of expatriation is struggling to accept what is out of our control, that things are just different. No matter how much some aspects of this new life seem strange or impossible to manage, no amount of gripling will change them. Here are a few warnings, a few complaints, plus some compliments, which give you some idea of what you might face as you begin to go Dutch. As for the benefits? For a Norwegian, it’s the cheese. For a German, it’s the 30% tax rule. For a Frenchwoman, it’s the direct social interaction. For a Canadian, it’s living in a less materialistic society. For a Russian, it’s the freedom to express oneself. For many other internationals, it’s the chance to explore a new culture and learn about themselves in turn.