Culture Shock: The Netherlands

For those of you who are thus far informed, I am a Dutch person. This means I am from the Netherlands (not to be confused with the ‘Deutsch’ from Germany, please). As every culture has their own traditions, habits and assets, so do we. Since I have been lucky enough to compare this culture to those of other places I’ve visited, I’d like to summarize the main cultural aspects of the Dutch. And no, I am not going to talk to you about wooden shoes, tulips and windmills.

Culture shock

  1. Straightforward

Dutch people are very straightforward. They don’t like to waste your time or their own. They are brutally honest and can be very blunt. This might seem rude to some but this is how the Dutch are in their daily dealings. In our minds, it just means we are being honest and sincere. We don’t like to play around or be made fools of or do the same to others. Phony compliments aren’t really a good idea in this country. Just be real with us!

  1. Celebrating a newborn

This one occurred to me when I was on my way to visit my friend and her boyfriend to meet their newborn baby boy. While I traveled I was conversing with an American friend and I told him how we celebrate. Besides cards and bears, we also have a treat for guests. The parents provide the treat. Round biscuits are covered in a layer of butter and then sprinkled with a treat we call ‘muisjes’, which translates to ‘little mice’. The small circular objects are made of sugar and coloring. Packaged muisjes contain either white and blue, white and pink or white, blue and pink substances. The colors of the musijes indicate the gender of the child or children that was/were born. When I visited my friend, I was given a biscuit with white and blue mice.

  1. Koningsdag

In the Netherlands we have an annual day of celebration called Koningsdag (King’s day). Though during some years we had a queen ruler and then it would be called Koninginnendag (Queen’s day).

On Koningsdag, people celebrate the king. Most citizens however use the day as an excuse to drink and party. People can sell their used goods on the street without needing permission for it. As a child I often visited these markets to look for cheap toys.

It is also common for people to dress in orange, as that is our country’s color. Some people dress in symbols of the lion as well. The date of the day corresponds with the birthday of the king (or queen) that is currently in power.

  1. Terraces

The cities in the Netherlands are not prone to parks as you would find them in the United States, for example. We do not have big squares within the centers dedicated to greenery and ponds and benches where old men can feed ducks.

Instead of this, we have terraces. A terrace is basically an outdoor eating place. Restaurants and cafes have tables and chairs set out on the pavement in front of their locations. Guests can enjoy the weather and a nice plate of their favorite food at the same time. This is the ideal place to catch up with friends, in my opinion. I love going out for lunch and/or drinks with friends, weather permitting, of course. Our weather is very bipolar, after all.

  1. Stroopwafels & Hagelslag

Let’s talk some more about foods. First off there are stroopwafels. This treat is the combination of a waffle and a cookie. And yes, they are delicious.

Hagelslag is sprinkles that is eaten on bread. This is a common breakfast and lunch food. My mother still eats two slices of bread for breakfast and two for lunch. The hagelslag she (and I) eat are made from dark chocolate. They can be found in various chocolate types and also some fruit-flavored types.

  1. It’s all flat

The Netherlands has gained the nickname ‘the lowlands’, which is rightly given to it. The reason why it earned this name is that the land itself is located blow sea level, shielded from the waves by dykes (constructions of dirt and grass that are like extensive ‘hills’ around the country). The country itself is very flat, too. If you want a summary of the landscape; it is level, with small creeks dividing off square of grassland. That is basically what the Netherlands is.

  1. Happiness

For some odd reason, it seems the Dutch think everyone needs to be happy. Everyone is trying to enjoy life. Everyone is living the good life and everyone is going on vacations and showing off their pictures. Additionally, this country often scores well on rankings of happy countries; usually accompanied by the Nordic countries, Switzerland and Canada.

  1. Camping

I wasn’t completely aware of this one being typically Dutch until I browsed across the internet a bit. It turns out that the Dutch are quite prone to camping. My family does it every year. Often times when I mention it to friends abroad, their response is, “Oh, I’ve done that once.” or “I’ve always wanted to go camping.” Yet here in my country, nearly everyone has done it before. And why not? Camping is absolutely delightful. In many instances, I prefer the forest and my tent to a luxurious hotel.

  1. Dutch cuisine

Ever wondered what the Dutch restaurants have to offer? Well then, I challenge you to find a Dutch restaurant. They practically do not exist. What comes from my mother’s kitchen is not what you get in any restaurants here. We’ve adopted countless cuisines from abroad and thus relinquished our own. Even in my own kitchen, it can’t be said that I eat Dutch foods.

  1. The G, J and R

Since I am writing in English (to an audience that understands Englih) I am gong to talk about these letters from an Anglophone view. The G, in Dutch, is a very hard and rough sound that has no equal in English nor in other languages I am familiar with.

The J, on the other hand sounds like the letter Y in English. An example is the Y in the words ‘you’ and ‘yard’. That is how our J sounds.

The R works the same as the R in Spanish, if that helps anyone. The R is rolled and thus gets a more vibrant sound to it. Add onto this that we have countless words that sound with ‘gr’ therefore giving them a very hard and lively sound right off the bat.

On a note; the region in the North of the Netherlands known as Friesland (I know that sounds funny) has a more gentle G. The rule for this is quite strange though. When the letter is placed at the start of a word, it is pronounced in the way an English G would be. However if it is found later in the word, it is pronounced in the same hard manner as the rest of the country says it.

Peculiar folk we are.

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