Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Expat Life in The Netherlands - It's Life Jim, But Not As We Know It

An expat friend of mine was asked to talk to a woman who is considering making the move from her home in East Europe to the Netherlands. She was asked to tell her what it is like to live in the land of the Dutch and offer her any useful tips on expat life here.
It got me thinking. What would I like to have known nine years ago when I loaded up the back of a trailer and sailed over here on a freight ferry?
The most important thing I wish I had really known is that the Netherlands is different. Even if you only come from the other side of the puddle that is the North Sea, the Netherlands is distinctly different in so many ways to the UK, and to the countries around it. Before I made the move, I never really thought about what it would be like. As a result, I was genuinely surprised by all the little differences.
This was highlighted at the weekend by my dad who was visiting. He pointed out that despite Western European countries being so close together, they are all so different. "Take France, Germany and Holland," he said "Three completely different countries". And he's right. You wouldn't compare the culture of the Netherlands to France - they are poles apart. The Germans and the Dutch? Again, not even close. And the Germans and the French... well, let's not even go there.

So, even if you are a Brit or an expat from a neighbouring country: be prepared for the Netherlands to be different. To show you what I mean; I was reading an expat forum recently and a newbie to the Netherlands asked why the expats are so negative about the Netherlands. She asked a reasonable question and a torrent of ranting and raving began in earnest about everything that is wrong with the Netherlands in their eyes:

I could go on with examples from expat fora. But I won't. You get the picture. Of course, some of these issues are not exclusively Dutch, but some are. The newbie poster asked if expat life is so terrible here, why don't people leave, and she likened the attack on Dutch life to moving to Egypt and then complaining about the heat. A multitude of answers to that of course, but what was interesting was a comment to the effect that had they moved to Egypt, they would have expected a hot sun beating down on them. When they moved to the Netherlands, they had not expected bad customer service, rude people, second rate supermarkets....

And that is indeed the point. No matter where you move from, if you are thinking of moving to the Netherlands, expect it to be different and be prepared to adapt, mostly in small ways. There is so much more to the Dutch culture than tulips, clogs and cheese. It is certainly not comparable to a Brit moving to Asia or Africa, but the culture, history and way of life is different to other Western European countries. Of course, there is also a lot in the Netherlands that is enriching and positive, and I can make an endless list of things wrong in the UK too.

Whichever country you choose to make home, you will need to adapt, accept and tolerate the things that makes your adopted home different - you can't change it; but isn't that what expat life is all about?

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