10 Strange Things About Dutch Culture

10 Strange Things About Dutch Culture

I experienced major culture shock when I moved to the Netherlands. Dutch culture is so different from my Russian American Jewish upbringing. Living here has been eye opening. I never felt so on the outside, then I did during my first year living in the Netherlands. Now that I am in my second year living here, I’ve become accustomed to the strange habits of the Dutch.

1. Circle Parties

Dutch people usually celebrate every birthday, anniversary, and holiday together with many their family members. One person in the family provides the space in their home to have the party. All the chairs/tables are arranged in a circle. The family spends all night chatting together, and drinking coffee, tea, and beer. There is rarely any food passed out besides for some chips and a fruit tart. If it is your birthday, you are always the host. You must walk around all night serving your guests.

2. Sandwiches

A typical breakfast in the Netherlands is a slice of bread, smear some margarine on top, add a slice of cheese or sliced meat, and that is your breakfast. The Dutch also eat the same thing for lunch, every single day. It does not matter if you are a grown man or a child, you both eat the same thing for breakfast and lunch every day. I am used to eating cereal, scrambled eggs or oatmeal for breakfast, so this practice is quite strange to me.

Typical Dutch breakfast and lunch.

3. Pumping Gas

In the states, when you go to a gas station, you always must first insert your credit card or go up to the cashier and give them the exact amount of money you’d like to pump into your tank. In the Netherlands, and in most of Europe, you first pump the gas, then pay afterwards.

4. Vacations

The average American gets 1 to 2 weeks of vacation. The minimum vacation time for someone working in the Netherlands full time is one month. Many people receive even more than that. Dutch people rarely work in the months of July and August. It’s completely normal for a family to go on vacation for a full month. There isn’t the pressure to work all the time, especially not during your vacation.

The view from the top of the Arc De Triomphe in Paris

5. Planning Ahead

Do you want to grab a coffee or invite a friend for dinner? Expect them to be available in three weeks or more. There is no such thing as spontaneously hanging out with someone last minute. Every single family event is planned months in advance.

6. Using a Bike instead of a Car

The main mode of transportation in the Netherlands is the bicycle. In the US, it is a car. Rain or shine, young or old, you’ll most people own a bicycle, if not two. Children go to school on their bicycle. They don’t get driven or take a school bus like in the USA. The main reasons for the obsessive use of the bicycle are the flat terrain and the temperate weather. It rarely snows here or gets below freezing. It’s the ideal environment for cycling.

My bike is my car.

7. Buying Everything Prepared Instead of Cooking from Scratch

This has probably been one of the most shocking to me. I grew up in a home where most everything was made from scratch. In the Netherlands, I’ve seen everyone cooking with already prepared and pre-seasoned and sometimes even already partially cooked food. Examples of this are pre-sliced and partially cooked potatoes and pre-seasoned and pre-marinated meat. I understand that it’s easier to cook when you barely have to prepare it, but I still find it very strange.

Pre-made meatball with canned corn, sliced tomato and grilled Brussels sprouts.

8. Heating their homes to max 21.5C (70.7f)

If you’re like me, you’re always going to be cold in the Netherlands. I don’t know why, but the Dutch don’t like to keep their homes warm. They’d rather complain about the cold rainy weather instead of do something about it. I am always wearing several layers inside and outside my home and pretty much everywhere I go because the heating is inadequate. Perhaps they are trying to save on heating cost, or the environment, but I’d prefer to be warm.

9. Tulips on Toilet Paper

The cheapest and most used toilet paper has drawings of tulips on each sheet. It’s very flowery. I guess they do that because the Netherlands is known for its tulips.

Toilet paper from Jumbo.

10. Wrapping Most Produce in Plastic

For a country that is obsessed with the preserving the environment, I find it quite strange that most produce comes wrapped in plastic. You name it, you’ll find it wrapped in plastic: cucumbers, dill, spinach, kale, bell peppers, broccoli and much much more. I tried finding out why this is, because in the US, it’s very different, but I haven’t found the answer yet.

Both the carrots and peppers come wrapped in plastic.

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What do you find strangest about Dutch culture?

13 thoughts on “10 Strange Things About Dutch Culture

  1. Agree 100% on the prepared foods, packaged produce, and those damn “sandwiches” for breakfast and lunch. Luckily, I’ve been enjoying bread with pate or hagelslag for breakfast – definitely not something I’d eat in the States, but good substitutes for my daily avocado toast. And even luckier, my Dutchie is loving the new recipes and ways of eating I’ve brought from the States, and now he even sometimes makes a whole sandwich with two(!) pieces of bread, meat, cheese and lettuce all in one!! 😱😁 I’m so proud 😂😂

  2. I’ve been living here for 20 years and I agree on some things but not everything. Breakfast being the same sandwich every day… my experience is different. Croissants one day, scrambled eggs another, or yoghurt (kwark) with crüsli… Bread remains a favorite but that goes for a lot of countries. Also packaged food is something that students might buy… no adult Dutch person I know. My Dutch mother-in-law doesn’t like cooking but even she does her cooking from scratch.

  3. 21.5degrees at Home is comfortable.
    When I lived in Portugal I had 15degrees… bad isolation and very expensive electricity…
    Here is just perfect! Also overheating is not healthy.
    I would rather exchange heating point with why they are always warm ? Its freaking cold outside and Dutchies walking in the t-shirt, whatever their arms are already violet…

  4. Some are nonsense, like the breakfast. All dutch eat a variety of breakfast, also eggs and cereal and we have a million cold cuts & cheeses to choose from. We have breads and beschuit and many yoghurts. So if you were only eating sandwiches, you really missed out.
    Furthermore, number 7 is not true. Yes, you can buy a lot of pre-paired food, but most of the dutch families, cook from scratch. The pre-paid foods are for people that do not have time to cook or for 1 person households. We eat fresh every day.
    “tulips on the toilet rolls” is another nonsense.
    And the “vacation” is true, but we have 20 working days off, but most of the time, you are not allowed to use up this vacation is 1 go, so you will find that most families will go on a vaction for 1 or 2 weeks only.
    If you want to see the dutch habits, you should have a few more dutch friends, we have some more that are much more interesting.

  5. “We have a million of cheese and cold cuts to choose from” … So that’s cheese and meat then – mate, they literally said that you put cheese and meat on bread. So you both agree.
    Furthermore [sic] how is the tulips on toilet paper nonesense when they actually exist? What’s nonesense is getting a bee in your bonnet about mentioning it.
    Sit down and allow people to experience the Dutch culture in a way they do. Or is this the famous Dutch directness, thinly veiled aggression at being critiqued?

    1. Despite there being a gazillion of breakfast option most people will indeed stick to sliced bread with cheese/ ham and jam/ sprinkles. Even at daycare kids are conditioned that way 😉 Same with pre-fab dinner. While some people cook “from scratch”, for many people that still means buying pre-washed or even pre-cut veggies and salads and using a “pakje” to make saus or seasoning. I don’t think there is any need to get defensive as a Dutch person that someone notices these funny quirks.

  6. I don’t know what kind of Dutch you know where you get your experience from, but it sounds very old-fashioned. In any case from me the tip not to generalize all Dutch people with the personally knowledge and experience that you have gained. For example, I eat muesli and grek yogurt for breakfast and bread with egg and bacon or a salad for lunch. Just like all my friends I know. And birthday parties are certainly not circle parties. Maybe what you experienced is something from the countryside?
    True about the plastic waste i hate it 2 totally unneccessary. I always put my heathing on 21°C its enough for me or i will put on a bigger sweater. And yes i have 7 weeks of holiday!! Welcome in the Netherlands were we work for a good living but not live to work! ♡

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