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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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What do you find strangest about Dutch culture?