Monday, 31 August 2015

8 Things Expats Should Know About Going Shopping in the Netherlands

If you want to come home from a shopping expedition in the Netherlands with your sanity in tact retaining any semblance of a good mood, there are a few guidelines you'd be wise to follow. Whether it is a trip to the local supermarket, or some retail therapy in your local high street or winkelcentrum, you need to go shopping prepared.

1. Avoid shopping on Saturdays

Regular high street shops are open from 9.00 to 6pm at the latest from Monday to Saturday. On a Monday, many shops won't open until lunchtime. In addition to this, there will be a koopavond in your town - usually a Thursday or Friday, when the shops are open until somewhere in the region of 9pm. 

Sunday opening is more wide spread than it once was but it remains scattered, controversial and not worth relying on in anything but major towns. Hence, the stampede on Saturdays as the entire Dutch population descends on the local high streets; little wonder as most people are working when the shops are open the rest of the time. If you like elbow shoving, queuing and moaning, then save your shopping spree for a Saturday afternoon.

2. Weekly Supermarket Shops are for Saturdays Only

Don't think you can walk into any supermarket at anytime and load your shopping trolley up to the brim. If you do this in the evening, around the time people come out of work, you can expect sighing, tutting and catty comments about how your type should be banned from supermarkets. Evenings are for those people who do their shopping daily - those grabbing vegetables, milk and bread - and not for you to do your weekly shop. 

Before you ask, no it is not the supermarket's fault that only two of the eight tills are open during the busiest period of the shopping day so queues form: it is YOUR fault because you do your weekly shop outside the socially accepted designated times.

3. Take Carrier Bags Out with You

If you go shopping empty handed, you must either juggle your purchases under your armpits, have big pockets, or pay for bags. Some shops will give you free bags, but you take the risk of needing hospital treatment for cuts inflicted by the inappropriate handles attached to the dangerously thin bags and in 2015 even this will be history.

4. Shop Online Around the Holidays

Shops in December are no-go. Everyone is frantically buying Sinterklaas gifts, promptly followed by Christmas presents. However, the snag is that Dutch shops offer to wrap your gifts for free..... Yes, for free... and this means the Dutch are queued out of the shop doors in their droves for their free wrapping. Unless you are partial to Bart Smit or V & D wrapping paper, do yourself a favour and shop online and wrap your own presents in the comfort of your own home whilst gulping down sipping a festive drink.

5. Smiles are not Included in the Price of your Shopping

Dutch customer service comes as a surprise to foreigners. In fact, you can spend your first few years months in the Netherlands trying to find customer service. There is an important rule to obey in shops here - failure to comply is at your own peril.
"Thou shalt not interrupt employees whilst they are talking to each other about their weekends or homework and don't talk to employees whilst they are on a private telephone call." 

Accept that they clearly have better things to do than what they are actually paid to do. If you can ring up your own purchases, then all the better.

6. Strategically Return your Shopping Trolley

Always put your shopping trolley back at the end of the longest row of trolleys, even if this means returning it to a row which trails over the main road, blocks the entrance to a lift or path or crosses a motorway. Your aim is to hinder other shoppers and block the passage of cars. You need your 50 cents back right? And your legs have given up the will to live after your tiring shopping excursion? You can't possibly walk the extra few metres to the shortest row of trolleys.

7. Combine Supermarket Shopping with a Workout

Try to see hopping over empty boxes, careering around stock carts, and pegging it back to the shop entrance for that one elusive product they keep moving around as good, healthy exercise. Don't complain about products stacked high and out of reach - see it as a chance for a good stretch (or alternatively a way of getting into conversation with a tall handsome local).
8. Plan the Emptying of your Shopping Trolley

Conveyor belts in the Netherlands are mini versions of those in other countries. Hence, if you place your bread anywhere but the end of the belt, you have approximately 2.3 seconds to run past the cashier to the end of the belt to save your bread before it turns prematurely into breadcrumbs. If you are planning to make breadcrumbs with your loaf, then this will save you effort and time later. However, if you want to make sandwiches with it, place it at the end of the belt when you empty your shopping trolley, or practice your sprinting before heading to a supermarket. The employee behind the till will not rescue it for you. See tip 5.

On a similar note, do not open bottles of fizzy drinks, beer or wine directly on your return home - if indeed you are one of the lucky ones whose beer arrives safely at the end of the conveyor belt. They will need to settle after their hazardous journey along the, albeit short, conveyor belt. My husband's most recent experience involved the neck of a beer bottle breaking off as it was hurtled to the end of the belt and the cashier asking, "Do you still want that?" He told her only if she had a glass handy for him.

And on this subject.. don't pack your shopping into bags or crates at the end of the conveyor belt. Throw it all back in your trolley and pack it into bags whilst you hover at your car boot in the car park. It's much more efficient, great fun if it is raining - and you can't get your car out of the parking bay you left it in yet anyway because of the line of shopping trolleys across the car park......

Good luck and have fun!

Monday, 24 August 2015

8 Things Every Expat Needs to Know About Driving in the Netherlands

There are some tricks to help you get safely from A to B on the roadways of the Netherlands*. It may seem like the rules of the road are self explanatory and easy to follow but often they are not quite as they seem. Here are eight tips to help you drive whilst you are driving around this little Dutch nation.

1. You Need to Change Your Driving Licence

There comes a time when your home nation driving licence just isn't valid anymore to drive in the Netherlands. For some nationalities, this means taking a Dutch driving test.  If this applies to you, don't worry. Judging by the driving habits of the rest of the nation, it really can't be that hard.

For others, it is simply a case of swapping once licence for another as is the case with the Brits. 

Interestingly, swapping a British licence to a Dutch one gave me the right to drive many more (heavy) vehicles than the average Dutchman. Don't ask me why but when I first converted my British license to a Dutch one I could pretty much drive a juggernaut here whilst my Dutch husband was limited to cars and the like - he would have to take a separate test to join me on any truck driving adventure ideas I may have harboured. When I had to renew my Dutch license last year I had to take a test to continue my non-existent juggernaut driving so I politely turned down the kind offer and am now only able to drive regular road vehicles like the majority of the Dutch nation. It was fun whilst it lasted, particularly when I was contemplating my next career move back in 2008.......

2. They're Traffic Lights but not as We Know Them

The colours are the same: red, yellow (or amber if you want to be pedantic) and green but they mean different things.

  • A traffic light that is turning to red means put the gas pedal to the floor and GO GO GO because you can easily make it before it turns really red. If you stop at a traffic light as it turns from amber to red, expect to get beeped at by the car(s) behind.
  • If a traffic light is amber it means speed up, you can easily make it before it turns red.
  • A green traffic light means go, if you have bothered to stop in the first place.

3. Speed Limits Don't Apply to Everyone

If you choose to drive at 120km, or 130 km where it's allowed, on the motorway in the fast lane, don't be suprised to see that you pick up an assortment of "trailers" on your journey. Whilst bumperkleven (tailgating) is illegal in the Netherlands it's no deterrent for Dutch drivers and the fight for space in this little land is no more apparant than on the third lane of the nation's highways. In fact, the Dutch are trying to get bumperkleven classified as an Olympic sport to improve their gold medal tally.

When roadworks are being carried out on the motorway, and a temporary speed limit is in place do not make a mental note to take your car in to the garage to have your speedometer checked. It's fine. Really. It's just that the lower speed limit only applies to you and not to other drivers on the road.

4. You Can Make Someone's Day at a Zebra Crossing

When you stop at a zebra crossing to allow a Dutch pedestrian to cross, expect a look of surprise or shock on the faces of those waiting at the side of the road; they never believed you would actually stop so you have just made their day. Your expat status will of course be easy to spot in such circumstances.

5. There are More than Just Cars on the Road

At a junction, the absence of cars or pedestrians nearby does not mean it is safe to pull out or turn; watch out for buses, trams and cycles as they come out of nowhere and usually have priority.

If you have to make an emergency maneuver to avoid something hitting you expect the middle finger should 
you hit your horn as a warning or in frustration or anger.  It does not matter that they have almost hit your car, or that you have had to use all your driving know-how to avoid a collision - you have no right to beep at the offender.

6. Right has Priority

If there are no clear markings on the road, then any road turning onto the road you are on from the right has priority. This means that cars may pull out in front of you from the right and they DO actually have right of way, though it might seem like anti-social driving to you. Do not shout, blaspheme or stick your middle finger up. It's not nice.

7. There's a Knack to Roundabout Etiquette

Do not wait for Dutch drivers to signal on the roundabouts. You must guess when they will turn off - it is a sort of national game. You must also pull out on to the roundabout even when it looks like you don't have enough time to do so safely. Someone will eventually stop for you. Or in the back of you.

8. Cars do not Float

Even if you have not been in the Netherlands very long you have probably noticed there is a fair bit of water around in the form of canals, rivers and lakes. Oh, and the sea. Be careful when you are parking in the narrow spaces near the water - spaces that are typical in Amsterdam and Leiden for example. There are rarely barriers and it is a harrowing drop down to the water if you don't brake in time. Trust me when I tell you it's not just shopping trolleys and bikes that are fished out of Dutch waterways.

*Despite anything you may read here, or may have heard from others driving in the Netherlands is safer than it looks. The CBS relays that the Netherlands is in the top five when it comes to the least amount of road fatalities per 1 million people within the European Union.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

The August 2015 Expat Life Linky

Last month was a quiet one on the link up - presumably because of the summer holidays - and I hope those of you who are now back and at the blog helm you have had a wonderful break. The thing about the summer holidays seems to be that they fly by..... or are you more than ready for the smaller members of your household to return to school? Either way, it's August's turn for the Expat Life Linky!

First three notable posts from July:

  • Are you an expat or an immigrant? Or is it just a load of political codswallop? Share your thoughts on this explosive topic over on Ersatz Expat.
  • Straight to the Point by Mum's Hideout is one I can relate to living in the Netherlands with a folk not known for their subtleness..... Culture differences is something that every expat needs to deal with - and how well you can take those differences on the chin can often be the make or break of an expat assignment....
If you missed any of the other posts, or linked up but didin't get around to commenting on some other posts then you can find all the posts from last month here or check out my Pinterest board for an overview.

So, now time to turn our attention to August. Ready? 

Here's what you need to do.......
  1. Add the linky badge (below) to your expat related post (old or new), 
  2. Link up your post below using InLinkz
  3. Leave at least one comment on any of the posts linked this month and share a post using #ExpatLifeLinky on any social media
It's as simple as that. Please, pretty pretty please,  do not dump links and run. Tell your expat blogging friends and readers. Spread the word on social media. The more the merrier!

Expat Life with a Double Buggy

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Time to Really Get Dutched Up!

Dutched Up! is now available in paperback. It's a real live book! And I couldn't be more chuffed!

Oh wait, I could be more chuffed - if you actually go out and buy it!

Watch this space for more information on where you can get your hands on Dutched Up! or if you can't wait (which I could understand) check out the Expat Life with a Double Buggy Facebook page for buying options.


Monday, 10 August 2015

8 Essential Items Every Expat Needs in Their Dutch Home

In order to integrate in the Netherlands there are (at least) eight essentials you need to have tucked away somewhere in your home. Without them your integration will never be complete and you may even fail the inburgeringscursus*.

1. Potato Masher
Without this vital piece of kitchen equipment you can never hope to truly master Dutch cuisine. Using a masher effectively is hard work but never fear because practice makes perfect. As a guide, you need to keep mashing until the food object in question looks squished beyond any hope of resuscitation.

This kitchen tool allows you to make a perfect stamppot or hutspot- perfect for warming the tummy in winter. Also very handy for preparing meals for after major dentistry work or whilst waiting for the healing of a broken jaw.

2. Birthday Calendar
This is an essential for the smallest room in the house, namely the downstairs loo. If you don't have a downstairs loo, then I fear total integration may be just out of your grasp. Make sure you include the birthday of anyone likely to visit your house - everyone checks for their name whilst they are making use of your facilities. They really do. If they come out of your downstairs loo looking mad it is in no way a reflection of the quality of your chosen toilet paper, rather it's because you forgot to put their birthday in your calendar.
3. Bicycle
It almost goes without saying, but without a bike in the Netherlands you are no one. You simply must have a bike - it really doesn't matter how much you use it but you should have one. Where it is stored differs from household to household. The shed is a popular place. Public hallways in shared accommodations are also popular, preferably blocking emergency exits and any means of entrance. Creating an obstacle course for fellow residents is seen as good sport here. 

You can also leave your bike(s) chained to a lamppost outside your house - it externalises the obstacle course and gives dogs new and varied targets to pee on.

4. Window Foil
Many Dutch homes do not have curtains. They may have blinds or no window fittings at all. This is traditionally so you can peek in and view the showcase living rooms. However, over the years many Dutch homeowners have become torn between tradition and dignity. Do they really want you seeing them in their dressing gowns with bed hair every morning grabbing their first koffie of the day? The solution is window foil. Placed strategically over the windows you can't see out so obviously nobody can see in (except very small and very tall people).

5. Sauces

Your fridge door must be full of different sauces to be served with every meal. Every meal, regardless of what it is. Of course, the food you serve will determine exactly which of the sauces you are to serve but there are some staples: knoflooksaus (garlic flavoured sauce), currysaus (spicy ketchup in essence) and chillisaus (chilli sauce). There are other sauces which are variable and optional but for kids you must serve appelmoes (apple sauce). I have heard that the wide choice of accompanying sauces is related to the lack of flavour in Dutch cuisine.......but I couldn't possibly confirm or deny that rumour.

6. Vases
Flowers are everywhere in the Netherlands. They are also commonly brought by visitors. So if you are a bit of a socialite, then you will need a lot of vases and many free surfaces to put your flowers in and on. Wide vases, narrow vases, tall vases and short stumpy vases - you'll probably need them all.

7. Cheese Slicer

I had never owned a cheese slicer (kaasschaaf) in my pre-Netherlands life. Cheese in the UK is soft and comes in square chunks so can easily be cut with a knife or crumbled or grated for sandwiches. I now own two cheese slicers. (I actually had three but whilst some might find that luxurious, I found it to be a little excessive and as it came free with some cheese I chucked it away). Anyways.... Dutch cheese is hard and triangular shaped. Trying to cut it with a knife is just asking to lose at least one finger dangerous so cheese slicers are essential.

8. Chairs
Foreigners in the Netherlands all have to step into the circle of death at some point. If you have a Dutchie in your house, you may even have to create that birthday circle for yourself. For this you need as many chairs as you can muster from friends, family and neighbours. But you must also have a good supply in house. The good news is (so I am told) that the birthday circle is dying out and a thing for the older generations. There's hope for us expats yet......

*This may not be actually true at all.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Komt Een Vrouw bij de Dokter / Love Life by Kluun: Book review

As I crept into bed sniffing and snottering my husband asked,

"Finished your book then?"

Yes I had. I had just turned the final page over of 'Komt een Vrouw bij de Dokter' written by Kluun (aka Raymond van de Klundert). This is Kluun's debut novel written in 2003 and is dramatised from events in his own life.

It's a funny thing to enjoy a book which evokes gut wrenching tears but enjoy it I did. Well, when I say enjoy... I mean I found it hard to put down, I emphasised with the characters and I experienced their pain. That's what a good book should do right - put you into someone else's world?

When I woke the next morning I had puffed up red eyes and I was glad the book was finished. The Dutch presenter Myrna Goossen sums this book up perfectly, "Man, man, wat een heftig book."

Komt een vrouw bij de doktor is a book about Stijn and Carmen living in Amsterdam in the prime of their life, both running their own companies, enjoying the night life of the Dutch capital city, surrounded by success and friends. Until they are struck by breast cancer.

This book is their journey through cancer, about how it rips at the heart of their family and confronts their close friends. It is written from the perspective of Stijn, a fun loving, philandering, emotionally challenged husband, as he faces up to the reality that his wife is terminally ill. There'll be moments in the book where you'll want to hurt him. He behaves, as the Dutch would say, like a klootzak.

It is a book about preparing for the end of a life, an ode to love and the strength of family. The book is a roller coaster of emotion from anger at the medical establishment, to hope brought by treatment options, desperation as the effects of chemo take hold, to the final realisation that Carmen won't see their young daughter Luna grow up. It is a heart wrenching read, and all the more because it is based on real events.

Be prepared for humour and tears.

For those who relish the challenge of a good read in Dutch the book is available from or any other local bookstore. If you'd prefer to read the book in English it's available under the title Love Life by Ray Kluun. It has also been made into a very successful film starring Carice van Houten, Barry Atsma and Pierre Bokma.

A book sequel entitled "Widower" is also available (though I am yet to read it but it is on my reading list for sure).

Monday, 27 July 2015

Where to Meet People When You Are The New Expat on the Block

There's no getting away from it - this is moving season. The time of year when expats leave and expat arrive. A time for hellos and goodbyes.

Moving to a new country, away from family and friends, away from a life you have built up takes a lot of courage. It can be thrilling, there is no doubt about that; meeting new people, creating a new career, experiencing new cultures and learning a new language. It can also be extremely daunting. And very lonely.

Making new friends when you arrive in a new place is usually first on the to do list after unpacking, scouting the area and getting the children settled. But how? 

There are a number of ways to meet new people who are in the same boat and they all involve getting 'out there'. Think outside the box and you are likely to meet people with the same interests.

One expat friend of mine combined one of her passions with the desire to get to know new people - she joined a book club.  Another friend, not long after becoming a mother, set up a toddler group in her host country Belgium.

I have personally found other English speaking mothers where I live using expatriate forums and even a Dutch site for 'stay at home' mums - so looking in unexpected places can yield unexpected results.

Author, Jo Parfitt, swears by networking. She told me once in an interview that one of the first thing she does when she moves to a new country is join a professional network, like Connecting Women, which is a Hague based organisation.

Here are a few more ideas for expanding that social or business network when you land on new shores (with Dutch specific links):
  • Join a Parent & Toddler group, and if you cannot find one then start up your own 
  • Join a parenting group - like Amsterdam Mamas which is an amazing group for advice, activities and information or seek out parenting events (like those hosted by Passionate Parenting)
  • Women's Professional Networks
  • Spouse networks (like the Global Outpost services of Shell)
  • Voluntary work (Access is a good place to start in The Hague or Amsterdam)
  • Book clubs, reading groups or writer's circles (Check out The American Book Center in the Hague and Amsterdam)
  • Maternity classes (Access offer English language prenatal courses)
  • Sports clubs
  • Expat forums
  • Expat groups (see the list of clubs and groups on Expatica)
  • Take a language course
  • Get involved at your children's school with after school activities
  • Indulge your hobby - join a choir, writing group or a photography or art group
  • Sign up for an evening class 
  • Local libraries have ''story time'' sessions for the children - a win win. Junior is happy and you meet other parents in the area
To close, there's a chapter on making friends as an expat in the Netherlands in the book Dutched Up!: Rocking the Clogs Expat Style including my take on making friends as an expat which is namely this: it takes time to make good friends and it usually happens when you stop trying.

Monday, 20 July 2015

The 9 Steps to a Perfect Dutch Birthday Circle Party

The dreaded Dutch birthday circle was the topic of a recent exchange on Twitter. It's often the topic of conversation in the expat corridors of the Netherlands. And there's a good reason for it.

For the buitenlanders among us the Dutch birthday party can be excruciatingly painful, tedious or downright baffling. Often all three. Once experienced it's hard to get over. But let's start at the beginning. Here's what happens.

1. Plan the Party

As with any party preparation anywhere in the world, planning for a Dutch begins in advance with a shopping list that looks like this:

The host may (or may not) order a cake at the local bakers. However, the day itself is when the work really begins.

2. Organise the Chairs

First things first. All chairs within the confines of the host’s house, and any that can be pilfered from friends, neighbours and nearby relatives, need to be meticulously arranged in a circle in the woonkamer. Space is limited in 99% of birthday party cases so the chairs need to be squeezed close together so that everyone has a chair but so that guests are not physically sitting on each other. The result is that the party-goers have to scramble over each other to get in and out of the circle. I have no idea if there is a special birthday party ruler that exists for this purpose or if Dutch people just feel by instinct when the seating is the right level of gezelligheid.

3. Clean Only Necessary Areas

Secondly, the living room needs to be cleaned from top to toe; this is after all the showcase for the rest of the house. Believe me, upstairs is not as clean, tidy and orderly as the room the birthday gathering is hosted in.

4. Brew Coffee

The next task on the to-do list is to brew gallons of coffee ready for the entrance of the guests. A lot of coffee is needed for a Dutch birthday party so it's best to start brewing a few hours before the first guests arrive. 

5. Pucker Up

Tardiness on such an occasion will not go unnoticed because as you arrive you give the birthday boy or girl three kisses on the cheek and utter ‘Gefeliciteerd met je verjaardag’. It is impossible to sneak in quietly. You must then parade around the room kissing other guests in the circle that you know. A polite nod of the head and a handshake is sufficient for unfamiliar faces. If you are not related to the jarige Job you may then take your place in the circle - which in itself is no mean feat (see step 2). 

However, if you are related to the birthday boy/girl then your work is not yet done. Each guest will now also kiss you and congratulate you on the birthday of your mother-in-law/father-in-law/husband/son etc. Then you may sit down.  However choose your place in the circle wisely. Your place in the circle is of the utmost strategic importance if you do not want to be clambering over your neighbour every time someone arrives - and the kissing ritual begins once more.

6. Open Birthday Gifts

Birthday gifts are ceremoniously given a public opening. Again, there is more circle scrambling with the exchange of more kisses, this time given as a thank you. All this happens just as you have managed to crawl over various distant relatives back to your seat on the far side of the circle.

7. Distribute the Crackers

It is now that the 'once small dry crackers but now small soggy crackers because filet americain was spread on them an hour ago' make their appearance. You are obliged to take one. And eat it. Smile and wave your hand about your ear to indicate that the cracker is lekker.

8. Distribute the Cake

If you are lucky the cake is now brought in to the room to choruses of “Lang zal ze leven” which is the Dutch equivalent of the Happy Birthday song. Lots of circle clambering and awkward passing of plates ensues.

Only once the cake is devoured may the alcohol flow (and I have heard about Dutch birthday parties that have failed to move to this latter stage of celebration, and to the expat’s horror, coffee and Spa are the only beverages making a post cake appearance - now if the time to leave if you find yourself at such a party as you know it will NOT get better). 

9. Chat Amongst Yourselves

You are required to talk to people in and around the circle, but without leaving your chair. It's an introvert's nightmare. It's living hell for expats still learning the local language. 

The more alcohol served obviously the rowdier the birthday circle becomes. It pinnacles with guests (still attached to their chairs in the circle) shouting across the circle to try to communicate with each other. Terrifying to say the least if you actually speak Dutch - too horrifying for words if you don't. 

If you are a Dutch birthday party virgin subject to tipsy Dutch strangers screaming from their chair on the other side of the room it can be traumatic. 

You have been warned.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

The July 2015 Expat Life Linky

It's that time again folks! It's time to link up your most thought provoking, funny or informative new expat blog post or give an old classic a bit of a polish to set it in the limelight once more.

Last month's link up was the biggest to date and I hope that we can keep growing this #ExpatLifeLinky together - please keep spreading the word and sharing your favourites on social media.

Here are my top picks from June's linkup, in no particular order.

If you missed any of the other posts, or linked up but didin't get around to commenting on some other posts then you can find all the posts from last month here or check out the Pinterest board for an overview.

So, now time to turn our attention to July. Ready? 

It's simple:
  1. Add the linky badge (below) to your expat related post (old or new), 
  2. Link up your post below
  3. Leave at least one comment on any of the posts linked this month and sharing is also very welcome using #ExpatLifeLinky on social media

It's as simple as that. Please do not dump links and run. Tell your expat blogging friends. Spread the word on social media. The more the merrier!

Expat Life with a Double Buggy

Monday, 13 July 2015

8 Things the Dutch do Better than the English

I've been here a long time in the Netherlands now and I have learnt that there are some things that the Dutch do well. In fact there are a lot of things the Dutch do well.

Here are eight things that the Dutch could specifically teach the English a thing or two about......

1. How to Celebrate Defeat

The fact that the Dutch actually lost to the Spaniards in the World Cup 2010 final didn't make much of a difference to the after party. It was amazing. For one afternoon, everyone actually forgot that the Dutch football team had not brought the World Cup home. Even the Dutch media stood firmly behind celebrating the Dutch team's defeat. It's something that I am sure would never have happened in England; the media would have slaughtered the English team for losing the final and the English would have used the opportunity to revel in defeat - simply more fodder to moan about.

2. How to do a National Holiday

When the Dutch party on a national scale, the Dutch really party. The King's birthday (formerly the Queen's birthday which wasn't actually her birthday at all) is all the excuse the Dutch need to celebrate. The country turns orange, is adorned with flags and everyone takes to the streets. The English like to pace themselves, celebrating in this fashion perhaps once every 25 years coinciding with a jubilee of the British Queen. There was a knees up was in 1977 and then one in 2012 - I'm guessing there won't be one in 2037...... St. George's day, the national day of England, is still lacking any form of real celebration.

3. How to Tell It Like It is

The dutch don't hold back when it comes to speaking their mind. If they think it, they say it. Known for their bluntness, the Dutch make the English look like stuttering fools in the department of expressing their thoughts.

4. How to Balance Work and Family Life

The Dutch have got work life balance down to a fine art. Not that they are slackers. Not at all. It's just that whilst the English are contemplating life over their second cup of coffee at the breakfast table, the Dutch are already at their desks. And have been for hours. It means they can leave the office earlier and spend time with their families in the late afternoon/ early evening. The English have a long hours work culture - the longest work week in Europe in fact. Guess which nation scores well in every happiness survey going.....

5. How to Greet Strangers

From doctors' and dentists' waiting rooms to elevators, the Dutch don't hesitate to greet the entire waiting room or lift as they come in - loudly and confidently. The English on the other hand are masters of pretending that no other human being exists within a radius of half a kilometre. They put their heads down and stare at their feet. Should any sound pass their lips it is a bumbling mumble.

6. How to Give Flowers

The Dutch do flowers so much better than the English. In fact, the Dutch do flowers better than any other nation. They don't need an excuse or special occasion to adorn their houses with flowers. Dutch men don't need a reason to buy the women in their lives flowers. They are cheap and in abundance (the flowers, not the women). The Dutch have made a tourist industry (as well as an economy) out of flowers.  Many English men, however, still think they need to do something terribly wrong before they give their partners flowers - or wait for a special occasion.

7. How to Take the Work Out of Dinner Parties

When the Dutch host dinner parties they cleverly leave the cooking to their guests by getting the fondue or gourmet out. The English make hard work of making a three course meal they wouldn't attempt under normal circumstances.

8. How to do Post-Natal Care

Supplying a maternity nurse (kraamzorg) for the week after childbirth is part of the course in the Netherlands. It's one of the things I loved most about the birth process. Every mother is entitled to post-natal care that makes other nations green with jealousy. In England you are sent home from the hospital after a few days and left to discover the essentials of baby care for yourself.