Wednesday, 26 March 2014

5 Lessons I Have Learnt from the Dutch

This is the fourth and last title in this month's expat blogging link up - it has been so much fun and I have loved reading about expat life through the eyes of fabulous bloggers across the globe - but it's not quite over yet. Here is the last one - 5 lessons the Dutch have taught me.

1. Work Life Balance: I've said it before and I'll say it again - the Dutch are work life balance masters. Leisure time is just that, and work time is kept to what is needed to get the job done. Many women work part time, and many parents arrange working hours around their home and family life. Watching the Dutch reminds me just what things are important in life. When the Dutch have free time they are out and about with their family, making the most of good weather, leisure facilities and the chance to be together. Just wander out on a sunny Sunday afternoon to see what I mean or a beautiful summer afternoon on any day of the week - the sun shines, the Dutch leave work early and head to the beach or a terrace. There isn't a 24/7 culture here, and whilst that was one of the things I needed to get used to when I first moved here, it's now one of the things I love. Not everything is open late, or on a Sunday - it forces us to slow down, relax and think of leisure time instead of errands and the demands of daily life.

2. Family Matters: The Dutch in general are very family orientated (some of my own in-laws are a huge exception to that) but I have learnt from those families around me, from society's attitude, and from cultural tendencies that the Dutch visibly and noticeably cherish their parents and their children.  Grandparents play a big role in the lives of their grandchildren and are a familiar sight on the school playground, actively busy in the daily comings and goings of their children's children. It makes me more aware of what my children's British grandparents miss out on on a daily basis and though I can't change the physical and logistical aspects of living abroad I can make sure that my children cherish their family abroad by keeping them connected, ensuring they feature heavily in the conversations we have at home and keeping them in mind.

Water into land? No problem.
3. Adapt: The Netherlanders are like chameleons. If it's cold and icy they get out their ice skates, leaving work early to head to the nearest frozen body of water (see point number 1). Kids are taken to school on sledges if the snow prevents bicycle use. In the height of sunny weather, the Dutch beaches and terraces are thronging with people. The Dutch people know they can't travel far with Dutch so as a nation are excellent linguists, switching from Dutch to English, German or French at the drop of a hat. No serious hills in the Netherlands means a national winter evacuation to winter resorts to quench the Dutch thirst for winter sports. The Dutch manage with what they have, and if they don't have it they go find it somewhere else. And if they really can't find it they make it. Like land they can actually live on for example.

4. Say What You Mean: The Dutch do not beat around the bush. If there is something on their mind, they let you know about it. It's not meant to be insulting, though for many expats that is the way it comes across - it is more about saving time and being honest. Blunt. Abrupt. Brash. It is in complete contrast to my British culture where politeness means softening a difficult message as much as possible, making it seem like less of a blow. What actually happens is that the message is lost in lots of frilly, woolly talk and the receiver of news is often a little confused about what the message means, particularly non-British conversation participants. So which is kinder? I can't say that I have become as blunt as a Dutchman, but I am working on being more direct with my words and I do appreciate knowing where I stand.

5. Birthday Efficiency: Every year I watched my dad scribble all the family birthdays onto a new calendar as a new year dawned. The Dutch have a solution - the birthday calendar hanging in the smallest room of the house. I no longer transfer birthdays onto a calendar on the first of January, instead there is a birthday calendar hanging in the downstairs toilet with all the birthdays known to us. I never need to touch it, except occasionally to add a new acquaintance or put a line through those whose birthday no longer matters (yes, I am ruthless - wrong me and your name is scribbled out on the birthday calendar). More time on New Year's Day to spend with family (see point 1).

Expat Life with a Double Buggy


  1. Really fantastic points! I was born in Ukraine, lived in the US for 15 years, and then bounced around various European countries before settling down in the Netherlands. My hubby and I actually discussed moving back to the US, but Holland is just one of the best places (for us) to have a family largely because of the reasons you have listed. People here are very family oriented and we aren't pressured to go go go, etc. (Side note though: a lot of people are really shocked that I don't work at all. I think part time jobs around here are normal, but being a SAHM is something I've only encountered foreign women doing).

    Aside from all of your fantastic points, I really feel like it is so safe at least where we live. I'm always amazed at that - my father in law left his car running all night and it wasn't stolen. That's crazy!

    I also love that health insurance for children is free. I didn't have health insurance for a long time before coming to Holland, and was absolutely shocked at the fact that I could actually see a doctor without feeling like I have to sell my soul.

    And my last point - I loveeee the kraamzorg.

    I'll be back later to check on your series :)

  2. Great post Amanda! when I visited the Netherlands this past November for the first time, I really really liked it a lot and could see myself living there very happily. It's oozes cool and I love the architecture and the people I met were wonderful. I think taking the best of both cultures for our lives and for our children is the best way.

  3. Excellent post Amanda. I find the birthday calendar point the most interesting one. It sounds like a great place to live if the Dutch have a good work/ life balance and family are important.

  4. Being Dutch and living in your home country its really nice to read!

  5. I found myself nodding in agreement to all the points you raise! The Dutch are indeed masters in work life balance and I find it so admirable how they make so much allowance for part time work and flexible work schedules.
    Another point I definitely nodded a lot on was when you said the Dutch adapt. This is so true!what ever mother nature hands out with regards to weather they roll with it. I have heard it said in The NL that "there is no bad weather, only bad clothing" so even in the wind and rain, you see the Dutch in the appropriate gear going about their business. I find this very amazing and definitely worthy of emulation.

  6. I absolutely love the Dutch approach to a work-life balance now that I'm working here, though when I was a student I found it so frustrating! All of my Dutch friends would stay enrolled for however many extra months, taking the time to do this club and this vacation and then eventually, maaaybe getting around to finishing their thesis. I wasn't supported by the government so I finished it all ASAP and could honestly only roll my eyes sometimes when a friend would complain about being 'sooo stressed' about an assignment that she had been semi-working on for months!
    Now that I'm working I love the mentality. Nobody bats an eyelash if I take an hour lunch break to read a book in the sun. In Canada I worked retail and I would get flack sometimes for using the bathroom too much!

  7. Really nice to read your blog as a Dutchie myself. Funny enough I think we do complain a lot about the weather. But yes indeed we adapt.

    Today I had this thought that I wanted to compliment all expat mamas because you must be very skilled to live in a foreign country: be an expat, mama and happy at the same time. Takes a huge effort.
    (I'm teaching Dutch so I know how hard it is sometimes I'm more of a coach ;-)