My culture shock experience

wooden shoes

Everybody who moves to a new country experiences culture shock. You even experience it when you move back to your country of birth.

When I moved to the Netherlands in late 2000, I was sorely prepared for whatever culture shock I may experience.

Just a quick reminder that I am an Australian bush baby, meaning I grew up in the bush with not so many neighbours and definitely no shops nearby (they  were about a 40 minute drive away)

bush view

Just a quick disclaimer, the following list is in no particular order.

My culture shock experience.

A summer jacket

I never in all my life have heard of a summer jacket. When you experience summers of up to (the hottest I remember was) 46oC, the last thing you want to ware is a jacket.

The two words did not go together in my mind, but then a summer jacket is perfect for those days where it is too cold to have short sleeves and too warm for a jumper.

The trick is layers. The weather changes rapidly here. Blue sky one minute and rain the next.

summer jacket

It rains, a lot

When I first arrived in the Netherlands, it rained. So being the good little Australian that I was, I stayed inside and waited for it to stop.

After a week I had to convince myself that rain was only water and I would not die if I got wet, but I would if I stayed indoors any longer (at least that’s how it feels when you have cabin fever).

rain drops puddle

The shops are closed on a Monday

The Dutch don’t like Mondays, or at least that is how it seems, with all the shops closed on a Monday, except for the supermarkets.

If they were to open on a Monday it would be after 1pm.

It has taken me years to get used to this one, and now that I am, more and more shops are opening their door on a Monday.

Amsterdam shops

Speaking English

When I was learning Dutch, everybody wanted to show me how well they could speak English.

This meant that there was little time for me to practice my Dutch.

In the beginning this was fine, but at a certain point they became frustrated we me and said that I was not speaking enough Dutch.

women talking

Plan it and be on time

Now as an Australian if you were to ask me ‘would you like to go to the movies next week Friday?’ my response would be ‘I don’t know how I would feel next week, ask me then’

Here spontaneity is a dirty word along with being late.

You need to plan everything in your calendar.

Nothing upsets a Dutch person more than being late for an appointment.

Pro tip: put an alarm into your phone to help you remember what time you need to leave for your appointment.

This brings me to…


Being to the point

As an Australian, the closest we ever get to saying ‘no’ is ‘maybe’.

Here in the Netherlands, it is a direct ‘no’.

The Dutch have no problems in saying what they feel or think. It can come across as being rude. It dose get some getting used to, but once you understand that it is not personal, life gets easier.


Bikes are everywhere

The Dutch go everywhere on their bikes. All over the Netherlands are red bike paths or even separate bike paths to cycle on. Driving still is a nerve-racking experience, as most cyclists tend to believe that they always have the right of way, even if they don’t, and no-one is wearing a helmet.

You will often see children as young as two scooting around on two wheeled bikes.

But to be honest, it is sometimes quicker to go with the bike, and when you do you don’t have to worry about parking or parking fees.

I have myself embraced the biking life and have even managed to have two kids and a weeks’ worth of groceries on mine, and that wasn’t even an electrical bike.

bikes Amsterdam

Last but not least

The birthday party

When you first arrive the first thing you have to do is congratulate everyone there, with either a handshake or with three kisses on the cheek.

It is easy to remember who you congratulated because they all sit in a big circle in the loungeroom area.

If it is your birthday, you are expected to serve yours guests constantly throughout the day, bring them food and drinks.

You are also, without fail, are expected to serve an apple tart. This is the preferred birthday cake of choice. Even if you have other cakes to offer, there must always be apple tart. I learnt that the hard way (please refer to the section on being to the point).

apple tart

Here are a few more quick mentions:

All the trees in the forests are in rows,

They love eating bread for breakfast covered in chocolate sprinkles,

Their fries are drowned in mayonnaise,

It only takes you no more than 2 hours drive to be in another country,

They use the 24-hour time system,

There is usually a toilet by the front door,

You call the teachers by their first names.

Dutch forest

I’m sure I have missed a few, but I believe that this list is big enough.

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