As someone born and raised in the Netherlands, Dutch culture is completely normal to me. It wasn’t until I started meeting more internationals that I realised some things that I considered to be normal, were actually cultural characteristics in the lowlands. When I was around 14 years old, my high school organised an exchange with a high school in Spain. I will never forget when we arrived, how hungry all the Dutch kids were at 6pm. Not knowing we’d have to wait for dinner until at least 10pm. Until then, I had never questioned having dinner at 6, but apparently the Netherlands is one of the only countries where people eat that early. Now that I study at BUas, I have made a lot of international friends, I have asked them to share things they have noticed about the Netherlands or Breda specifically. So here is what our internationals find surprising about the Netherlands.
Joey Feijoo (United States/Spain)
“It's something that I didn't notice at first and took me two years before I realised, but the parking spaces here are huge. Even on a normal residential street, the lines for one parking space are as big as two of them in any other country I have been in. Dutch people are just smarter and don’t want their cars scratched, I guess.”
I can’t say I have ever noticed this or even thought about it. You could argue that it is smart that we have big parking spaces, however I recently read that there is a huge shortage when it comes to parking spaces in Dutch cities. So, maybe we just don’t have good spatial awareness.
Felipe Sperling (Germany/Argentina)
“One thing I noticed living in the Netherlands, and maybe it is just Brabant, but people love Carnaval music. Especially construction workers. Whenever I pass by construction sites there is always an early 2000s boombox blasting a Carnaval music CD. Even if Carnaval is months away.”
The only thing I have to say about this is that there is a niche middle aged demographic of hardworking Dutch labourers that just can’t get enough of ‘Atje voor de sfeer’.
Izzy Pletl (Germany)
Izzy said the thing that surprised her most is that there is such a housing shortage. She has lived in Munich which has a lot more inhabitants than Breda, but she says the rent prices are way lower there, and it is way easier to find a place. She also added that she thinks it is strange that there are chickens in the park.
This is very true, there is a big housing shortage in the Netherlands, there are a lot of people in our small little country. When it comes to the chickens in the park, if it helps, I think that is strange too.
Dominique Lapierre-Armande (Antigua en Barbuda)
He mentioned how the hockey and football players cycle back home after their practice in their shorts or skirts. Even when it is freezing outside.
The Dutchies will cycle in any weather condition. So, if we go to practise in shorts or skirts, we come back like that too.
Sercan Garen Demircioğlu (Turkey)
Sergio said he was surprised when he first saw that the people here give three kisses on the cheek when they great each other. As for Turkey (and most other countries) people only do this twice.
I thought about the three kisses a lot. To me it does not make sense, one thing I hear often about Dutch people is that they are not very affectionate, especially compared to other countries. So, I wouldn’t know why we would want that extra kiss. However, I searched the internet for you guys and apparently it is related to Christianity and comes from the Holy Trinity, the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Iliana Marinova (Greece)
“One of the first things that surprised me here were the houses. First of all, almost everybody lives in a house and somehow there is still space for green. In addition to that I was surprised that the houses are all on ground level, like nobody has stairs leading to their house. Even though houses are on ground level nobody minds leaving their curtains open. In Greece privacy is the most important thing and we are used to having our houses two or three steps above ground level. However, what I really like about Breda, is that I feel safe. I am not afraid to walk alone or with my headphones at any time of the day.”
When it comes to housing, I think Dutch people are very spoiled. I once heard that Dutch people simply do not like living in apartments. We like our space, which is ironic since we don’t have any. The first thing my Spanish exchange student said while entering my house was: ‘Your house is so big I am scared I am going to get lost.’ While I live in a very normal sized house for Dutch standards at least.
I am pretty sure most of our buildings are directly on ground level because our country is flat. About the curtains, I have heard a lot of internationals about this. I have never known why but I looked into it and apparently this comes from the protestant belief. They have a saying, which literally translated from Dutch means the honest civilian has nothing to hide. I guess Dutch people still live by this.
Nik Lentfer (Germany/Canada)
“When I first moved to the Netherlands, I was introduced to bar hopping. Where I’m from in Canada it’s not really a thing. We usually just go to one bar or club and then stay there for the night. In Breda it’s quite common to go to a bunch of different bars and clubs within one night.”
I don’t think bar hopping is necessarily something Dutch, but it makes sense since everything here is close together. Especially in Breda because it is a small city. Another thing I have noticed is that most bars and clubs here are free while in other countries that is not as common. Especially clubs can charge a lot of entrance fee. If I had paid for entrance, I would be more likely to stay in one club all night too.
There are many things that, as a Dutchie are second nature to me. It was interesting to find that to my international friends, these ‘normal’ things were noteworthy enough to remember when I asked them in my interviews for this article. I hope this article has provided a window for non-internationals into the lives of expats experiencing our country for the first time.