Dutch things I like (and that I'm still shocked by)

Estee Chan, MSc Epidemiology

It’s funny how you learn more about yourself only by being away from your family or your culture. You learn more about your home country by being away from it, as was the case for me. Well it still is, being more than 10,000 km away from my home, the beautiful land called Malaysia.

Two and a half years have passed, since I first set foot on this cheese-obsessed and clog-clad country. As cliché as it may sound, I didn’t know how else to perceive this country other than in comparison to my own. I didn’t know how else to perceive the Dutch people without first taking an introspective look into my own people and my culture. It’s underrated just how fascinating and very different, yet similar we all are!

But this article is not about the how different my culture is compared with the Dutch. In fact, this article takes a step further. It is about the things I enjoy about being here, and things which I am still shocked at, based on my own culture and country. After all, I have been away, haven’t I?

Before I begin, here are some perspectives/expectations of what I am comparing the Dutch with (my introduction). I was born and raised a Malaysian. Even though we are bilingual (Malay and English), our culture is very much infused with the multi-ethnic cultural background of the country. Out culture is formed of Malay, Chinese, Indian (think of interesting mix of languages and diversity in food) and of course British colonial influence, which only recently ended half a century ago. I grew up in the big city, the capital, Kuala Lumpur. So naturally I would incline to describe myself to be more “western” than Asian. But then again, there is some Asian-ness in me which is hard to shed …even with time.

So here it goes…

Things I enjoy:
Seeing four legs trotting alongside a bike in the Netherlands rarely raises eyebrows.

1. Biking culture

 For obvious reasons. Its fun facts are already covered elsewhere. However, I would like to add that, some Dutch people like to “walk” their dogs on their bikes too. Talk about a whole new level of walking the dogs!

The Netherlands has an internationally orientated society and many Dutch people enjoy engaging in other cultures.

2. Dutch people

Dutch people: They are friendly and always curious, especially when you are an international. My advice is, if you want to be comfortable around them (and beat the socially awkwardness out of yourself), open up to them and share stories about your culture/country. They will love it! This is a big step to “inburgering” (integrating) if you are thinking of staying here for a really long time.

The rainbow crossing in Utrecht, which also features Miffy pedestrian traffic lights!

3. Random things like

Policemen on horses. Two very contrasting things happening at the same time; policemen which I am often afraid of, even though I have done nothing wrong, and horses which I adore watching. I know right!

Gay-friendly amenities: pubs with rainbow flags, rainbow-colored zebra-crossings, gay (picture of a man putting his arm on another man) traffic lights. Speaking of traffic lights, watch out for the Miffy traffic lights smacked right in the middle of the city centre? In the Netherlands LGBT+ rights are strong and culturally engrained, whereas homosexuality is prohibited in my country.

Iedereen is Vrij (everyone is free) on Kingsday, combined with all the orange this creates a special atmosphere.

“Loose” regulations on recreational drugs and prostitution (again, both of these are prohibited in my country, the latter is also a huge taboo), so it’s quite an eye opener for me.

The Dutch way of celebrating King’s day. No matter how much I try to explain this to all my Malaysian friends that visited me in this country, I feel that they just.don’t.get.it. You have to experience it to understand it!

Those strong dams that protect these lowlands from being engulfed by the North Sea. You got to give this one to the Dutch. They are not known for being the expert in water management for nothing.

The Delta Works, the Netherlands, helping to maintain the Dutch coastline. (Credit Martin Terber)
Things I hope to get used to:
Dutch communication is more direct than many others, your friend sees it as only polite to tell you your essay wasn't that good!

1. Mannerism

Did I not say that I was brought up under the British influence? Oh yes I did. So mannerism is still very much part of our daily language. A good example, after we have (involuntarily) sneezed, we often say “excuse me”, much like the Brits. Obviously I do that still, multiple times, in front of Dutch people. Once a classmate heard what I said and told me “… we don’t do that here.” Even though he assured me that there is nothing wrong in saying it, it’s just not done here. It’s not easy but I am getting there.

Breakfast and lunch tend to be cold and simple in the Netherlands, with warm meals saved for the evening

2. No warm food for breakfast/lunch

I come from the land filled with yummy-licious indulgent, often fatty, savory, warm food. Obviously food ranks high on my list of if-I-am-going-to-stay-in-this-country-for-long-or-not. And unfortunately, when it comes to food, I still very much miss the warm food served as breakfast and lunch. I won’t even begin to say what kind of warm food I miss from Malaysia because it will just get me hungry and homesick…

The windows may be open for all to see, but an invitation inside a Dutch home can take much longer!

3.  Dutch people

The other side of the coin is that; as close as you may get with a Dutch friend, they would rarely invite you to their home, say, for a meal. It is just who they are. Unlike the “asian warmness” if you will, you would rarely see it here.

I am sure different people with different backgrounds will agree or disagree with this list. This is what I have found different, exciting or strange so far in the Netherlands. One of the most exciting things about moving to a new country is the whirlwind of new experiences and perspectives, and new yummy food! No matter from how far away you come I am sure that you will learn something new here in the Netherlands!