10 things I love about life in the Netherlands
Expats often come to the Netherlands not knowing what to expect or how long they’ll be here. Many people who move here stay for longer than expected. Months turn into years, which turn into more years, or even decades!
Us expats like to complain about the weather and the food, but somehow these factors aren’t enough to send us packing. So, why do we stick around? What are the things that make us want to stay? Here are, in random order, 10 things that make life in the Netherlands so good:
1. Riding a bike
No traffic jams, no hunting for a parking spot and no guilt about CO2 emissions - need I say more?
The lack of hills, the easy distances and the incredible cycling infrastructure make riding a bike in the Netherlands a pretty amazing experience.
It’s not until your bike has become a faithful companion and your driving skills are turning rusty that you realise how delightful a car-free lifestyle can be.
2. Boat life
It takes expats a while to catch on to one of the great pleasures of life in the Netherlands: if you’re surrounded by water then you might as well get on a boat and use it.
Boating in the Netherlands is what picnics are in other countries: a chance to eat, drink and socialise outdoors. Except on a boat the scenery is constantly changing - and you can dive off the picnic rug.
Whether it’s a big canal-based event (like Amsterdam's Grachenfestival or Amsterdam Pride) or just a sunny afternoon with friends, Dutch summer social life often revolves around boats and boating.
3. No fuss communication
The Netherlands’ reputation as a nation of straight-talkers can be a rude shock when you first arrive. However, as you learn to decode mild insults into constructive criticism you often realise that it ain’t all bad.
The Dutch consider directness and (brutal) honesty to be good qualities. Such modes of expression are intended to be an open form of communication, not an attack on your personal character.
Saying things straight up can save a lot of time and emotional angst too. If you don't want to visit a friend because it's pouring with rain, just say so! Lying through your teeth with a feeble excuse will not win you any favours, and can come across as false or insincere.
4. Happy kids
Raising kids in the Netherlands is quite unique: toddlers are blasted by wind and rain as they perch up front on a parent’s bike, kids skip barefoot past empty beer cups at summer festivals and play spaces in cities are confined. And yet, Dutch kids usually have a smile on their face, tantrums are rare and lack of space is compensated for by imagination.
Just like communication, Dutch parenting has a no-fuss approach, allowing children to play how they want and explore their surroundings. Panic or scolding a child if they hurt themselves or break something is rare.
Dutch parenting is often summed up in the "three Rs" mantra: rust, reinheid en regelmaat (rest, cleanliness and regularity), which seems to give Dutch kids a good start in life, and may explain why Unicef ranked them in a 2013 survey as having the highest rate of well-being in the world.
5. Beautiful interiors
Masters from the Golden Age like Johannes Vermeer and Pieter de Hooch captured the beauty and simplicity of Dutch interiors in their paintings. Today, 400 years later, the tradition of peaceful and pleasing living spaces still endures.
With big windows, fresh flowers and stylish yet practical furniture, Dutch homes often feel like cosy cocoons, safe from the unpredictable weather outside. It can come as a surprise when you return to your home country to find interiors that are cluttered or missing the feeling of gezelligheid.
Obviously having less space forces you to use it in a better way. In short, if you live in the Netherlands you can't afford to be a hoarder!
The Netherlands may be small, but it’s full of fresh opportunities. If they're up for the challenge, expats can find many career breaks in the Netherlands, from finding a job with one of many international companies to starting a business.
The Dutch government is constantly finding new ways to attract highly skilled migrants and entrepreneurs via schemes such as the 30% tax ruling and the startup visa residence permit. The government also helps small businesses to grow by simplifying bureaucracy, offering tax breaks and continuously updating government policies.
After all, this is a nation that transformed itself over the centuries from a tidal lowland of farmers, sailors and merchants into a financial centre, design hotspot and startup capital.
7. The open mindset
There’s something special in the open way Dutch people listen to you when you talk about yourself. Self-deprecation and belittling oneself are uncommon. Instead people take each other at face value. This can be extremely refreshing for expats coming from more judgemental societies.
You can experience this accepting attitude at work or when you’re networking. People take you seriously, which means your strengths will be recognised (and your weaknesses pointed out too of course!)
8. Good organisation
In the Netherlands things work... most of the time. NS trains, though sometimes late, are frequent and modern, and many other forms of Dutch infrastructure are reliable. Rubbish is collected regularly, streets are cleaned, you can apply for unemployment benefits if you're fired and emergency surgery is covered by health insurance.
Effective administration comes at a price, and taxes and insurance fees are not cheap, but they provide a blanket safety net and peace of mind that can spare you from bureaucratic stress that can be common in other countries.
If you live in the Netherlands for a few years you will start to notice the constant renewal and development that is always going on. Old buildings are restored, empty roads are converted into bike lanes and new metro lines are created (extremely slowly).
The Dutch are not afraid of change. Ephemeral bars pop up in vacant industrial buildings for a couple of years only to be replaced by apartments or a new hotel. This constant evolution can be annoying, especially when your favourite club closes, but it means there’s always space for experimentation and something new.
10. The Dutch
What is a country but its people? Last but certainly not least, the Dutch themselves make the Netherlands a pretty special place to live. Sure it takes a while to connect with locals when you first arrive, and Dutch people certainly don’t fall over each other to be your friend.
But once you get to know them (and make an effort to learn Dutch) you’ll discover they’re a thoroughly decent bunch, with a secret soft side and a cracking sense of humour. There is much to be said for the Dutch character: firm, yet often lenient; thrifty, but generous to a good cause; restrained, but wild in the right context (think King's Day) and gewoon or "normal", but actually a little bit crazy.
Why we stay
Maybe the acceptance of "craziness" explains why expats stay so long in the Netherlands: it’s a place where you can be yourself.
What do you like about life in the Netherlands? Share your thoughts in the comments below.