Sweden vs the Netherlands: An expat’s guide
The Netherlands is regularly and easily compared to the Scandinavian nations of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, with the four countries sharing aspects of culture and diet, and regularly nabbing the top spots in happiness, health, and wealth tables across the board.
In spite of these similarities, the Netherlands is still quite different in a lot of ways. It’s important when moving, or when considering a move, to know the realities of living in a different country and culture. With the things they have in common, it may be tempting to think the Netherlands and Sweden are interchangeable. However - this is not true. Sweden versus the Netherlands: let's take a look at these European nations, their similarities and differences, and the information that is important to know when considering a move to either - or between - the two.
Day to day life in the Netherlands
There are so many elements that are important to consider when looking to move to a new country. Let’s take a look at some of the key aspects to day to day life in the Netherlands, so you know exactly what you should expect if you live there.
Demographics and geography
The population in the Netherlands is 17,3 million people, with an average age of 42,8 years old. In 2020, around 24,2 percent of the population had a migration background - 10,5 percent with a “western” background, and 13,7 with a “non-western” background. The area known as the Randstad is the most densely populated region, with the cities of Amsterdam and Rotterdam having the highest individual populations (1.149 million and 1.010 million respectively.
The country covers a surface area of 33.893 square kilometres (41.543 square kilometres including the water surface area). About a quarter of the country lies below sea level, with the lowest point at minus seven metres (Zuidplaspolder) and the highest point at 322 metres (Vaalserberg).
The Netherlands enjoys a moderate climate, with mild winters and generally cool summers, and rain throughout the year. Heatwaves are becoming a more common occurrence, with the summer of 2020 seeing a record-breaking 13-day heatwave. The average annual rainfall is 790mm, so not particularly high, but the main issue with Dutch weather is how unpredictable it is. There is no clear dry season or wet season, and you never know what you can expect.
The Dutch government
The Dutch government is a parliamentary democracy, with the government made up of a Council of Ministers (the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, and Cabinet Ministers). The Dutch Parliament is made up of the Senate (Eerste Kamer, 75 seats) and House of Representatives (Tweede Kamer, 150 seats).
The Netherlands also has a monarchy, with the royal family fulfilling certain ceremonial functions, and the head of the family (currently King Willem-Alexander) acting as head of state and having some political influence.
National holidays in the Netherlands
There are two national holidays in the Netherlands - King’s Day (Koningsdag) on April 27, and Liberation Day (Bevrijdingsdag) on May 5. Liberation Day is only an official holiday every five years, so the next one will fall in 2025. On top of these dates, the Netherlands also recognises a number of public holidays, including Christmas Day, New Years Day, and Easter Monday.
Cost of living in the Netherlands
The cost of living in the Netherlands may, at first glance, seem quite high. But in comparison to other Western-European countries, it’s relatively normal, although the cost of living in one of the big Dutch cities (Amsterdam being the most expensive) is significantly higher than in more rural areas of the country.
The general cost of living isn’t particularly high - as in any other country, the cost of food or utilities can differ greatly depending on where you shop and who your providers are - but what really ups the costs here are the house prices and rent. Dutch cities have an issue with supply and demand for housing, which makes it quite expensive.
Luckily, as the Netherlands relies so heavily on cycling to get around, you could save some money on transportation costs by getting yourself a handy bike, plus it’ll make your morning commute much healthier and a lot more enjoyable.
The minimum wage in the Netherlands is decent, and salaries are quite high - but so are income taxes, so be prepared to have to hand in a significant cut of your monthly wage. Luckily, the government introduced the 30% ruling tax advantage, meaning that no matter how much you earn, the taxable amount of gross salary is reduced from 100 percent to 70 percent - meaning 30 percent is tax free!
House prices in the Netherlands
Renting in the Netherlands is expensive, and the prices only going up - 2020 has seen the largest increase in rent prices in six years, with prices in The Hague and Rotterdam rising quickly. Rent prices can vary from 300 euros per month for a room, to over 2.500 euros a month for an apartment in Amsterdam, so it really depends on where you live.
Rent in the Netherlands consists of two parts: basic rent and service charges (energy, water, internet, etc). Your rental price could be with service charges included or excluded, so make sure to check with the landlord so you can calculate exactly what your monthly costs will be. There is a housing benefit (huurtoeslag) available to certain residents, so you may be eligible to apply and get some extra money to put towards your budget.
Buying a house is, of course, a good financial investment, however the supply and demand issues mean house prices across the country can be quite high. The average property price in Amsterdam is over 450.000 euros, but the average price nationally is “only” 300.000 euros. If you live outside of the big cities, you can find a nice home for a more affordable price.
The Dutch healthcare system is split into three sections: long-term care for chronic illnesses, basic and essential medical care (i.e. visiting your GP), and supplementary care (i.e. visiting your dentist). Long-term care is covered by mandatory state insurance. All regular/basic care is paid for by mandatory private health insurance, and supplementary care may be covered under this insurance depending on the policy.
Day to day life in Sweden
So how does life in Sweden compare to life in the Netherlands? Let’s take a look.
Demographics and geography
The population of Sweden is 10,2 million people, with an average age of 41,1 years old. Only around 9 percent of the Swedish population is made up of internationals. Most people live in the south of the country, and there can be clusters of people found all along the Baltic coast in the east of the country, but the central and northern parts of Sweden remain sparsely populated.
While the Swedish population may be smaller than the Netherlands, the country’s landmass is significantly larger. Sweden covers 410.335 square kilometres of land (450.295 square kilometres including the area covered by water). Sweden has almost 300 lakes, the largest of which, Vanern, is the third-largest in Europe.
Many might associate Sweden with cold and dark weather, but actually the climate in Sweden may be a lot milder than you think! But depending on where you are in Sweden, the weather can vary quite drastically.
In the south of the country, winters are generally shorter and milder - snow is fairly rare - and in the summer, temperatures tend to range from 15 to 25 degrees. As you travel further north, towards Stockholm, the temperatures do drop slightly. Snow is more common throughout the winter, and the average temperature in January is below freezing. The northernmost parts of Sweden experience the climate that you may associate with the whole of the country - long, cold winters, with sub-zero temperatures lasting several months, and lots and lots of snow. Summers here are short, with temperatures staying around 15 degrees.
The Swedish government
Sweden is also a parliamentary democracy, run by a Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is appointed by the Riksdag (Swedish Parliament) - the national legislature and supreme decision-making body of Sweden. The Riksdag has 349 members who are elected by the public in elections held every four years. The Prime Minister and his cabinet ministers make up the government, and they implement the decisions made by the Riksdag.
Sweden also has a monarchy, and in 1980 the Swedish royal family became the first to change the line of succession rule so that the firstborn child - regardless of gender - inherited the throne. The current king, King Carl XVI Gustaf, serves as a head of state with solely ceremonial and representative duties. The monarch has no political affinity and no formal powers.
National holidays in Sweden
Sweden has a couple more national holidays than the Netherlands. Alongside all the expected ones - New Years Day, Christmas Day, Good Friday, etc. - there are a few that are specific to Sweden.
January 6, the thirteenth day of Christmas, is a national holiday, as is Labour Day on May 1, and Midsummer (June 20).
Cost of living in Sweden
It might not come as a surprise to find out that Sweden is quite an expensive country to live in, particularly in and around the capital city, Stockholm. House prices are high, but buying items such as food and clothing could also take up a big chunk of your monthly salary. Alcohol, and services such as getting your hair cut, also come at a steep price - also worth noting that you might struggle to buy your beverage of choice over the weekends due to a system called Systembolaget.
The public transport system is extensive, but also pricey - although admittedly cheaper than buying and owning your own car - but luckily, children, students, and senior citizens are eligible for discounts. Taxes are also high in Sweden, but this means that other things - such as health care and schooling - can be cheap or even free (but more on that later).
House prices in Sweden
House prices in Sweden continue to rise. Between 2012 and 2019 - a period known as Sweden’s housing boom - the average house prices rose by a whopping 48 percent. The areas around the cities of Stockholm and Malmö are in highest demand, and the prices there are rising at the sharpest rates.
Similarly to the Netherlands, Sweden suffers from issues in supply and demand of housing, which consistently drives up prices. In comparison to the average income of a household in Sweden, housing is pricey. The government has tried to make it easier for people to buy homes by changing the rules for the amortisation of mortgages.
Renting is a much more affordable option in Sweden, as the Swedish rental market is “pro-tenant.” The market is strictly controlled and regulated, and rents are fairly low. Furthermore, rents are generally unaffected by location, so regardless of where you chose to live, you will pay roughly the same amount for the same property. However, the housing shortage - plus the fact that tenants have the ability to pro-long their contracts forever - means that demand outweighs the supply.
The healthcare system in Sweden is regularly ranked as one of the best in the world. High taxes mean that healthcare is exceedingly cheap - including for expats. Every Swedish resident receives the same standard of healthcare, no matter their nationality.
For adults, healthcare costs are low, and healthcare is completely free for everyone under the age of 20. While the country has one of the best doctor-to-patient ratios in the world, there can occasionally be long waiting times. Urgent cases are prioritised - with patients guaranteed an appointment within three days - and patients with non-urgent cases are guaranteed an appointment within seven days, and an appointment with a specialist within 90 days.
Health insurance is rare, as it has no impact on the quality of care received but can allow someone to bypass the potentially long waiting times. Similarly, private healthcare is not commonly used, but there are a handful of private facilities across the country.
Dental care isn’t covered in the government’s healthcare system, but it is subsidised by the government.
The work culture in the Netherlands and Sweden
If you’re considering a move to either of these countries, you will likely be on the hunt for a job. But what is the work culture like in the Netherlands in Sweden - what prospects are their for expats?
The jobs on offer
There are a number of opportunities for jobs for expats in the Netherlands, and there are even a handful of recruitment agencies aimed at placing international workers in jobs in the Netherlands. Thriving sectors in the Netherlands include agriculture and food, creative industries, chemicals, energy, IT, health and life sciences, logistics, and the service industry. Highly-skilled workers, for example engineers and IT specialists, or people working in finance, are in great demand. There are several job boards in the Netherlands specially designed with expats in mind to help them find work.
In Sweden, there are also job listings in English which cater to internationals seeking work. Swedish Migration Agency and the Public Employment Agency have a relatively up-to-date list of occupations that are in high demand (the labour shortage list), so if your profession is in demand it should be easier for you to find work.
Applying for a job
The application processes in both the Netherlands and Sweden are fairly standard. Candidates will be expected to submit a CV (online), and/or fill in a form. They will likely also be asked to write and submit a cover letter, or a motivatiebrief. If the company is interested in the candidate, then they will be invited for an interview which may be accompanied by a skills assessment, depending on the position you’ve applied for. They may ask for additional documentation, such as a portfolio of work, or for references from previous employers - this doesn’t always happen in the Netherlands, but it is good to be prepared.
Depending on the kind of company you have applied for a job with, the interview process in both countries could range from fairly relaxed to more intense. Employers in both countries like to get a feel for the candidate and who they are as a person, and may encourage conversation about things that aren’t strictly work-related.
People working in the Netherlands are more likely to hang around in the staff kitchen and have a lovely little catch up while brewing their umpteenth coffee of the day, while on the whole, people in Sweden will get things done efficiently, allowing them to leave the office a little earlier - 3 pm to be precise. The work culture in Sweden strongly believes in working shorter but more intense days, and recently performed an experiment where employees worked six-hour days instead of the typical eight, and found that they were happier and healthier as a result.
But, while the Dutch may work longer days, they make up for it in other ways. Around 74 percent of people in the Netherlands work part-time (less than 36 hours a week). Working overtime is also not something that happens particularly often in Dutch offices.
This means that the working hours kind of even out between the two countries. Data from the OECD shows that people in the Netherlands work an average of 1.434 hours a year, compared to the 1.452 hours a year in Sweden. Practically no difference at all!
Both the Netherlands and Sweden have a very English-centric work environment, making both countries perfect for internationals looking for work. Both offer a very high level of English, but the Netherlands pips Sweden to the post in this round, beating them in the 2019 Education First English Proficiency Index and taking first place, leaving Sweden to settle for second.
The Netherlands also has more English-speaking companies, with many global or international companies choosing Dutch cities for their headquarters. Therefore, anyone looking to thrive in a more international environment would probably be better off heading for the Netherlands.
The Netherlands vs Sweden: Family life
Family life is integral to establishing yourself in a new country and for ensuring your whole family can thrive and be happy in new surroundings. What could moving to Sweden or the Netherlands mean for your family?
Education system the Netherlands
In the Netherlands, education is compulsory for children between the ages of five and 16, but most children begin their education at four. Dutch primary schools have eight grades/years, known as groepen, and are for children between four and 12. At the age of 12, children sit an exam that determines which stream of secondary education they will go into.
Secondary schools are split into three streams:
- VMBO - to prepare children (12-16) for vocational training
- HAVO - to prepare children (12-17) to study at universities of applied sciences
- VWO - to prepare children (12-18) for university
There are public schools (openbaar), which are run by the government and have no religious or philosophical affiliation (tuition is free, or exceedingly low), special schools (bijzonder) which are independently operated and adhere to a religion or educational philosophy (e.g. Montessori or Steiner schools), and there are of course a variety of international schools, offering education under the British system, the International Baccalaureate (IB), the European Baccalaureate, and more.
As for school holidays, the Netherlands is split into three regions which all have staggered holiday dates to avoid a busy holiday rush.
Education system Sweden
Similarly to the Netherlands, education is compulsory for everyone between the ages of seven and 16 in Sweden. Children start primary school when they’re seven years old, and the system is divided into three stages: elementary school, middle school, and high school. Then, at 16, children can start upper secondary school (gymnasieskola). It isn’t compulsory, but most chose to complete secondary education so they can be eligible for higher education and high-skilled jobs in the future. Gymnasieskola is split into 18 different national programmes with different educational focuses, such as an arts programme or industrial technology programme.
Public schools - both primary and secondary - are taxpayer-funded, and (generally) don’t charge student fees. There are also a number of private schools which are run independently and are not technically required to follow the national curriculum (although many do). Lastly, there are, of course, international schools, which are a popular option among expats. In Sweden, there are international schools that follow the American, the British, and the IB curriculum.
Quality of life
It’s fairly widely known that both Sweden and the Netherlands regularly do quite well on happiness and quality of life indexes. But what exactly does that mean for life in these countries? The OECD Better Life Index breaks it down into 11 topics categorised as essential to determine general well-being across countries around the world: environmental quality, civic engagement, education and skills, work-life balance, health status, subjective well-being, income and wealth, jobs and earnings, housing, personal safety, and social connections.
Quality of life in Sweden
Sweden performs well in a number of areas in the Better Life Index - particularly environment (9,1 out of 10), life satisfaction (8,9), safety and health (both 8,5), and work-life balance (8,4). The country ranks above average in all of the 11 topics. The index does determine, however, that there is a considerable gap between Sweden’s richest and poorest - the top 20 percent earn four times as much as the bottom 20 percent. The life expectancy in Sweden is 82 - two years higher than the OECD average, and the population experiences a strong sense of community and civic participation. In general, people in Sweden are more satisfied with their lives - rating it 7,3 out of 10, significantly higher than the OECD average of 6,5.
Quality of life in the Netherlands
Similarly, the Netherlands ranks top in work-life balance, and above average in nine out of the remaining 10 topics - only ranking below average in income and wealth. The country performs particularly well in work-life balance (9,5 out of 10), life satisfaction (9,3), safety (9,2), health (8,4), and jobs (8,3). Like Sweden, there is a significant wealth gap, and money plays a large role in achieving a higher standard of living. When asked to rate their satisfaction with their lives, people in the Netherlands ranked it an average of 7,4 out of 10 - only very slightly higher than in Sweden.
The Swedish lifestyle vs the Dutch lifestyle
Now that you know many of the important and administrative aspects to life in these countries - its time for the fun stuff. Where should you live? What kind of events can you look forward to?
Major Dutch cities
The Netherlands is quite densely populated, and has a variety of cities to cater to everyone’s needs and preferences. Let’s look at the major Dutch cities that many internationals chose to settle in.
Amsterdam isn’t just a significant tourist destination, but it’s also a city where hundreds of thousands of people live and work. Located in the province of North Holland, Amsterdam is the largest Dutch city, and is the country’s financial, business, cultural, and commercial capital. In the centre of the city you can find buildings that date back hundreds of years, standing next to modern and airy buildings, as well as coffee shops and brothels - the city unlike any other.
The population of Amsterdam is exceedingly diverse - there are over 170 different nationalities living in this small city! - which makes it perfect for any expat looking for a home. A number of international companies have set up base in Amsterdam, and the vibrant and international communities mean it’s easy to get by and feel welcome, even if you don’t speak the language. Furthermore, Amsterdam is consistently ranked as one of the best cities in the world for quality of life.
But, of course, it isn’t all about Amsterdam.
Amsterdam’s reputation precedes itself, but there is a growing fanbase for the city of Rotterdam. It is the second-largest city in the Netherlands, and many fans feel it rivals the capital for its history, culture, and industry. Rotterdam is home to one of the largest ports in the world, and perhaps doesn’t look like the traditional Dutch town or city that you’re imagining. Much of the centre of the city was bombed in the war, and so Rotterdam is now a breathtakingly modern metropolis - it is a must-see for any architecture fans.
The Hague is the home to the Dutch government and royal family, as well as the International Court of Justice, and so plays a key role, not only in Dutch politics and society, but in international events. It’s the capital of the province of South Holland, and is the third-largest city in the Netherlands. The Hague is also extremely international, but has a completely different vibe to both Amsterdam and Rotterdam, and is also home to the most beloved beach in the Netherlands: Scheveningen.
Major Swedish cities
Sweden is a vast and beautiful country, with small and vibrant cities. Which one sounds like the perfect future home for you and your family?
Stockholm is a truly unique city, comprising of 14 separate islands that come together to form this beautiful and historic capital. It serves as the cultural, political, and economic centre of Sweden, and has an uber cosmopolitan vibe. It is modern and international, but also traditional - holding onto its Swedish and Scandinavian heritage - which gives it an atmosphere like no other city. Stockholm’s old town dates back to at least 1250, and the city brings together narrow and charming medieval streets, and ultra-modern and sleek architecture. Most expats moving to Sweden will inevitably make Stockholm their home - their Stockhome, if you will.
Gothenburg is the second-largest city when it comes to population size, and is situated on the west coast of Sweden. If you’re moving from the Netherlands to Sweden, then Gothenburg may feel more familiar than any other Swedish city because it is generally known for its Dutch-style canals. The city has strong historical connections to the Netherlands, and was set up in the 1600s as a (primarily Dutch) trading colony. Nowadays though, Gothenburg is a student-rich and lively city. Fun facts about Gothenburg? It’s the birthplace of Volvo, has around 260 trams, and rockstar Jimi Hendrix was a fan of the local amusement park. What’s not to love about this city that has so much to offer.
The southernmost city in Sweden, Malmö is located at the Swedish end of the Öresund Bridge that connects Sweden to Copenhagen, Denmark. It is the thirst-largest city in Sweden. Malmö is known as one of the most varied and eclectic cities in Sweden, bringing together old and new with spiralling skyscrapers and centuries-old churches. It is also incredibly international - with residents hailing from over 170 countries - and quite young - the average age of Malmö residents is just 36. Malmö is also the place to go if you’re not a huge fan of cold weather, as its location means it has a milder climate than the other big cities.
Popular events in the Netherlands
Local culture and events are vital to maintaining an active lifestyle in your new home. What might you and your family have to look forward to when moving to the Netherlands?
Generally thought of as the “Dutch Christmas,” on the evening of December 5, Sinterklaas travels across the Netherlands on his white horse, accompanied by his helpers (pieten) to deliver sacks of presents to children. He arrives on a large steamboat in mid-November, an event known as the intocht, and greets children as he travels through the streets of towns and cities, handing out sweets and small spiced biscuits (strooigoed and pepernoten). While not officially a public holiday, it is one of the most important nights in the Dutch calendar, as families gather together to share food, drinks, stories, and gifts.
Similarly to Sinterklaas, Kingsday, or Koningsdag, is one of the big annual celebrations in the Netherlands, but unlike Sinterklaas, this one actually counts as a public holiday, which means you don’t have to go to school or work! On April 27, the whole country turns orange to celebrate the King’s birthday. Expect lots of beer, lots of very bright orange, and lots of loud (cheesy Dutch) music, and spend your day walking around aimlessly to see what gems you can find in the traditional street markets. Alternatively, use the day as an opportunity to declutter your home, and set out a blanket and attempt to sell your bits and bobs to the general public.
Amsterdam Pride is one of the highlights of summer in the Netherlands, and people travel from all over the country - nay, world - to partake in celebrations. There are parties, events, exhibitions, and marches across the Dutch capital in the first week of August, but the main event is the pride parade on the first Saturday of August. Every year, around 80 boats cruise the iconic canals, and it’s one big city-wide party.
The music scene in the Netherlands is intense, and there are a number of music festivals throughout the year which cater to all different genres. The big ones include PinkPop (always held on Pentecost weekend), North Sea Jazz Festival, Lowlands, Mysteryland, and Awakenings, to name but a few. Every October, Amsterdam is transformed by the Amsterdam Dance Event - a five-day electronic music conference and festival.
Carnaval is a huge part of traditional Dutch culture. Mostly celebrated in the southern-most provinces (such as Limburg and North Brabant), it’s an excuse for everyone to dress up in wacky costumes (feestkleding) and go wild. It’s held every year on the Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday immediately preceding Lent. The highlight of the event is the Carnaval parade, where huge and impressive floats travel down city streets and everyone dons extravagant costumes.
Popular events in Sweden
The Swedish event calendar looks quite different to that of the Netherlands - what can you expect from life in Sweden?
Midsummer (Midsomar) is an event very closely associated with Scandinavian culture. Midsummer is an opportunity for everyone to be outside and celebrate the beauty and the joy of long, warm summer days. Expect flower crowns, may-pole dancing, and traditional Swedish songs, as well as lots of un-sweetened schnapps and pickled herring. It’s celebrated pretty much everywhere - as long as it’s outdoors - and people of all ages join in the fun.
Valborg (Walpurgis) is a night of bonfires, traditionally used to ward off evil spirits, on April 30, and also serves to celebrate the birthday of King Carl XVI Gustaf. The biggest Valborg celebrations are in Stockholm, at Skansen (an open-air museum), but there are events held across the country.
All Saints’ Day
All Saints’ Day is a day of national reflection, where family members generally light candles on the graves of lost family and friends. The day is celebrated on November 1, and also serves to mark the first day of winter and the traditional start of the alpine ski season in the north of Sweden. Many churches also organise concerts to celebrate the day, and families spend the day together. If you’re in Sweden on All Saints’ Day, it’s worth visiting a cemetery when it’s lit by candlelight, as the scenery can be absolutely magical.
Kiruna Snow Festival
The largest snow festival in Europe, Kiruna features dog-sledging, reindeer racing, figure skating, snow-sculpting, and live music, all under the mesmerising northern lights. It takes place over the last weekend of January, and is a true celebration of all things winter and cold.
Lucia, also known as the Festival of Lights, is Sweden’s festival to celebrate the shortest day of the year: December 13. Young girls (Lucias) dress up in floor-length white gowns and special headdresses, equipped with a lit candle, and boys (“star boys”) wear wizard hats covered in gold stars and hold a wand and visit restaurants, schools, and offices. Lucia is one of the most important days in the Swedish calendar.
Sweden vs the Netherlands: Food
Food glorious food! What delights can you expect to devour at Swedish and Dutch mealtimes?
Food in the Netherlands
Due to the Netherlands’ controversial colonial history, and centuries of international travelling and trading, there are a number of traditional Dutch dishes which are inspired by the cuisines of other countries. On the whole, quintessential Dutch dishes are filling, hot, and sturdy, designed to keep you full and warm throughout the colder winter months. Root vegetables, such as potatoes, feature heavily, and a number of foods were smoked, dried, or pickled. The Dutch are of course known for their cheese - but what else do they eat?
Traditional Dutch foods
Examples of some much-loved and well-known dishes are pea soup, stamppot, and, of course, pancakes, which are traditionally eaten for dinner. There is a strong Indonesian influence on Amsterdam's cuisine, and so an Indonesian rice table (Rijsttafel) could also be considered a part of the traditional Dutch food culture. The Dutch are also known for their (often unhealthy) snack foods. Raw herring can be found at stalls across the country, served with pickles and onions and perfect for anyone wanting a snack on-the-go. Bitterballen are enjoyed by many when drinking a few beers with friends. Similar to the bitterbal, the kroket is another deep-fried snack often filled with meat and served with mustard, and frikandellen, deep-fried, skinless sausages, have recently overtaken kroketten to become the best-loved snack food in the Netherlands. Of course, there are some other traditional Dutch foods that are specific to certain regions, such as the Brabant sausage roll.
Breakfast in the Netherlands
Dutch breakfasts can vary, but the most common choices are slices of bread with either sweet or savoury toppings, or muesli with yoghurt and maybe fruit. Cheese is also a popular topping for bread, or of course the famous chocolate sprinkles (hagelslag) which are eaten and enjoyed by people of all ages. The Dutch also enjoy a krentenbol, which is a soft roll filled with currents, eaten plain, or with butter and/or cheese, or rye bread. The Dutch rye bread is different from other countries’ rye bread, but is still quite dense and hearty. Ontbijtkoek - directly translated as breakfast cake - is a ginger cake that is also popular at breakfast.
Sweet foods in the Netherlands
You may already be familiar with the traditional Dutch pancake, but have you heard of poffertjes? These are small, bite-sized, puffed-up pancakes that are typically served with butter and powdered sugar. Stroopwafels are another well-loved sweet snack, and come in a variety of sizes but are best enjoyed fresh and sticky. The Dutch also have a number of traditional sweets, such as drop (the Dutch liquorice) or the sweets that accompany the pepernoten and kruidnoten in Sinterklaas strooigoed. All delicious, all unhealthy, and all exceedingly moreish.
Food in Sweden
There’s more to Sweden than the Swedish meatballs you get at Ikea. Sweden’s food culture, like the Netherlands’, was shaped by its climate, and so meals are hearty, and foods are regularly pickled to be preserved for the winter months. In contemporary Sweden, the cuisine centres on healthy, locally sourced produce, but some preparation methods still used today can be traced all the way back to the Viking era.
Traditional Swedish foods
There are some similarities to be found between some of the traditional Dutch and Swedish dishes. Pea soup is a popular choice in Sweden, as is pickled herring. The most well-known Swedish food tradition is the smörgåsbord - a buffet-style meal with a number of hot and cold dishes. Pork, particularly sausages, and salmon are also used quite regularly in traditional dishes, such as gravlax and the fläskpannkaka. And, of course, meatballs are one of the most iconic Swedish exports. Swedish meatballs, known as köttbullar, are usually served with boiled potatoes, gravy, lingonberry jam, and on occasion, pickled cucumber.
Food and drink in the Swedish business culture
Food and drink play a key role in the traditional Swedish business culture. Coffee breaks (fika) are taken seriously, used as an opportunity to socialise, relax, and have a fun little break in the workday to spend time with friends and colleagues. Cups of coffee or tea are typically paired with a sweet snack, such as the famous Swedish cinnamon rolls. Similarly, lunch is seen as a key opportunity to take a break from focusing on work, and is not just grabbing a quick sandwich to eat over your keyboard as you continue to work through the break. Instead, hot dishes (such as pea soup) are enjoyed as colleagues socialise or talk business. Lunch breaks in Sweden can be key to any business deal or development.
Sweden vs the Netherlands: Sporting rivals
The Netherlands and Sweden may have a close historical relationship, and may share many aspects of their diet and culture today - however they have also been rivals. Sporting rivals that is. Let’s take a look at some of the major talking points when it comes to the Netherlands, Sweden, and sport.
Sweden and the Netherlands have faced each other on the pitch a number of times over the past 100 years. They met for the first time in October 1908 at an international friendly, where the Netherlands beat Sweden 5-3. In the summer of 1974, they played each other for the first time in the FIFA World Cup - a match which ultimately ended in a 0-0 draw.
Some of the most notable Netherlands - Sweden matches have happened in the UEFA European Championships. In 2004, the Netherlands beat Sweden 5-4 following a tense penalty shoot-out in the semi-finals.
The Netherlands and Sweden have also faced off in women’s football - most recently in the Women’s World Cup in 2019. The two countries met in the semi-final, facing off to determine who would battle reigning champions USA. It was a long and challenging match as the Netherlands and Sweden were caught in a deadlock, and the game went into extra time. Nine minutes into extra time, Jackie Groenen scored what would end up being the winning goal for the Netherlands. Sweden kept fighting, but the Dutch defence was too strong and the Netherlands went ahead into the final for the first time ever.
Ice skating - in its various forms - is an exceedingly popular sport in both countries. While the Swedes favour Nordic skating - which involves tours over open ice on marshes, lakes, rivers, or the sea - the Dutch opt for tour skating (toerschaatsen) which follows routes along canals and lakes. Both sports, therefore, use different equipment.
The Dutch affinity for ice carries through into professional sports, with the Netherlands dominating speed skating tracks at competitions around the world - they have a total of 121 Olympic medals in the sport (42 of them gold). Sweden, however, is more versatile when it comes to winter sports, winning several gold medals in cross country skiing (80) and alpine skiing (18), as well as speed-skating (16), across the years.
NL vs SE
In many ways, the only way you can truly know a country is by living there. When comparing Sweden and the Netherlands, there are many similarities. Both countries have a lot to offer their inhabitants, and both would make great homes to any expats. At the end of the day, it depends on your personal preferences and lifestyle - the job you have, your priorities for your family, your career prospects and goals, to name but a few.
Whichever country you chose, there will be a number of positives (and possibly a few negatives depending on your perspective). Both the Netherlands and Sweden are beautiful countries with a growing international community, so there are certainly a number of opportunities for any expats and internationals.
Wherever life takes you, remember to always make the most of it, and to stay positive - moving to a new country can be difficult and stressful, but, hopefully, once you work through all of the hard stuff, you'll have found yourself settled in a happy and vibrant new home - perfect for you and your family.