Dutch Culture Shock

Whenever you move to a new country it turns out many people are rather curious about the state of your culture shock.  Some have even asked me if I have much thanks to my travel/ Hungarian background, and the answer is of course a few things have popped up though I’m not going to be weirded out by, say, the existence of trams or that the plugs are different.  I mean I wanted to move here because it would be different!

That said, here are a few things that I’ve noticed are rather different in the Netherlands- and a few that actually I expected to be problems that really aren’t…

– To begin with, the bicycles.  Having one and riding one isn’t all that unusual to me because in the USA this was my preferred method of transport, but what is strange is how everyone else assumes this is the way of the world and hence the cars are a lot more deferential towards cyclists.  What is genuinely strange to me though is no one wears a helmet in the Netherlands except for tourists or finds it strange that it should be so!  I suspect it has something to do with the fact that with dedicated cycle lanes and cars deferring to cyclists it’s a lot safer to cycle in Holland than pretty much anywhere else.– I also find it interesting that the Dutch are a lot more animal friendly than Americans- what I mean is it’s not at all unusual to see someone with their dog in a grocery store or on a tram or letting them run free in the park, and it is considered cruel if you have an “indoors only” cat (and you’re welcome to bring your cat to the cafe with you).  This particular kitty was enjoying a nap in the middle of one of the cactus greenhouse in Hortus, the Botanical Garden, and had the air of a regular visitor about him.

– Similarly, it’s certainly expected for a city with so many canals but I see a lot of waterfowl every day, be it herons or swans or domestic geese.  My usual bike ride to work takes me past the zoo as well, so every day I admire the flamingo pond!  What is mildly aggravating to me is not knowing the names of all the birds I see yet as I suppose “knowing what a random bird is without thinking about it” is a trait one has at home without thinking about it, though I suspect I’ll learn Dutch names for them sooner instead of later.

– By the way, everyone is wondering about how much Dutch I have to learn and I’m sure I’ll touch on this later, but for now I can’t emphasize enough how much this just is not an issue.  Everyone speaks English here- the Dutch are rather proud of this fact and I haven’t met one yet who hasn’t, to the point where when you try your few lines of Dutch they’re just genuinely amazed that a foreigner would try (and proceed to respond in English- the joke is only landlords claim they don’t speak English).  I’m still working on it obviously, but I guess my point is it’s more out of politeness than necessity as there hasn’t yet been a single instance where I’ve encountered a language barrier as even over half the TV channels are in English.

– A big part of this lack of a language issue is probably because of where I work, the astronomy institute at the University of Amsterdam where it’s perhaps only half Dutch and even the Dutch speak English amongst themselves in pretty much everything.  Still settling in at work, but it’s also important to mention how it’s rather interesting to be working in a building only built a few years ago as opposed to a lovely-but-much-older building like the physics department was at Case Western Reserve University, and there are a lot more women here which is nice.  Though my definition is skewed on this as by “a lot” I mean perhaps a third!

Fun but random fact before I forget: where was some discussion when the building was constructed to place the observatory domes on the ground instead of the roof for the sheer reason that it would be the only observatory in the world below sea level.  Yup…

– Another detail that has struck me is the Dutch are more fashion/detail oriented than Americans are, and I have never encountered a city with so many shoe stores.  Bookstores are a delight too- it turns out that Amsterdam has the highest concentration of bookstores in the world to the point where they even get UNESCO funding for this, and in my block alone there is a medieval history bookstore, a religions bookstore, and an architecture and gardening bookstore.  Light perusal of the smaller ones has shown a 50/50 Dutch/English book ratio- a few blocks further from me is the superstore-sized American Book Center which is the largest English bookstore on the continent.

– But there is one bit of culture shock I will never get used to- Big Bird is blue in Holland!!!  They claim that it’s actually Pino, Big Bird’s cousin, but I’m not fooled.  You know he really just moved here to explore an alternative lifestyle.

5 responses to “Dutch Culture Shock

  1. It’s a great city and the Dutch are awesome people! What a great experience for you!

  2. Haha, funny to read about one’s own country in this way 🙂

    (BTW, to us, a yellow Big Bird would be something we couldn’t get used to ;-))

    • Haha yeah, I’ve discussed Big Bird with the Dutch and it takes awhile for them to get used to the yellow! And yeah, just wait until I finally write up my opinion on Dutch as a language and such. 😉

  3. Pingback: 2011: A Year in Review | Where is Yvette?

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