The Netherlands, a country of tulips, food automats, scarcely dressed ladies in  windows and space cake. I had the pleasure of calling the Netherlands home for a total of 6 years. Now, 15 years later, I still sometimes miss my time in this beautiful country. But it wasn’t always “Rozen geur en Manenschijn” (sunshine and roses) as the Dutch say and for me as a young island girl at the time, those first few months were quite educational. Talk about culture shock.

Here are 11 of the things that shocked me most about the Dutch way of life.

Dutch wooden shoe

Dinner time is sacred
Never ever visit or call someone around dinner time. It is an unspoken rule even the tele-marketers respect. I wish someone would have told me this before I rang the bell at the house of a Dutch school friend one faithful evening at 6. I was met with angry looks and was ushered to the sitting area to wait until the family had finished their dinner. On the islands I would have been invited to pull up a chair and eat along but in the Netherlands meals are cooked to the exact amounts needed. Four potatoes and four pieces of meat for a family of four, for instance. Hell, one can even buy half a loaf of bread and one chicken drumstick in the supermarkets over there.

When it rains, it really rains
It was my first week in the Netherlands when I decided to go to the market one Saturday afternoon. It started to rain so I quickly dashed under an overhang to wait for it to pass. On the islands it rains for 10 minutes tops unless it’s a storm. I stood there for 30 minutes until I realized that the rain was there to stay. From that day on I never left home without an umbrella.

The art of sarcasm
Sarcasm is something the Dutch have perfected. At first I had trouble following this and often fell for sarcastic remarks and jokes.I learned to work on my come-backs but must say that sarcasm is the one thing I still have trouble accepting.

Going Dutch
An event that quickly taught me the meaning of “going Dutch” was when my date took out a pocket calculator after dinner and proceeded to tally up everything I ordered and present me with my half of the bill. Obviously there were no hopes of a romantic encounter after that and his hopes of seeing me again were quickly dashed.

Pocket Calculator

The Bicycle
The preferred mode of transportation in the Netherlands is….yes, you guessed it: the bicycle. There is even a folding bicycle for those wanting to avoid the bike fee charged on trains. I tried that bicycle thing in the beginning but quickly abandoned that little exercise, when I found myself in the middle of a hail storm when biking to school one day. From then on, the bus and tram became my preferred mode of trans and I would only use the bike as a passenger. Us island people use the bike only for recreation.

2012-05-04 09.59.43


The importance of being on time
I cannot begin to count how many times I missed the bus, was scolded for being late for appointments or work or ran for my life to catch a train, just to get to the platform and see that it left 1 minute earlier than scheduled. The Dutch take “being on time” very seriously. I was used to running on island time so I found myself buying extra alarm clocks and placing them all over my room to guarantee that I would get out of bed on time in the mornings but still my farewell present from my colleagues was a clock and a wrist watch. Message received guys.

Waiting for the train at Haarlem station

Blunt and direct
The Dutch are direct and there are no restrictions when it comes to speaking their minds. It is something that shocked me at first. I am used to the art of sugar coating everything and I would always try my best not to hurt someone’s feelings. The  directness of the Dutch is often not meant to insult or hurt and may sting at times but I learned to accept it and now quite respect them for their bluntness.

Girly Boys
One thing I never could fathom about Dutch men in particular is the way they behave when drunk. I know we all tell our friends we love them when intoxicated but the Dutch man takes his drunken affection a step further. There is the humping of each others legs, the frequent kissing on the cheeks and the fierce hugging. Not exactly an attractive quality, if you ask me.

The importance of appointments
Another big no-no in the Netherlands is showing up at someone’s house unannounced. It’s just not done. Whenever I wanted to see my friends I would always call ahead and some times the agendas would came out to see when exactly would be a good time for a visit. Always schedule an appointment ahead of time. Impromptu dinners, visits or get togethers are definitely not part of the Dutch culture.


Curiosity of the Dutch
The Dutch are very curious people and have no problem asking you whatever it is they want to know. Nothing is off limits. Not your age, not your marital status, not your salary and certainly not your ethnicity.

Veggies for snacks?
The Dutch love their vegetables. It is something I quite admire considering how my mom had to beg and plead with us as kids to eat our veggies. They love their vegetables so much that they would bring little ziplock bags filled with carrots, cherry tomatoes and cucumber for lunch. Needless to say, this is one Dutch habit I did not adopt.

Rules, rules and more rules
The Dutch are very organized. Everything is neatly organized and planned in the Netherlands and rules are there to make sure it stays that way. I cannot tell you how many times I heard the phrase “sorry, you are not allowed”. There is even a phone line that you can call when you see someone breaking the law. There are fines for honking, driving in the opposite direction on a bike, riding your bike off the bike path, not using a pedestrian crossing or allowing more passengers than indicated by the type of car you’re driving.  I love an organized  community just as much as the next person but the many rules in the Netherlands proved to be too much for my free spirited soul.

Yes, there is quite a difference between the island way and the Dutch way but the fascinating difference in our cultures makes for some rather funny stories, don’t you think?

What hilarious events did you experience while living abroad?

Biking in the Netherlands

This post is dedicated to my Dutch besties, who accepted me into their group, took me everywhere on the back of their bikes and taught me the way of the Dutch. Miss you girls every single day.

Live,  Laugh and Travel often.


*The above is completely based on my personal experiences.







  1. Wow those are some huge differences. I can relate to both but can imagine your shock going from Island time to dutch time.

  2. AnaAlcantara Reply

    So true this remember me of my years from 1970-1977 .

  3. So, my cross-cultural story is opposite of yours. I came from the U.S. to SXM. The U.S. is exremely on-time; walking into class or work late is a huge no-no. Traffic laws are strict– you can definitely get in trouble for having extra people in the car! You’re not even allowed to drive barefoot (although how would they know?). When I moved to Sint Maarten, I was in for a new surprise evry day. The Saint Martin’s Day parade was advertised to start at 3. So I showed up at 2:45. So I stood on the streetcorner until 4:00, when the parade really began! Now I’m a pro. I didn’t even start driving toward the Carnival parade until after it supposedly began. Also, I was horrified to see people driving while drinking beer! You can go to jail for that in the U.S. It also freaks me out a little when I have to wait behind a driver who is stopped in the street to talk to a pedestrian. I’m getting more chill, though, and I like that change in myself. I also like that drivers stop for pedestrians who randomly cross the street. If you walked into the road without warning in the city where I grew up, you would die. I love how buses stop anywhere for you. In my home town, you must be at a bus stop at the exact right time. Also, we are more casual in our greetings in the U.S. We can just say, “Hey, how’s it going” to strangers, and it’s fine. Also, the person already in the room greets a new person who walks in. I thought people in SXM were so rude until I figured out that the person walking in a room is supposed to greet everyone with “Good Morning!” I was the one being rude and I didn’t even know it! I guess being the clueless expat here has taught me how to be more understanding of people from other cultures. It’s hard to figure out what’s ok and what’s not! Always an adventure.

    • I’m still getting used to cars stopping to talk to pedestrians. I think it’s incredibly insensitive and not to mention rude. I guess the Dutch has rubbed off on me after all. All in all though, I prefer my simple island ways. Thank you for reading. It’s always a pleasure reading your comments.

Join the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: