It was July 6, 2011 when my family of four arrived in the Netherlands on our one way flights from Sydney, Australia. Five years ago!
To commemorate this milestone, I wanted to write a post where I could reflect on both the challenges I have faced during that time and the positive aspects I have come to appreciate about living here in ‘Clogland’.
The first 18 months after our arrival, I was fortunate to be able to be a stay at home mum with our two young children. I really enjoyed this time and will be forever thankful for it. Not having to race off to work every day really allowed me to settle in at my own pace, adjust, explore the country a little, attend some language classes, and focus on the kids, ensuring that they too were adjusting well to their new environment and language.
Of course, there was some culture shock, but I took it in my stride and got through it, whilst enjoying the adventure of our new lives. Culture shock is different for everyone but it usually consists of four distinct phases: Honeymoon, Frustration, Adjustment, and Mastery. Some may only experience one or two of these phases, but I have experienced all four within the last five years since arriving in the Netherlands.
When we first arrived here, everything was new and exciting! This is known as the honeymoon period. The differences between my home country and my new country were all seen in a romantic light so to say. I was fascinated by the new food, new culture, the history and age of everything and even the new language seemed cool!
However, this temporary stage eventually ends, the excitement wares off a little and frustration can set in. I’m pretty sure this happened for me during my first Dutch Winter. The days were dark and cold, and I began to miss the things I loved and took for granted back home (..the sun for instance). In addition, the language barrier was indeed a barrier much larger than I had imagined; I felt frustrated, withdrawn and dependent on others. At times I also felt a little lonely as all of my family and friends were far, far away. It was time to make new ones, but the language barrier again was an obstacle. I was missing home constantly and wondering if I had made the right choice by moving in the first place. This is a tough stage to get through, but you do get through it.
I then felt myself adjusting to my new environment and the new cultures. I developed new routines and made new friends. My new country no longer felt all that ‘new’. I began to adapt to and actually enjoy my new home, accepted the changes in my life, and participated more comfortably in my new culture; three kisses and speaking some Dutch become the norm.
This brings us to the forth and final stage, mastery. This term sounds a little exaggerated to me. However, I am now able to participate fully and comfortably in my host culture. Let me be clear, ‘mastery’ does not mean total conversion; I have kept many of my Aussie traits, and my Aussie accent has softened but it’s still there. This stage can also be referred to as the bicultural stage.
I began working full time, our children started school and life became hectic. It’s a daily juggle, but I enjoy it very much. So after five years of living here, I’d now like to share with you a few of the things I have come to appreciate about living in the Netherlands.
I love that there is always something to do and you never have to travel far to get there. Particularly in Spring and Summer, you will find multiple events scheduled for every weekend. It is refreshing not having to drive for hours to get somewhere, and since living here, I now perceive an hour’s drive as quite a distance ..ha!. It’s a small country, so to drive across the entire country from North to South takes about three hours. It will take you two hours to get from the beaches on the West coast to the Eastern border shared with Germany. So, coming from Australia, in my mind everything within this country is close and accessible.
As everything is so close by, everyone gets from A to B by bike. I love it that the bikers have their own bike paths, their own bike traffic lights and their own bike bridges over the highways and canals. It makes biking around a whole lot safer. I’m not much of a biker myself, but even as a daily commuter by car, I too can appreciate the fact that the cyclists have their own roads…even glow in the dark ones!
Everything is so green and lush! There is definately no lack of water here in the lowlands, the soil is rich and the greenery thrives. Coming from a drought stricken area of Australia, where farmers must pay a fortune for irrigation water just to keep the grass green, this is a pleasant change. I havn’t seen a water sprinkler since I left Australia five years ago.
Gezelligheid. The closest English word that this translates to is ‘coziness’. The Dutch love lamps and candles; all houses, bars and cafes are super cozy and inviting. No fluorescent lights to be seen. Period.
The cheese!!! The Gouda and Edam cheeses are well known all over the world, and for good reason. I particularly love the tasty matured cheeses with salt crystals. Nearly every bar and restaurant in the country will have at least one cheesy snack on their menu. Whether it be kaasblokjes (bite-sized cubes of cheese served with mustard for dipping), kaassoufflés or kaasstengels (two types of deep fried snacks which feature melted cheese on the inside) or geitenkaaskroketten (a croquette filled with goat cheese). Even after a meal, you can order a kaasplank (cheese board) as a dessert. I love it that you can visit a cute little cheese shop or the local markets, try before you buy, then buy a section of cheese from one of the large cheese wheels on display.
Another huge bonus to living here in the Netherlands, is it’s proximity to other countries. Actually, it is one of the main attractions to living here. In the past five years, I have visited Belgium a half a dozen times, the UK four times, Germany three times, Greece twice, Paris, and even Rome. I mean, when London is just a forty minute flight away and flights are under 50 euros, why wouldn’t you? Most of the time, you don’t even need to fly to get to another country (a completely new concept for me!). From where we live, driving for just one hour can take you into Belgium, two hours and you can be in Germany, or three and you are in France! This month, my family and I are off to Spain for two weeks! It’s a luxury that I am certainly not taking for granted.
Everything is neat and tidy. Alles is netjes mooi. The Dutch have great pride in their houses and their country. Everything is kept clean and organised. In front of their houses and in public areas, flowers are planted everywhere (even alongside roads for example) and lawns are always neatly cut. The whole country is neat, tidy and well maintained. After traveling to other European countries, I am relieved to come back home to the Netherlands for this very reason.
The church bells. I just love them. It is still a novelty for me, as the churches back home didn’t have bells, or bells that worked. The old church in our home town here in Holland is from the 17th century and has lovely bells that ring regularly and can even play about fifty different songs! On Sundays in particular, I love to open all the doors and windows, and just enjoy listening to the sound of the church bells ringing across the town. It’s like a reality check each time I hear them – I am in Europe and this is amazing.
I love the exposure that my children are getting to both languages and cultures. They are exposed to both Dutch and English on a daily basis, but also encounter languages such as French, German, Spanish or Greek when we are on holidays, in addition to the several languages they hear at school. They are aware and familiar with cultures other than their own and they respect them.
I also appreciate the fact that buying a house in the Netherlands is affordable due to the fact that mortgages are much more manageable. In addition to the fact that interest rates are low (always around 2%), we are also given a tax rebate on the interest we pay. So it’s nice to be able to own our own home, yet still be able to live comfortably each month and take an annual family holiday.
Last but not least, there are no poisonous animals here in the Netherlands! It’s nice not to have to be constantly on guard for deadly animals when your kids are outside playing. Actually, the only things that could pose a threat here in this country are the ticks and some of the flowers.
So, after five years, here I am; Not just living in the Netherlands, but living happily in the Netherlands. I have accepted the Dutch, their funny little habits and even their language. I feel content and that is so important. You only live once after all! Here is to the next five years being just as great!
Kristen in Clogland