Cultural Differences in the Way People Drink

It wasn’t until I left my own home country, that I realised that peoples’ attitudes towards drinking alcohol differs drastically all over the world. Just between the two countries of Australia and the Netherlands, there are several major differences in the way that people drink and how culture has influenced them.

To binge or not to binge?  That is the question

In Australia, one drinks quite a lot of alcohol. It is the norm and seen everywhere all over the country. We are extremely social, love parties and are literally experts on binge drinking. Simply put, in any sort of social environment, we drink alcohol – and lots of it. If you go to visit a friend, the first thing they’ll do is offer you a drink. An alcoholic beverage of some sort. Then you usually just keep going from there. On average though, I would say Australians are happy drunks. So it is enjoyable, social, and in general, Australians sure do know how to have a good time. I mean, what is better than a nice cold beer on a hot day?

Now I’m not saying binge drinking is a good thing, but it is enjoyable. However, it is also extremely dangerous. Learning how to become the expert binge drinker does take much practise and training; and in the beginning, it is not pretty. Most teenagers will binge drink at parties until they throw up. It is all part of the learning process. You learn — how and where to draw the line — the hard way.

When I moved to the Netherlands, I immediately noticed that the Dutch have quite a different attitude towards drinking. Europeans have a rich wine culture and will mostly drink a glass or two of wine (or beer) simply to enjoy the beverage, rather than drink to ‘get drunk’. Alcohol is also not seen as often at parties etc. Actually, if you are invited to an afternoon birthday party, most of the time they are alcohol free! You will be offered tea or coffee. During a Dutch circle party, an alcoholic bevy is EXACTLY what I want and need. On the rare occasion, if the party runs until later, you may be offered a glass of wine or a beer, together with cheese and/or bitterballen.

Of course binge drinking does occur in the Netherlands, particularly on days such as Kings Day and regularly with high school/college/uni students. Previously young people over the age of 16 could legally purchase and consume beer and wine (alcohol <15% ABV). As of 1 January 2014, the minimum legal purchase and consumption age in the Netherlands was raised from 16 to 18 in the Netherlands. This may have helped. Probably not. But still, in general, the Dutch do seem to be much more controlled as far as alcohol intake in concerned.

To BYO or not?

When attending a party in Australia, you usually bring your own (BYO). You rock up with your esky packed full of it; on ice of course, as that Aussie sun is hot! After all, why should the birthday boy/girl have to fork out for everyone else’s drinks. It’s their special day, so I think we should actually be buying them a drink. In Australia we even have BYO restaurants (which I have never seen in Europe). The only exceptions where Australians will purchase the alcohol for all their guests would be on special occasions such as your wedding day or 21st birthday etc. This is most likely due to the price of alcohol, or should I say the alcohol tax. Otherwise, we would never want to host a party as it would simply be unaffordable!

Here in the Netherlands, the person hosting the party will always supply the drinks for all guests. As most people do not drink all that much and the price of alcohol is low, this is doable.  So the only thing you should take along with you to a party is a bunch of flowers for the host/hostess (which will also only set you back about 5 euros).

Breaking the Bank?

The cost of alcohol in the Netherlands is very low. You can get a crate of beer for ten euros, a bottle of wine for five euros or a one litre bottle of whiskey for twenty euros!! It is very affordable. Still, they do not overuse and abuse it.

Aussies love to drink, but they pay through the nose for it. Aussies are actually paying among the highest prices on the planet. This is due to the alcohol tax. There are 16 different categories and two different taxation systems, depending on alcohol type, concentration, commercial use, and container size, raising around $6 billion for the government. You can pay around $1 of tax per standard drink!  Meaning that a crate of beer will set you back about AUS$50! This does not, however, deter Australians from buying it.

Which drinking habits are best?

I have experienced both attitudes towards alcohol. I am still not sure which I prefer personally, and probably somewhere in the middle would be good. Moderation is the key.

But one thing I do know for sure is that I am relieved that my children are growing up observing the European attitude towards drinking alcohol. Children pick up on so much. They also witness how people drink alcohol. They observe and learn whether alcohol is drunk with food or not, whether it is drunk in groups or alone, how much of it is consumed and how quickly, and both the positive and negative affects it has on those who drink it. I feel like it is easier to show and teach our children a better attitude towards drinking here than it would be in Australia. If children see adults appreciating wine, for example, – smelling, tasting, discussing and consuming it with meals and in moderation – it may positively impact their drinking habits as young adults. We need to teach our children to respect alcohol and not abuse it. To drink sensibly. That it is ok to stop after one or two glasses. To not feel like they need to drink until they are intoxicated.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love a good party – and I love alcohol. On the weekends, I may drink 2-5 glasses of wine in the evening, and when we host a party here in Holland, we do it in our own special combined ‘Dutch-Aussie’ style (our guests can drink as much as they’d like – we wont judge you – and we will provide all of it); but.. only once our kids are fast asleep will we drink more than one.

What is the biggest difference you have noticed in regards to the drinking habits here in the Netherlands compared to other countries?

Kristen

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The power of a smile

Growing up in a small town (with a population of approximately 2000), where everyone knew everyone, it was common courtesy to give a friendly smile and a wave as you passed by a fellow member of the community, whether walking down the street or driving by in your car. We always acknowledged each other.

Moving from a small country town to a city can change you and also the way you go about simple gestures, such as greeting those you pass on the street. Suddenly you are surrounded by unfamiliar faces. In addition, moving to another country can also contribute, as the initial language barrier can put a dint in your confidence to speak up. I suddenly found myself in both situations. I had moved from a small country town in Australia to the busy, bustling city of Rotterdam in The Netherlands. Not only Rotterdam, but the dodgiest area of Rotterdam South, where giving an innocent smile to the wrong kind of person could be perceived as an invitation for an uncomfortable and inappropriate conversation. I quickly learned to walk the streets with my eyes glued to the ground.

Over the years, I eventually lost my confidence to look people in the eye and to greet them with a polite gesture as I walked by; whether it be a slight tilt of the head, a smile, a verbal greeting of some sort, or a full wave. My confidence to complete this simple friendly gesture, particularly towards those I had not yet become acquainted with, seemed to have faded away over the years.

We now live in a smaller city of the Netherlands, where I feel safe and comfortable, yet I still find myself fixing my eyes to the ground as I pass those around me. Recently I visited a friend of mine who was born in Australia, and moved to the Netherlands many years ago. I noticed as we walked to the local playground that she still made a concerted effort to greet every single person that she passed, even if she didn’t know them. I noticed that everyone she smiled at and said good morning to, was a little taken aback at first, but was pleasantly surprised and enthusiastically smiled and greeted her in return. It was as though she had made their day and this was so refreshing to see. A smile can be so contagious!

I have decided that I am going to change my ways. I want to get back to that place where I do not hesitate to greet strangers. I have no problem greeting friends, colleagues, neighbours or acquaintances, it’s greeting strangers that is the challenge. Rather than seek the comfort of the ground with my eyes, I am going to seek out their eyes and make contact. They may be staring at the ground, but if their eyes do eventually meet mine, I will smile back with confidence and wish them a good morning/afternoon. Just as I did back in my home town fifteen years ago.. only now the greeting will take place in Dutch of course.

“A smile confuses an approaching frown”. ~Author Unknown.

It has been proven that along with the brain, your face also plays a big part in your emotions, reinforcing the feelings that we are having. Our outwards signs of emotion seem to intensify our actual inner emotions. Psychologists recently discovered that people who have botox treatments are actually less anxious in general than people who are able to frown! (You can read more on that here). On the opposite end of the scale, I would also think that if they are unable to smile as well as they could without the treatment, this could also affect their positive emotions.

Simply put, smiling is something that I love to do. We all love to do it right? Smiling not only makes us happy, but also those around us happy. Plus, it is so simple to do, and it takes no effort at all when true and meant. Actually, most people are turned off by the appearance of a smile that takes effort, because this usually means that it’s fake. It’s not hard to detect a fake smile as it often involves only the mouth, not the eyes. It’s the true, heart-felt smiles that everyone loves to see and we should do it more often. Even for strangers.

It’s not going to be easy, thats for sure. Over the years, I have developed a habit that will be hard to crack. But I think it will be appreciated. Who knows, I may even make someone’s day with a simple smile.

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Kristen

The emotional challenges of living abroad

Sure, living abroad certainly has it’s many perks. But it is also has it’s challenges. Rarely do we hear or see about these though, as people tend to share only the great moments in life on social networking sites. For most of us who choose to live abroad, the hardest part about being away from home is the separation from family.

We moved from Australia to the Netherlands, literally the other side of world. So just popping back over to my parents’ for the weekend is no longer possible. I really do envy those who can go home to visit family whenever they like. Hell, I envy those who can see their family once a year.

As Australia is so far away, and the flights are so expensive, we can only get back every 2-3 years; Even then it’s pushing it. We own our own house which needs to be maintained and we also like to enjoy the occasional european family holiday during the summer break to relax and recharge after working hard throughout the year. Therefore, saving for four return flight tickets to the southern hemisphere is challenging.

I have a large family who all live back in Australia. My two sisters have eight children between them. My parents have ten grandchildren. I also have fourteen first cousins who now have children of their own. I have missed many milestones, birthdays, weddings and births. My Nanna passed away recently and I was unable to attend the funeral, or to be there to support dad as he lost his last parent. I have a niece in Australia who is turning two this week and, not only am I unable to attend her birthday celebrations, I am yet to actually meet her in person. Thank god for Skype or she wouldn’t even know who I was. I long to see my children play with their Aussie cousins.

When we do finally get to see my family members, saying goodbye is always difficult. From day one of each visit, we are already dreading the pending goodbyes. As it is not just goodbye and see you soon, its always, goodbye and see you in a couple of years. Children grow so quickly, and in those couple of years, so much changes.

But the thing that really tugs on my heart strings, is the fact that my parents are separated from two of their grandchildren. Telling my parents that our family were moving to the other side of the world was, without a doubt, the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life. My parents are wonderful people with very strong family values. They are also the most amazing parents and grandparents, yet they now only get to see two of their grandchildren every three years. My parents are unable to witness important milestones and events such as birthdays, school concerts and Christmases. More importantly, my children miss out on having their nanna and poppa there to hug them and tell them in person how proud they are of them. We are however, lucky to have one set of parents (grandparents) living close by who are able to be very active grandparents. This doesn’t make it any easier though. I feel as though I have deprived my parents of somthing very special and I still experience a lot of guilt, particularly on special days such as Christmas.

I apologise that this has been quite a depressing post. I just wanted you, the reader, to know that living abroad is not always ‘peaches and cream’. It can be extremely emotionally challenging, particularly when children come into the picture. I’m sure many of you who are living far from home can understand the pain I am describing.

I often wonder, as someone who values family as much as I do and loves my home country as much as I do, how is it that I could have made the decision to leave? Then I realise that I still have those same family values. It’s just that I have a family of my own now and they are my priority.  We chose to move in order to make a better life for us, for our little family.

Thankfully, due to advancements in technology, the world has in a way become smaller.  I keep in regular contact with my parents, sisters, nieces and nephews via Facebook, WhatsApp, Skype and the good ol’ land-line telephone (international calls have become much more affordable). I also began writing for this blog, which helps me feel more connected to them, even though we are worlds apart.

So to those of you out there who are struggling, those of you who are terribly homesick and wondering what on earth you are doing away from home, just know you are not alone. There are so many of us struggling on that same emotional roller coaster, which can at any moment unexpectedly drop from a high to a low, then climb back up again. But I have faith that the roller coaster will become easier with time.

Try to re-focus on the reasons why you chose to leave in the first place and the opportunities that your new home offers.

Kristen

Does the weather affect your mood?

For those of you who are not yet aware, there is such a thing as ‘Seasonal Affective Disorder‘ (SAD). It is appropriate that this condition is abbreviated to ‘SAD’, as that is exactly how it makes you feel. I had never experienced or had even heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder until my thirties, when I moved from Australia to The Netherlands.

Now you may perceive the weather in the Netherlands as ‘not that bad’, but coming from Australia, it was initially quite a shock to the system. Going from an average of 3000 hours of sunshine per year to 1500 hours per year will affect you, both physically and mentally.

My first winter in the Netherlands was a looooong one. I felt like winter was a six month long season, running from October to March. The difference between daylight hours from summer to winter is dramatic here. In the peak of summer, the sun will rise just after 5am and set just after 10pm (a whopping 18 hours of daylight!) compared to the middle of winter where the sun will rise around 8:30am and it will be dark by 4:30pm (a mere 8 hours of daylight). Meaning that in the Winter, most people drive to work in the dark and drive back home in the dark. This can be quite depressing if you are not used to it. Let’s be honest, even the Dutch struggle with the lack of both daylight hours and sunshine every winter. By February most of them are fed up with it and you will find the majority of them complaining about the weather on a regular basis. So for someone who came from a country where winter was mild and lasted just a couple of months, adjusting was tough. I struggled, really struggled, through the first two winters.

I found myself feeling very moody, depressed, with no energy and I did my best to avoid going outside at all. I just wanted to ‘do as the bears do’ and hibernate away. Some days, I’d start crying, but I had no idea why? Every time I’d put it down to home sickness. Day after day of grey, rainy days and sometimes going weeks without seeing the sun really got to me. I was miserable and my terrible mood swings and lack of energy lasted well into spring each year.

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During my third winter, I stumbled across an article online about SAD. I decided that this Winter, I was not going to suffer the ‘winter blues’, I was going to fight it!

Firstly, I found myself some kick-arse Vitamin D capsules. These little yellow balls of sunlight contain 500% ADH – Aanbevolen dagelijkse hoeveelheid (Recommended daily intake). I began taking them in Autumn and the packets lasts me four months. Boy do they help! These capsules have now become my go-to saviors every winter.

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Now that I work full time, I am also forced out of the house. No longer can I ‘hibernate’ away during those long, dark winter days. I have to go out. During my lunch break, as long as it is not raining, I go for a twenty minute walk. The daily exercise helps to keep my mood up and prevent muscular stiffness. Even if you don’t feel like going out, force yourself outside for a little walk, the fresh air and exercise will help more than you think.

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I’ve also learnt that, whilst in Australia you seek out the shade, in Holland you must seek out the sun!  Where I am from in Australia, if you wake up and it looks like a sunny day, it will usually stay that way all day long. In the Netherlands, you will experience four seasons in one day, every day. You can’t plan the day ahead according to the weather. If you see a half an hour window of opportunity where the sun is peaking out from behind the clouds, you take it without hesitation! Even on cold winter days, if the sun is shining, you go find a spot out of the wind, sit in the sun and you soak up those precious golden rays!

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Doing all of these things can help increase your happy hormones. The Dutch winters are still difficult for me, but much more manageable now that I have taken the above steps. It also helps that every three years, we leave the winter here and head back to enjoy the Australian summer for a month 🙂

So don’t brush off that yearly feeling as simply a case of the “winter blues” or a seasonal funk that you have to tough out on your own. Take steps to keep your mood and motivation steady throughout the year.

GP Culture Shock

One of the things that caused me the most culture shock upon our arrival in the Netherlands (apart from the weather) was going to see a doctor…or trying to. I quickly learned that the whole process was completely different to what I was used to and it took me a long, long time to wrap my head around it.

Time Slot:  In Australia, if I required an appointment to see my GP, I could call at any time between 8:00-20:00. In the Netherlands, I learnt that if I needed an appointment, I could only call between 08:00-10:00. If I called at 10:30… too late, you got the answering machine that would inform you that you could call back the following day between 08:00-10:00. Extremely frustrating when you have a screaming child in pain.

Fight for your Appointment: If you do manage to call within this restrictive time slot, you will then be asked by the receptionist why you need the appointment. To me, this was unheard of! I’d like to speak to the doctor about that, not to some random receptionist! Back home when I would call to ask for an appointment, I was simply given my appointment time, no questions asked. Here I first had to pass a full on interrogation, answering a dozen questions, giving personal information to this total stranger with a power trip. Getting an appointment was almost mission impossible. You had to fight for it. I learnt this lesson the long and hard way…

During the first few months after our relocation to the Netherlands, I called for an appointment for my one year old son who had been crying from ear pain for a few days. The receptionist first asked why I wanted the appointment, then asked if he had a temperature. She then asked how long he had the temperature and I answered honestly, 24 hours. I was told to give him paracetamol and to call back if he still had the temperature after three days. No appointment given. Before I could argue my case, my call had been abruptly ended. In Australia I would have been given an appointment so that the doctor could actually check his ears, and if the infection was bad enough, he would then be given antibiotics.

My children both had regular ear infections in their first two years of life, so I was well aware of the symptoms and usual treatment. He was showing all those symptoms. I ended up calling back the day after informing them that the paracetamol was not helping enough, that he was still in a too much pain, was not able to sleep, and now had a higher temperature. Once again, I was told keep up the paracetamol and wait. I hung up the phone frustrated and in tears.

The Battle to Get Treatment: The following day I finally managed to get the appointment, only to be told by the actual doctor that I should just give him paracetamol. That was it! Apparently, paracetamol is the solution to everything here. What about antibiotics?! I soon learnt that GPs rarely give out prescriptions for antibiotics in the Netherlands. Only in extreme circumstances. I get this, I do. There are so many reasons why antibiotics should not be used too often. But at that moment, I was so angry and felt so helpless. My poor little boy. Why did he have to go through all that pain unnecessarily?

A couple of days layer, after our son had endured several days of pain and several sleepless nights, both of his ears burst and fluid was coming out of them. I called the doctors again, as I had never seen this happen before and assumed the worst, only to be told by the receptionist in a cheery voice, oh thats great news, now the worst is over!! Arrrgghhhhh this was niet normaal (not normal)!!! I would have much preferred the doctor to take a look for himself and reassure me that all was well.

Exaggerate: I soon learnt that to get an appointment for my children in this country, then I was going to have to exaggerate; Yes, he has a high temperature of 39.5 (actually it is 38.5), Yes, he has had it for three days now (actually one or two), Yes, he is very very sick and needs to see a doctor as soon as possible (actually this is true and I am willing to lie to get it!). Finally I have mastered the technique of getting a GP appointment in the Netherlands.

Fantastic Health Care System: I should add that the Netherlands does have a great health care system. All regular, short-term medical treatment is paid for by mandatory private health insurance (which is about 100 euros per month less than what we would pay for our family in Australia). I have never paid an additional cent out of pocket for any visits to the doctor, dentist, optometrist, physiotherapist, pediatrician, hospital visit, or for any prescribed medicine. I know that we will always be covered for surgery, ambulance transportation or treatment when/if required. For that I am very grateful.

Find a GP that you and your family are comfortable with: We have since changed GP’s. We are now with a new GP who is a mother herself and genuinely listens to a mother’s intuition and concerns. She will thoroughly examine her patients and make you feel like you are well taken care of. She will speak English with me when I am struggling to understand or express myself. As an added bonus, the window of opportunity to make an appointment at our new clinic is a little larger (08:00-12:00). However, I do still have to exaggerate my way through the front-line interrogations before I can see her though… One day when they ask me why I want an appointment, I may finally grow the balls to be able to say “That’s private and I’d rather discuss this with the doctor herself”. That is, once I figure out how to say this confidently in Dutch.

How do you find the whole process of making an appointment to see your GP here in Holland, and how does this compare to your home country?

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Dutch – The Language of Phlegm

When I worked on Holland American Line cruise ships, the majority of the officers were Dutch. When I heard them speaking dutch for the first time, the initial thought that came to mind was “crikey, they are really working up some serious phlegm there!”. Let’s admit it, it is not the prettiest language on the ears. Unlike French or Spanish, I would certainly not label Dutch as ‘the language of love’. Far from it!

Ironically, I began a relationship with a dutch man and began picking up a few words here and there, mostly the bad ones. But at that time, I had no interest in learning the language. I was still in denial that I would need to. With words like ‘gekruid gehakt’, ‘scheveningen’ and ‘verschillende verzekeringen’, it was just too complicated.

Some people are natural linguistics. I am not. I grew up in Australia where English is pretty much the one and only language spoken. Apart from some french classes in high school (which I never took seriously) I had not been exposed to any other language than English until I met my now husband at the age of twenty.

I managed to avoid learning the language properly until we relocated to the Netherlands ten years after we began our relationship together. This was when it really hit home. I am an organiser. I like to plan, prepare and organise. When we first moved to the Netherlands, we had two children of our own, yet I felt like a child again. I could no longer do these things as we were living in a small town where no one spoke English. I had to rely on my husband to do everything for me. He needed to pay all of our bills, read all my mail and make my appointments for me. I hated the feeling of loosing my independence and that’s when I decided that if I was going to be happy in our new country, I would need to embrace this language that I had been trying to avoid for so long. I had married a Dutch man and was now living in the Netherlands. In order to fully integrate, I would need to be able to speak their language.

After attempting to use various self-taught methods in the past without success, I enrolled in a dutch language course in Rotterdam at CBE Languages. Once a week, I attended a two hour course. I was motivated and in a classroom situation, I thrived and seemed to pick up the language a little better. I realised that I knew a lot of the words already, it was just a matter of learning how to put them together to build a sentence and gaining the confidence to speak in front of others. After a while, I finally felt like I could hold a basic conversation with someone and make my own phone calls. Sure, my grammar was not perfect, but they knew what I was saying, and that was a great feeling. For a long time, I was afraid to speak it. Believing that if I said the sentence wrong, that people would laugh at me or think I was stupid. I felt as though I sounded like a child when speaking dutch. Now I realise, that even though I make mistakes, speaking it is the only way to improve. People don’t laugh at all, they genuinely appreciate that I am trying.

Eighteen months after arriving in Holland, I received ‘that dreaded letter’ in the mail. The letter was from the municipality, informing me that I would need to enroll in an integration course and pass the civil integration examinations in order to stay in the Netherlands. As I had already done the language courses in Rotterdam, I managed to complete the course in three months rather than the usual two years. I then sat the exams, passing them with much relief.

I still have a way to go before I would call myself ‘fluent’ in dutch, but at least now I can make that phone call, or buy a magazine and read it without hesitation (rather than having to wait until the next time I travelled through Schiphol airport). Best of all, I can now walk into the butcher and confidently order that 500 grams of gekruid gehakt!

Dank u en een prettige dag verder!

Groetjes,

Kristen