I’m sure you’ve seen them… Articles where foreigners explain what American concepts they find weird. Prices excluding tax, gaps between bathroom stalls, et cetera. In the end, I believe every country has its quirks, so this post is about weird things I’ve noticed in the Netherlands!
When you’ve lived in one country your whole life, you’re used to the concepts that “outsiders” might find strange. I myself am no exception. Having lived most of my life in the Netherlands, there are a lot of typical Dutch things I do not think twice about. But these things might be weird for others.
After five years in the United States I’ve become used to the quirks there. Gaps between bathroom stalls don’t bother me much, because it’s an unspoken rule that you don’t actively look between them. Duh? And prices listed without tax makes a little more sense when you realize that every state has a different sales tax. Unless you live in Delaware, where both the sales and local tax amount to zero… Lucky bastards.
Anyway, this post is not an analysis of sales tax (phew, economics is NOT my area of expertise), so let’s actually look at what I find weird in my own country!
It’s so tiny. So, so tiny
Obviously I knew this. I’ve experienced it multiple times while on vacation. But you don’t experience it truly unless you actually live here and have to go about your daily life. Grocery stores in the United States are huge. There are too many choices, and it takes a while to figure out which of like fifty different brands of pasta sauce you like best. In the Netherlands this is never an issue because the choices are a lot more limited. I’ve walked past products I needed because the selection is so small it doesn’t stand out. Not to mention that the total surface area of the store is small as well.
As someone who comfortably drove a large-ish car in the United States, even looking at the parking spots in the Netherlands gives me claustrophobia. So small! To answer the question if I will ever get a Dutch driver’s license, the answer is probably no.
People leave you alone while shopping
It’s probably an introvert’s dream. Just being able to shop without anyone bothering you or asking questions. Most if not all of the articles I’ve read about quirky America included statements about Americans being very, uhm, present. This is true and is also encouraged in retail. It’s weird at first, but you get used to it pretty fast in my opinion.
But in the Netherlands, the concept of greeting every customer like it’s your best friend does not really exist. Suddenly, after five years away, this is a strange concept. I can walk into a store and no one says hello to me? Hello, give me attention!
Dutch people are blunt, but generally friendly
I feel like this is a European thing in general. No one here actually looks friendly and approachable. In fact, I’ve noticed a lot of people look straight up mad. Whereas in the United States you can usually strike up a friendly conversation with a stranger, Dutch people tend to leave each other alone and commute in silence. To be honest, I’m not sure which of these I prefer.
Like I said, we’re also very blunt. We try not to be rude, but we say what we mean, even if social customs might dictate otherwise for other people. If we don’t want the piece of cake you offered, we’ll say no thanks. If you have toilet paper stuck to your shoe, we’ll definitely call it out.
The Dutch birthday party
I remember it vividly. Up until my mid-teens, I’d have a birthday party for my friends, and one for my family and other adult-ish people. Not super strange, but… every time a Dutch person walked into a party, they congratulate EVERYONE. This is especially fun when you’re on the later side and you have to awkwardly say “congrats with so-and-so’s birthday” to every. single. person.
We also tend to sit in a circle and then exclusively talk with our neighbor. Snacks include slices of meat, cucumber, tomatoes, and blocks of cheese. I have a friend from Saudi Arabia that heavily relates to these birthday party practices, and that made my day, haha! We both thought this was unique to our own culture.
Some more quirky Dutch things
- “Koopzondag” or “buy Sunday,” translated literally.
Normally, all stores are closed on Sundays. But usually once a month they all open! Some bigger cities always have their stores open on Sunday, but it’s still not super common. Definitely something I need to keep in mind, because in the U.S. everything is open literally all the time.
- The Snack wall
The name gives it away. It’s a wall of snacks. Usually fried snacks. You insert a coin in the slot next to your snack of choice, and you can open the door and munch away!
- Black licorice
I LOVE black licorice. Every non-Dutch person I’ve ever handed it to does not. It’s really funny to watch them politely chew while they are dying inside.
- We greet each other with three kisses on the cheek.
You’re supposed to go: right cheek – left – right. I sometimes forgot that in the good ‘ol U.S. people stick to one or two, and I may have accidentally kissed people that way, oops.
- We wear no helmets when we ride our bikes.
Okay, children sometimes do. But generally, adults don’t. Oh, and we also ride our bikes with two bags full of groceries on the bars while holding an umbrella.
- We have a national alarm system
This one is funny. Think about our alarm system like a tornado warning. There’s a loud scary siren and it signals shit’s about to get real. The Dutch government tests it every first Monday of the month at noon, and we all collectively ignore it. It’s one of those things that freaks people out that don’t know about it. Give it a listen here!
- Chocolate for breakfast
This is definitely something that is not weird to me, but my friend’s have judged me for it. We love our chocolate sprinkles! Or “hagelslag” as we call it. Our breakfast is usually two slices of bread with chocolate sprinkles. Weird if you think about it.
- When the sun is out, the Dutch are out
It took me ages to stop getting antsy when it was sunny in the U.S. and I could not go outside IMMEDIATELY. In the Netherlands, sunshine is fairly rare, so we like to go outside and take in as much of that vitamin D as possible. Might be two weeks before the sun comes out again.