Now that I’ve lived half a year in the Netherlands, I can finally sum up some of the things that I’ve learned of the mysterious Dutch. Many everyday things are very similar to those in Finland and English language is spoken well in everywhere. This summary is from a Finnish point of view and deals with The Hague (Den Haag), and other nearby cities, as Amsterdam is a completely different topic. But anyways, here are some things that are good to know from the Netherlands. I’m not going to make BuzzFeed style listing or numbering, so topics below are in no particular order.
The weather in the Netherlands is made of wind, rain and occasional sunshine. Don’t be fooled when I say windy. In a normal day the wind blows at least 5 meter per second. When the wind really picks up, the trees lose first their leaves, and then branches. It is impossible to cycle upwind, and walking is challenging. When the sun finally shines, every Dutch knows to start moving towards the Scheveningen Beach! If the sun shines continuously for several hours, the temperature rises to a Finnish heat readings. Temperature fluctuations are not very high in spite of the rain and wind. The difference of night and day temperature on the coast is smaller compared to the hinterland.
Bike is the King of the road. Bicycle is the number one method of transportation in the cities of the Netherlands. Bike is the fastest, cheapest, easiest and most environmentally friendly mode of transport. In traffic other transport invariably give way to bikes. The bike can be parked easily anywhere and it always has its own lane alongside the road. Most bikes go faster on the roads than cars. Electric and tandem bikes are a common thing. Many people, including myself, acquire a small-sized folding bicycle. Folding bicycles are easy to store in small hallways and free of charge in trams and trains. Caution is necessary! The Dutch are cycling like crazy. The concept of a bike helmet is unknown even for the scooter drivers. I actually managed to see almost ten bike helmets, but they were worn by tourists. A bike never dodges, but a cyclist kindly rings a warning bell before the crash. From a cyclist’s point of view, it is better to have a collision with a pedestrian, than dodge and get hit by a car. In the end, it is always a pedestrian fault, because the bike paths are sacred.
Do you have Maestro debit card? If not, sorry. The Dutch use the Maestro card for almost all purchases. Fortunately, cash is also valid in most of the shops, but only the biggest chains support the MasterCard and VISA cards. Another challenge is to obtain a Maestro card. First one must obtain a The Citizen Service Number (BSN), a local permanent address and the Dutch telephone number. A tourist will make it with cash, but if you plan to stay longer, Maestro card is a necessity. Biggest differences to Finland are sales and tipping. The Dutch sale is a real sale, so discount percentage varies from -20% up to -80%. Tipping is not mandatory, but rather the overall restaurant culture. Quality of customer service varies very much, sometimes it is more effective and sometimes more friendly.
Tram, train, bus, and metro will take you almost anywhere you need to go. A single ticket can cost a lot, so you need to have an OV-Chipkaart. OV-Chipkaart is a pre-loaded personal travel card, which can be used in every transportation. When you get the hang of it, the card is actually pretty handy. It charges your travels based on the length, rather than time consumed. Typical prices for travelling with tram are around one euro. Prices for longer trips by train are a bit more expensive. For example the train from The Hague to Rotterdam is less than 5 euros and from The Hague to Amsterdam is about 10 euros. The train takes you also in the neighboring countries, such as Belgium.
Alcohol and drug policy
I did not see a single drunkard, drug addict, or otherwise misbehaving persons during my six months in The Hague. One could draw a common sense conclusion, that the Netherlands have implemented things right, rather than the right things. Without further reflection to the alcohol and drug policies, I’d like to point out some of the differences compared to Finland. Age limit for the use of alcohol and drugs is the same as in Finland.
- Beer, wine, liqour and other alcoholic drinks are sold everywhere
- Beer, wine, liqour and other alcoholic drinks are sold at any time
- Beer, wine, liqour and other alcoholic drinks can be ordered via home delivery around the clock
- Local and locally produced beers, wines, liqours and other alcoholic drinks are very cheap
- State-regulated coffeeshops sell cannabis (marijuana) in small doses
- State-regulated headshops sell hallucinogenic mushrooms, herbs and plants in small doses
- Public drinking in streets and parks is forbidden (exeptions in more remote locations)
- Smoking cannabis in public is forbidden
- Smoking cigarettes
is allowedhappens everywhere
The Hague is the City of Peace and Justice. Street scene is very international and business, art and history have a strong presence. The city center is build for tourism and there are different festivals and events taking place every weekend. The center is surrounded by neighborhoods and suburbs of different cultures. The most visible of these cultures are Turkish, Chinese (China Town Den Haag), Moroccan, Indonesian, and Surinamese. English and Dutch are common languages everywhere. I must specify that English is spoken everywhere, but rarely written anywhere. For example, many product labels are in three languages: Dutch, German, and French.
People are pretty tall on average. The Dutch also know their place and are not afraid to hold one’s own in any situation. Outspokenness and forthrightness are virtues. A particular type of laziness is widespread, and people start the weekend well in advance. The duration of the coffee breaks is also very relative. But I must not give the wrong image, because when there is work that must be done, the Dutch become furious workers.
I am satisfied with my experience in the Netherlands. It feels good to go back home to Finland. For now.
“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
― Dr. Seuss