I've had my own bewilderment over Dutch culture over the years. However, I'm now so used to living here that I'm almost suspicious when I go back to the UK and South Africa and encounter what sounds remarkably like double-speak to me. It really does! I know it isn't and I haven't given up my English indirectness myself, but I've just got used to not expecting it from others. I love my Dutch friends and have a lot of fun with them; we laugh about my tentative requests and diplomatic denials that leave more room for negotiation than I ever intended. "What are you really trying to say, Val?" I've been asked more than a few times. "Why don't you just say what you mean without all this polite decoration?" "But I can't." I say, laughing. "It just won't come out." That said, I'm a lot better than I used to be and I definitely don't flinch anymore when a chance remark of laser-like directness catches me in the jugular or a response made with the bluntness of a sledgehammer knocks me off balance. I am used to it; I no longer take offence or creep off and lick my wounds because I know this is simply Dutch honesty and they genuinely do not intend hurt or harm.
So again, what are the pros and cons of living here? There are of course things I don't like: the weather for one, but then I don't think I'd like that anywhere much in Europe. South Africa has, for me, the perfect climate, and I hate the rain, wind and cold. I don't like the bureaucracy much either; it's a pain, it's frustrating and mind-numbing, the Blasted Dienst (Belastingdienst a.k.a. the Tax office) being the worst, but I don't think it's much more awful here than in the UK and probably not as bad as it is in France from what I've heard. Added to that, I certainly don't much care for the do it yourself attitude to healthcare here. These days, I have to have something really wrong before I'll venture to the doctor where I mostly get asked what I know about my own condition. There are other things too but all that aside, let's look at the good things, and they are plenty.
|Dutch Skies are amazing|
I love the Dutch landscape. Yes, I love hills too and miss the mountains, but here you can see forever and really stretch your eyes; the sky is as much part of the scenery as the land and the skies here are stunning even when it's raining. I love the trees along the dykes and the waving reed banks along the sloten (drainage ditches) and canals. I love the water everywhere; I really love that! The boats, barges, quaint bridges and huge commercial waterways alike are my soul food. The fact that river and canal traffic seems to take priority over road traffic seems totally right to me, and I never mind waiting even up to twenty minutes for a bridge to open and close for the boats and barges to pass through. If I'm late for work, well so be it. Everyone gets caught by it sometimes. Oh and did I mention I love the boats? More than almost anything?
|Boats , bridges and sky in this one|
What else then? Well, I am still fascinated by the biking culture. Being a late starter on two wheels (I only got my first bike ever at the age of 36), I am riveted by the skill of Dutch cyclists who seem to be able to perform impossible deeds on a bike. My favourite sight is that of young mothers cycling with a child on the front and one on the back (and maybe even leading a dog as well) weaving their way through the traffic as if it's the most natural thing in the world. But I've seen people carrying and doing incredible things on their bikes. It's as if when they're born, they whizz out of the chute on tiny bikes and never look back. Granted it's pretty safe here because of the huge network of cycle lanes that criss-cross the country, and of course it's flat, which helps tremendously. About the only hills within miles of Rotterdam are the bridges over the rivers.
|Dutch bikes in Amsterdam|
The skating culture is another thing. Phenomenal! As soon as there's enough natural ice to bear their weight, the Dutch rush to don their skates and head out to play. It just makes me smile. From tiny tots to grannies and grandpas, they're all out there. There's much less fuss about whether or not the ice is thick enough because a lot of the time even a big puddle will do and no one's going to drown in that. Then if the winter isn't cold enough for natural ice, they make their own by freezing over random pieces of ground, just so people can skate in the winter.
|Dutch families skating on natural ice|
The Dutch attitude to dogs is also something I appreciate immensely. They accept that dogs are part of the family and so you can take your pet pooch anywhere on public transport while many hotels accepts dogs and there are even restaurants where the family furry is allowed, water bowl and biscuits provided. We won't mention the pooh on the pavements though...
Again, there are other things, but I won't go on - not today, anyway. But all things being equal, I think you might say that when you balance them up, I'm pretty much okay with living here, don't you? The Netherlands has been good to me, this stray sort of South African English woman.
So to finish, here's a question for all of you...what is it you love about your home? Answers please in the comment box below and make them as long as you like...