Those who have followed me for a while have probably heard me joke “I’ve lived in The Netherlands 100 years. Well, not quite 100, but certainly since last century.”
Yes, I’ve lived in The Netherlands since 1999. Baby One More Time (Britney Spears), Pretty Fly For a White Guy (The Offspring), Believe (Cher), Fly Away (Lenny Kravitz) and Enjoy Yourself (A+) were at the top of the charts when I arrived.
It was supposed to be 2-3 years. When I first told one of my best friends about the move, she joked that I would be here for 25. A warning to stop letting people speak curses over your life (joking…kinda).
I was admitted to the Connecticut Bar on a Friday, was on the red-eye from JFK Airport Sunday night, and arrived in Holland on a cold, grey, rainy Monday morning. Welkom in Nederland. I wonder if this has anything to do with why rainy Mondays always get me down (I feel you, Karen Carpenter).
I’ve lived in The Hague longer than I’ve lived in any where else, and yet I still hesitate to call it “home”. But I’m here and no matter my complaints it’s where I grew up, in essence. It’s where I became a mother (both Miss P and Miss V were born here), learned to navigate life as an adult, and I would say I’m probably more competent and confident here than I would be in the US.
In honor of my “hundred years” in Holland, here are 20 gripes and gratitudes; things that I love and loathe about The Netherlands.
- “Leaving”. That’s my response when asked what my favorite thing is about The Netherlands. The proximity and ease of traveling to the rest of the continent is without a doubt the best thing about being here for me. It makes for easy weekend jaunts via plane, train or automobile to Belgium, France, Germany, England, Spain, Italy, Portugal, etc., and I take full advantage of this benefit.
- Summer in The Netherlands can be absolutely glorious. Because it’s pretty far north, at the peak of summer days are nearly 17 hours long. Tables and chairs of every cafe and restaurant spill onto the sidewalk for alfresco dining and people watching, beach tents housing restaurants and nightclubs populate the beaches found along the coast of the country. Those few weeks of summer are almost enough to override any gripes that I have. Almost…
- The grey, drab winter is as brutal as summer is glorious. It has been this way for me from the start. From November to March grey clouds cover the country like a weighted blanket that instead of being comforting and therapeutic, is soul crushing.
- Staying with the seasonal theme, SPRING! and the bollenstreek (bulb fields), tulips and Keukenhof are definitely things I’m grateful for!
- Zwarte Piet is racist. Offended from the first time I saw the blackfaced character, I did my own research and found it’s racist history. That Zwarte Piet is black due to soot from the chimney is recent spin and PR, and not even very good as they continue to cover their faces in the blackest black, wear Afro wigs and exaggerated lips as opposed to smudges as would be the case if it were soot. Zwarte Piet is racist and offensive. Period.
- Bike culture. While I am an admitted fair weather cyclist, which results in me basically being a recreational cyclist, I do appreciate the bike culture in The Netherlands. For the Dutch, however, the bike is transportation. More than transportation, in fact, its a way of life. On the bike paths you’ll see everyone from women in skirts and heels to businessmen in suits to parents with a child seat on the front and back to transport multiple children (something I happily did when the Lovely Ladies were small, probably up to ages 2 and 5) to Bakfiets (wagon bike) with multiple children or transporting stuff. There are designated bike lanes and lights to regulate the traffic; yes, traffic, every morning and every evening the bike paths are teeming with traffic. 20 years into this gig and it is still amazing to see.
- Quality/pace of life is one of the good things about living here, with people being intentional about stopping to smell the roses (tulips don’t have a scent), though I think that is more indicative of Europe in general, and not specific to The Netherlands.
- Neighborhood shops like the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker – well, maybe not a candlestick maker, but there is likely at least one shop, maybe even 2, that sell them – makes life in The Netherlands gezellig (cosy).
- Lengthy restaurant meals in The Netherlands must be the origin for the term “slow food”. Seriously though, I didn’t always appreciate the lengthy restaurant meals, but eventually came to realize that the meal itself is the event, not necessarily the thing you do before the event. Waiters wait on you as opposed to rush you through the meal in order to turn the table over for the next guests.
- The food in The Netherlands gets gripes and gratitude from me. Yes to pannekoeken, poffertjes, oliebollen, friets, rijstaffel (which is actually Indonesian, but the Dutch proudly claim), stroopwafel, cheese, and appelgabak. However, I’ll pass on the bitterballen, Erwtensoep (pea soup), herring and black licorice.
- Coffee and a cookie. I was upset for a long time that there was no Starbucks in The Netherlands and not having the option to grab a cup of coffee and go. But I soon learned to love sitting and enjoying a leisurely cup of coffee – in an actual ceramic cup – and a cookie. If you didn’t have a “koekje bij de koffie” (cookie with coffee), did you even have a coffee? And to make it even more Dutch, I have a Koffie Verkeerd or “coffee wrong”, named so because it is made with more milk than a normal coffee with milk, to which I say if that’s wrong I don’t want to be right.
- Entertainment is another subject that is part gripe and part gratitude. I’ll start with movies and gratitude that the pauze (intermission) is a thing of the past, at least in the “big cities like The Hague, Rotterdam, and Amsterdam. When I first arrived movies would be paused in at the half-way point – literally stopped, the projector turned off in the middle of the movie. If that meant mid-sentence, mid-car chase, mid-fist connecting to someone’s face in a fight, so be it. Patrons would get up pop open a Grolsch beer, go outside and have a cigarette (which is likely the reason for the pauze), or like me, sit there mouth agape in disbelief that the movie was stopped. Funny now, irritating then. I’m also screaming “YAAASSSS!!!” to universal, or practically universal, movie release dates. Gone are the days when it was possible to see a movie on a flight before it was released in The Netherlands, and in fact, there are occasions when the film is released in The Netherlands before it’s released in the US (HELLO, Black Panther!). Another good thing about movies, both at the cinema and on television, is that they are not dubbed, but instead have Dutch subtitles (children’s films are the exception, and the cinema offers dubbed, as well as the original version). The gripe is the TV show delay. This delay is usually several seasons, though more popular shows will come a bit sooner. Firesticks, VPNs, iTunes, and other pirate-like behavior can help get around this, but since I’m an idiot when it comes to tech those options don’t always work for me.
- Café life. As with quality of life, this is more general to Europe than specific to The Netherlands, but I’ll take it wherever.
- The landscape. The architecture, the windmills, the canals. Cliché but I still find them undeniably picturesque and “charming”.
- The New Year’s Eve fireworks and bonfire. I’d lived here 16 years before I spent New Year’s Eve here. I’d heard about the crazy, knew someone whose house caught fire and had extreme damage due to the fireworks, but seeing is (dis)believing. How could it possibly be safe to sanction a bunch of drunk people to play with fireworks? Oh yeah…IT CAN’T BE!
- Holidays – Good Friday, Easter Monday, Ascension day, Pentecost. For a country that uses its churches for everything but church (decommissioned churches have been turned into nightclubs, trampoline centers and casinos), The Netherlands sure does celebrate a lot of religious holidays. And in case there’s any confusion, this is a gratitude. I use every one of the holidays to go somewhere.
- Public transportation. Trams, trains, and buses are very efficient. I have a car but there are times when public transportation is just easier and more efficient.
- Fresh flowers can be had at relatively cheap prices.€10 -15 will outfit several areas of my house with blooms for the week.
- No respect for personal space is a big gripe. I get it. The Netherlands is small, and the most densely populated country of the European Union. But there is enough space for a little elbow room. For you to be far enough away from me when we’re in a queue I can’t hear you breathe or worse, smell your breath. Step. Back.
- Street Organ I don’t see them much anymore, mostly on special occasions like King’s Day or some weekends in the city center, but nostalgia always makes smile when I see them and I make it a point to put some change to put into the tin cup. When the Lovely Ladies were little one of these organs used to pass by our house every Saturday on its way to the shopping area. Miss P was always especially fond of the organs and would run to the window and watch it until it was no longer in view, and when we’d see one when we were out and about she’d stand there mesmerized for ages.
There you have it. People often ask when I’m leaving. After the 12-year mark, I stopped speculating. I’ll live here until I don’t. In the meantime, I’ll keep my eyes and heart open for more things to gripe about and be grateful for.