When I decided to do my Erasmus in the Netherlands I didn’t know about it almost anything. I’ve never been there before, I didn’t have an interest in it and I was never attracted to this country. Of course, I’ve heard about Amsterdam, legalized weed and football team of the country, but that was it. I was going here without big expectations, being concerned that my stay will last just those little more than 4 months and I will come back. But, of course, nothing ever goes as you plan. At the end I totally fell in love with this country and even the language, that Dutch people hate. There are a lot of reasons to love Netherlands and there are some to hate it, so I am going to share my observation about the best and the worst aspects about living in this country.
Dutch people are probably the friendliest and most polite people I’ve ever met. They always smile and greet, they start talking to you just on the street, they always switch to English when they see you don’t know Dutch. Netherlands is one of the best not native english speaking country in Europe, so everyone talks English perfectly here, even people of older generation. Sometimes it is a little embarrassing when you realize that cashier at the supermarket talks better English than you.
Here you always feel comfortable, because people are tolerant and extremely friendly. Doesn’t matter how you look like, no one would laugh at you or judge you. That’s why there is a great diversity of people – differently dressed, different behaviours, accessories etc. Sometimes you meet really strange people, like really old man in a night club or woman with the grass and leaves in her hair, but it makes life more colourful and gives you a feeling of real freedom of expression.
There are a lot of facts about Dutch people, that I didn’t know before coming here. For example, did you know that Dutch are the tallest people in the World? Me neither. Here it is common to split the bill half/half when you go on the date and they even have an expression for that - “Let’s go Dutch”, which is actually used Worldwide.
The common stereotype about Dutch is that they love to complain. If they don’t like the service at the restaurant they wouldn't shout or express it in any impolite way, but they would write a complaint afterwards. They write complaints about everything! Also if you are being noisy in the evening, it would take 5 minutes and the neighbour would ring your bell and warn you about calling police. But once you agree to calm down, nice conversation would follow. No aggression, no negative emotions. I love it!
People here like to shop and in the break grab a cup of coffee. That’s why shops are always full and coffee places never empty. People know how to enjoy life J . I have to admit that Dutch are also very fit – you barely meet fat people and you really often see people jogging.
The other thing that I really love about Dutch people is that they are very helpful. If you need something and you ask for help, they would do everything in order to help you. If they don’t know the answer yet, the sentence you might here very often is “I will check it for you”. And they actually do!
Bike is a must have accessory in all seasons in the Netherlands. Everyone bikes here. Seriously, everyone – children, old people, students, drunk people, rich and poor people, women with elegant dresses and high-heels, man with suits. Bike roads are equally important as car roads, so you can safely bike in the city and from one city to another. There is a bike route, which can bring you through all country.
People ride different bikes here. I think, that some of them are older than people, who are riding them. Bike is not just a vehicle here, it is an accessory, so people decorate it with flowers, colourful bells and baskets. People love to play with colors – you often see bikes in the most unexpected shades, as vivid blue, pink or yellow. Also white bikes are popular.
In the city center there are a lot of parking places for bikes, as well as in front of the shops or university. Bikers are the fully-fledged road users and have to respect the rules. There are signs particularly for bikes and ignoring them might cost you some money, because police is quite strict about it (my friend got a fine 45 euros for going in forbidden direction).
Biking is a lovely habit! Public transport is very expensive here, so biking saves you a lot of money, it is fast, ecologically friendly and healthy. Unconsciously every day you do a lot of exercise just by solving your daily issues in the town.
Geographically the center of Europe is in Lithuania ( 26km north from Vilnius), but in all other senses the center of Europe is here. The Netherlands are located in the dot on the map, which is close to almost all countries in Europe. It has boarders with Belgium and Germany, which gives you an opportunity to travel around there by train or even your bike.
The country is small and there are a lot of airports around offering cheap flights. For example, from the Maastricht, I could catch flights from 4 airports – Maastricht, Brussels, Eindhoven and Dusseldorf. All of them are located no more than 1 hour faraway. The best thing, that flights from here are really cheap – you could get tickets to London for 5 euros and to Budapest for 2. Sounds crazy? But this is truth. I used the advantage of good location of the Netherlands and travelled a lot, uncountable times I went to Belgium , I visited few cities in Germany, I flew to Paris, Milan and Thessaloniki. And with all these trips I didn’t spend too much money.
Except the location, the heartbeat of Europe here you can feel because of the European institutions. It is close to Brussels, which is the center of Europe in a political sense, so some institutions are based in the Netherlands as well. Den Haag is the center of European law, Maastricht in famous because the Maastricht treaty signed here. There are a lot of meetings and visits of the officials happening, so the European institutions seem to be very close and much more real, than it seems living in Lithuania. Sometimes institutions announce open days, when every person could get it and have a tour. I was lucky to visit European Parliament this way and spend there an afternoon walking around, talking to people and discovering the structure of one of the biggest governance bodies in Europe.
The feeling of Europe you get here also because of the values and behaviour of people. In the Netherlands people are aware what European Union is and how it actually works, not only in economic sense, but in the sense of values and cultural dilemmas. At university there are often discussions organized, where students talk about future of European union, development and integration. Moral problems, as emigration and immigration are widely discussed here, sometimes with presence of important officials and representatives of European institutions. So, this is definitely feels so much like Europe in all senses J
To me Dutch culture seems unique and not so much influenced by the globalization. I like that they don’t own traditions that have nothing in common with their historical background (as Lithuanians do with Halloween).There are several Dutch national celebrations, that are really worth seeing and attending.
First of them is the Carnival, which is called ‘Vastenavond’ in Dutch. It is mainly celebrated in the southern provinces of the Netherlands, as North Brabant and Limburg. Maastricht is a capital of Limburg region, so I had a great chance to witness the celebration of the carnival. Here they celebrate a particular type of carnival called “Rijnlandsche Carnival’, which is a mixture between South American and Venetian traditions.
It takes place in the end of February, on the Sunday through Tuesday preceding Ash Wednesday. During the carnival everything and everyone stops working. People celebrate! Having a costume for the Carnival is a MUST for everyone, doesn’t matter if you are tourist or local. There are large shops specializing on selling just carnival attributes, so you can choose if you want to be a police man, sexy pig or devil. People don’t count money, when talk comes about the costume for the Carnival. When the day of the Carnival comes you will not recognize the city – it will be full of strange animals and diiferent kind of humans walking around. It starts with the big parade walking through all city center with variously dressed people, drums and loud music. First you just stare and admire, because it looks very exciting and unusual. Then the concerts with carnival music start all around the city and everyone is drinking beer and dancing. People have portable bars full of alcohol and they move it everywhere they go. There is music and fun on every corner and it goes on for a couple of days like that. The culmination is choosing princess and prince of the carnival. It is the best title you can get here!
The second ‘must see’ thing is a Queens’s day. It is the celebration of the birthday of the mother of the present Queen of the Netherlands (gosh, sounds so complicated). On this day, every Dutch and non Dutch wears something orange, which is a national color of the Netherlands. People bring outside everything they could sell and all cities become a big second-hand markets. You can find the weirdest things ever there. Of course a lot of parties, beer and music everywhere are promised!
I am not sure if it is the same in all Netherlands, but Maastricht is SOOOOO good for shopping. Although Maastricht is a small town, there are a lot of shops (three H&M shops, New Yorker, two floors ZARA, Bershka etc )and these shops always have sales. I mean really ALWAYS! Every time I enter the shop there is something cool on sale. But when the BIG SALES start it is even more amazing! Then you get lovely dresses for 7 euros, skirts and shirts for 5 and 3. It is perfect for accessories and shoes as well. If you have money ( or even if you don’t ) this is a right place to spend it!
If you want to experience the worst weather ever, you have to come to the Netherlands. Rain non-stop, crazy wind, sun mixing with the rain and wind and cold and warmth. There are no seasons here – it is autumn all the year. At the moment I am experiencing the worst summer in my life. It is raining all days, all nights. You never see the sun, you never get tan. If the miracle happens and the sun appears don’t be too much happy, the rain will come in few hours. But if sun stays, be sure that all parks will be crowded with people lying down like vegetables on the grass and trying to catch at least a drop of sun.
Dutch weather really knows how to please you. It will be always sunny when you have exam week, so you can enjoy sun through the library window. It will be sunny just before you leave the house, but 2 minutes after on your way it will start raining and your hair will be destroyed and the dress wet. It knows how to freak you out and make you angry!
So , as you see there are much more reasons to love the Netherlands than hate it.Of course there are a lot more lovely things to mention about the Netherlands then I did (maybe I will write about it in the next post), but still maybe after reading this post, some people will understand why I don’t want to leave this country and why I feel so much in love with it despite this horrible weather.
To end my love letter to the Netherlands, I want you to watch the amazing video about my town here – Maastricht. I love it very much! Enjoy! Maastricht city visit