When you think of the Dutch the first thing that comes to an English mind is weed. When I told people in England that was where I would be studying, their response was, “That’s going to be fun, you can get high all the time!” However, as I had already visited the country previously I knew that weed really wasn’t a massive thing – but I was curious about student’s actual usage.
I have already lived in the Netherlands for five months as I am on exchange for a year so I have already had time to make initial impressions, and test my initial judgements. However, as I feel the purpose of this essay will be the reflection at the end, I will recall what I first thought of the Dutch when I arrived back in August.
The general external impression of Dutch society, and what you hear about it, is that the people are very “laid back” about things, but I am also told that they are very direct and to the point, something I have yet to really see and believe. An ex-exchange student also told me that the Dutch are very serious and so although sometimes they are joking, you can’t easily tell – so try not to be offended.
Twice I have been to an international Scout camp in Haarlem, and from this I got the impression that they are also very eccentric. This is because the organisers put on many shows and developed a whole “over-the-top” story for the week. For instance, sustainable energy is an issue and so everyone had to take part in the activities to earn “Jambo Joules” in order to power a big surprise at the end. This meant that the organisers were dressed as a scientist and Indiana Jane who would walk round the whole site dressed like this, and in character. Then in the end they were able to go off in a rocket ship – which involved lots of fireworks.
I’ve also heard that the Netherlands is the best place in Europe for children to grow up in, whereas England is the worst, so I am interested to find out what makes it so amazing. I also know it is quite high up in the lists of ‘happiest’ countries and, again, we are normally quite low for this. I hope this can be seen in the people and it will rub off on me, and perhaps I could take some tips home with me to improve our ranking in these tables.
My impression of the Dutch themselves in the first few weeks is that they are very friendly and will happily talk to you in Dining Hall even if you only partially know them. They are also nice to me in the shops and when I need help they will switch to English, which is good as I have little or no knowledge of Dutch. However I cannot get over the fact that students go home every weekend as I never visit home during term time. At the beginning I hoped this was just a phase as they were first years and a bit home sick.
Present day culture isn’t very well known about, however the stereotypical things such as the traditional dress for the women (with the hat and yellow clogs) is the thing that is most prominent when you think of the Netherlands. There is the tulip too – which I have noticed they are selling all the time in the flower markets, in Utrecht for example. The colour orange is also important to the culture, as you can see at international football matches. I know that this is because of William of Orange, but that is as far as my knowledge goes for this and in general I know little about Dutch history.
Something I also have been told about by the ex-exchange student is that Queens Day is something I have to go to. I then did a little research about the holiday and found that it is actually in celebration of the Queens mum – and not the current Queen, Beatrix. I learned that on this day the no free-trade law does not apply, and so people sell lots of their things on the street – kind of like a British “car boot sale”. In Utrecht especially it said that this goes on all day, where as in other cities it doesn’t. More importantly, and the reason I was told about this, is that there is a big street party in Amsterdam where lots of bands play and that sounds really fun.
In addition Dick Bruna is something about Dutch (and Utrecht) culture that I know a bit about. I am a big fan of his Miffy series (she has a different name in Dutch). I really like his simplistic style and how the stories are so perfect and satisfying when you read them. I especially like the one entitled “Miffy Is Crying” where she loses her teddy when she awakes in the morning, and then asks everyone she knows if they have seen it. Sadly they haven’t and she has to go to bed alone and sad, but luckily she feels something at the bottom of her bed and it’s her teddy so it’s all fine in the end. However, I have already visited the Dick Bruna Huis in Utrecht – if I hadn’t it would definitely have been a cultural highlight I would have looked forward to.
Food is an important aspect of culture and I know pancakes are a big part of this which I am very happy about. The special thing about Dutch pancakes is that all the extra ingredients are baked into the pancake instead of just put on top. Cheese is a part of culture too, with cheese named after towns like Gouda and Edam – though I am not as much of a fan of cheese.
Overall, over the past five months, my knowledge of Dutch culture has not really progressed as –due to previous visits to the country – I already knew a lot before I came. The main new thing I have learned about is Sinterklaas and how to celebrate correctly, which included having a Sinterklaas party where we gave out surprises.
However, it is worth looking back at my early expectations in three areas, as before (or shortly after) I arrived I hypothesized that:
1) The Dutch will stop going home every weekend and spend more time on campus as they will get used to living away from home and so this will reduce the time spent at home;
2) Every Dutch person will be able to converse with me in English (including outside UCU) as I have not met one person yet who has had any problem with it;
3) Public transport will be cheaper than at home because I am always complaining about the cost of trains at home – especially as we are always told that the UK public transport is the worst and most expensive in Europe. So the Netherlands must be better!
Since August I have found that Hypothesis 1 was entirely wrong – the Dutch still go home, but I understand why now as this is the only university with a campus and they get the free OV card. Yet it still confuses me a lot as it is so different to the way we perceive university at home. We see it as gaining independence from your family, which I don’t think is so true for here.
This brings me onto Hypothesis 3 – where I was part wrong, and part right. The train system here is also bad but in a different way. The train prices make sense as the further you travel the more expensive (this is not true at home), but there are other things such as a return costing the same as two singles. I learnt this when it cost €20 to visit Rotterdam. In addition there is no way to make the ticket cost cheaper e.g. by buying them in advance. The trains themselves however are much nicer to travel in as they are quieter, but they have just as much disruption on journeys as our trains do, so I was wrong on that. When it comes to buses, though, they are extremely expensive, €2.50 from UCU to the station is way too much!
However, for Hypothesis 2 I was correct, and I learned from talking to my Dutch friends that people are considered stupid if they can’t speak English. Plus a reason why they speak better English than say German or French is because Dutch movies are subtitled, whereas in other countries they are dubbed – and this makes a great difference.
For now, however, I will keep my reflections short, and address them more in the future. As this is mainly a study of first impressions, a fuller and more detailed reflection of those impressions will be more appropriate for the critical review stage.