There are six things that gave me culture shock in the Netherlands and the rest are just observations I’ve kept in mind. Traveling to a new country and being in a different environment can take some time to get accustomed to. Maybe you’re immersed in a language and lifestyle that is different from yours. Or perhaps local social behaviors feel unfamiliar and you’re out of your comfort zone. Everybody’s been here before because what some call culture shock can also be simplified as change. And change will always require an adjustment process.
Making frequent visits to the Netherlands predisposed me to Dutch culture. The cuisine and customs are just some of the aspects that I’ve learned to adjust to. However, no matter how informed and prepared I was, the following six aspects repeatedly gave me culture shock in the Netherlands.
Having wide-open windows
The Dutch are private people but you can peek into most houses and see what’s happening. With the wide-open windows, you can see people eating dinner or watching tv on the couch. Whatever it may be it’s all out in the open to see. When foreigners come to the Netherlands this is one of the surprising things they encounter. I can say the same for myself although I’ve been visiting for years and live here! It still shocks me to this day. However, the Dutch don’t do this for no apparent reason.
The idea behind this is that the Dutch want to exhibit that there are no valuable goods and possessions to be stolen. For instance, my boyfriend even leaves the glove compartment open to show there isn’t anything interesting to steal. The one time he did close it, he woke up the next morning to find the window smashed into pieces.
Airing it all out in the open is still something that I don’t understand. Back home in the States, we do the complete opposite. We don’t want others to see what we own in the event someone will steal it. Another reason may be that the Netherlands doesn’t get much sun, so having your windows open allows for as much natural light as possible. Even after visiting the Netherlands all these years and living here, the wide-open windows are still something that gives me shock. I prefer to be more discreet, but that’s just me.
Crappy and depressing weather
The weather in the Netherlands isn’t something you call lovely on a regular basis (except for summer). Being located on the Northern Sea it’s cold, wet, and rainy most of the time. Riding your bike when it’s pouring and windy is just about the worst experience, but the Dutch do this every day. Just to be clear weather is not a culture shock per se but more so how the Dutch react to it. The Dutch even have different words for the types of bad weather.
The infamous Duch directness (severely gave me culture shock in the Netherlands)
The Dutch are very direct and not afraid to give you their honest opinion. This can take a lot of time for foreigners in the Netherlands to adjust to. For instance, if you ask someone if your outfit is okay they will be brutally honest. They might tell you it’s too tight, or short, or maybe you even gained some weight. They don’t mean this in a purposefully rude way but are simply giving an answer to the question you asked.
How do you handle Dutch Directness?
However, some foreigners say there is a big difference between being direct and being rude. In some cultures being direct can come off as offensive. Try not to take it too personally because the Dutch mean well and don’t like to beat around the bush. It’s actually refreshing to hear people that are direct with their communication. After some time here I got used to the ‘Dutch directness’ and find that getting straight to the point is much more efficient and I appreciate it more!
Paracetamol is the ‘cure-all’
Have a high fever, strep throat, or wisdom teeth pulled out? Doctors and dentists typically recommend Paracetamol for small ailments. It’s like the standard treatment and prescription. I guess it’s better than being loaded with prescriptions and over-medicated like in other countries. The use of paracetamol was a big culture shock in the Netherlands when I first arrived.
The lack of personality in housing
When it comes to Dutch homes, one may think they are ‘boring’ and lack personality due to their uniformity. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the Netherlands has strict building regulations, especially in historical areas where construction rules are even more stringent. This may explain why many Dutch homes may look similar to each other. Nevertheless, the concept of beauty is subjective, and what one may consider dull, another may find charming. In fact, the narrow and tall design of Dutch homes has become a unique characteristic of Dutch architecture and is often appreciated by many. Therefore, it’s worth noting that while Dutch homes may not appeal to everyone’s personal taste, they do hold a special place in Dutch culture and history.
The shenanigans in Amsterdam are for tourists
Amsterdam is a beautiful city full of history, architecture, beautiful canals, and loads of tourists. About 19 million tourists visit Amsterdam each year. However, most tourists perceive Amsterdam as the rest of the Netherlands is like. This clouds their perception which is false thinking that everything revolves around decriminalized weed (for those that don’t know weed is not legal in the Netherlands but decriminalized and tolerated as a recreational drug) and the Red Light District. The truth is that it’s mainly tourists who partake in this. The Dutch find the Redlight District a huge tourist trap.