When moving to the Netherlands I believed that as a fellow European I could adapt well to the Dutch lifestyle. However, in the last nine months, I ran into quite a few situations that had me flabbergasted. The Dutch turned out to be a particular kind of people…
When the temperature dropped below zero and the canals and ponds froze in a thick layer, something unanticipated happened to me several times. “Have you gone ice-skating yet?” was a question I was asked several times by fellow students and my Dutch lecturers and supervisors. On a walk through my neighbourhood, I saw about a hundred people skate on a frozen pond, while there were ducks bathing in a big hole on one edge. The engineer in me was baffled by their carelessness – how could they skate on non-tested ice, let alone when there is a hole? My hesitance aside, it is quite a nice view to see people of all ages who manage to balance on ice skates enjoying themselves.
When the ponds in the parks nearby are not frozen, there is something entirely different going on. I often see people patiently sitting in their camping chairs with a fishing rod waiting for whatever to bite the hook. I have yet to see someone actually catch anything, but I have been told that it is only for sport, and any fish caught will be put back into the water. I have brought this up with a few Duch friends and they seem to be divided on this matter – so I don’t feel alone in wondering about this activity.
Something I have become accustomed to is the use of cash – or better the lack thereof. Coming from a country that is far behind on digital processes and transactions, I was pleasantly surprised by being able to ‘pin’ everything, from my weekly groceries to an oliebol at a market stand. In Germany, I have to get cash regularly because many shops do not allow you to pay by card. This is one of the most convenient things in the Netherlands – I still have a 20 euro bill in my wallet, that I brought when I moved back in September.
When on one of my weekly rounds of grocery shopping, I always pass an aisle of pre-cut vegetables, a section of pre-made food including packs of pancakes and hamburgers. I am not sure if this is just new to me on a personal level, having grown up in a household where lots of fresh food was cooked from scratch, or if this is something that goes deeper. I was mostly used to salad mixes or frozen pizzas when it comes to pre-made meals. Coming across new kitchen items like a poffertjes pan, I had not expected the Dutch to rely on these options as much.
One of the knacks of the Dutch cuisine, my housemate told me about was AVG – Ardappels, Vlees, Groente – a meal that apparently is eaten several times a week in Dutch families, and for which a few of the pre-cut veggies are made for. Just in general, there seems to be a lot of potatoes – including the infamous Stamppot. Other typical Dutch foods I have come across are in the snack aisle at the supermarket – Stroopwaffels and such. But my favourite thus far is the oliebollen with a mug of hot wine.
Even with the pandemic mostly preventing them from happening, I had the chance to spend a ‘gezellige avond’ with a friend or two here and there. The evening and sitting together as such is not an entirely new concept to me, but I cannot deny that it does feel different than just hanging out. It is very ‘gezellig’. Now with the days getting longer and warmer, I myself have put some chairs on the sidewalk in front of my house to enjoy the sun on more than one occasion.
This article was first published in the Girugten End of Year Edition (Year 51 of Girugten – issue 03 – June 2021).