Friday, April 27

15 Reasons I Don't Like Living in The Netherlands

I have to be honest from the start here. I cheated for this post. On my own I couldn't come up with 15 reasons I don't like living here. I had to go borrow from elsewhere to find some common expat complaints.

To be fair, I do have some gripes and I can join in moaning with the best of them, but my list is certainly not a long one; and there are no deal breakers on this inventory of grumbles. In fact, many of these things don't really pass muster as genuine grievances about life here, but are more like annoyances. I can make the same type of list about living in my home country of the U.S. too.

But I wanted to share some fair and balanced reporting about an expat life.
Perhaps you can regard this as Part II to the 15 Reasons I Like Living in The Netherlands post from the past.

Okay, it wasn't long past. Really only a couple of weeks ago, so you probably remember and don't need to go linking to it to remind yourself. But while we are on that subject, you could read this post which also points to my deep-seated happiness here. And while you are at it, why don't you read this post, and this one, and maybe this one too. Not that they have anything at all to do with the subject, but they are posts without any comments, and darn it they are feeling a little ignored. Share some love readers! Share some love.

And now we commence with the whining. (or as my British friends say: the Wingeing)

1. I get homesick. Not for things or comforts or any of the silly luxuries I used to think were crucial to life itself; but for people. The short of it is: I miss my sister. Fiercely. All the time.

2. The Dutch can be unkind, even rude. They explain away this tendency by saying that they are a "direct" people and "up front". But when that direct-up-frontness is coming straight at you with a "Your ass looks big in those pants", it can take a minute to catch your breath.

3. While I am whining about the people themselves I will add this. There seems to be an actual gene in the Nederlanders pool which dictates scolding. Direct, up-front, ruthless scolding. Of complete strangers.
Take for instance the time I got blasted at the supermarket for opening the door at the freezer section and (apparently) taking too long to look at the ingredients on the package. A woman moved across the aisle to let me know that what I was doing was '
ridiculously irresponsible and didn't I know that if I opened the door like that it would cause it to fog up and then no one would be able to see what was inside on the shelves?'
Uh... yeah. Didn't she know that I had to open the door in the first place because some other numb nut had done just that and I couldn't see what was inside? And doesn't she get that that's why there ARE doors, so you can OPEN them and look at what is poised behind? Sheesh. As you can see I am still a little tender about this one. I have other stories I can share to illustrate this point. Lots of others. ' Cause they do it, the scolding thing, a lot.

4. Hours of operation at the shops are limited. The specialty shops (cheese, butcher, pharmacy, clothing etc.) and the smaller grocery stores open around 10:00 a.m. and close at 5:00-ish p.m. every day. They are closed on a Sunday and also on a Monday morning. When we first arrived in Leiden this was a steep learning curve for me and I ran out of milk more than once on the weekend. Oops. That's one thing that I have just simply learned to adapt to and plan ahead for.

5. It also must be mentioned that you bag your own groceries at the supermarket. If you forget to bring your own bags, you can purchase one at the store for around 20 euro cents. When you are especially forgetful, soon enough you will have a full collection of grocery bags sitting in the kitchen closet. You can then just continue to add to the stack every time you return from the store with another, and another, and yet another 20-cent bag.

6. There is some intense pressure in the grocery line when you are hurriedly trying to pack your items into your newly purchased (crap! did I forget the bags again?) bag, and already the cashier is sending the next customers' items down the conveyor belt. It should be an Olympic sport really: speed bagging your own groceries. Dude! I would be a gold medalist!

7. Ah, and speaking of lines. The Dutch can't queue.

8. They are also extremely handicapped in the area of customer service.

9. Banking here has its problems. There are some silly protocols and procedures in place that seriously just don't make any sense. Like when you want to pay off the balance of your credit card earlier than the auto-scheduled payment date. You know, so you can use the card to pay the deposit on a car rental when you want to take a trip to say, Belgium. Using the online banking option to move monies from your savings account toward the credit card account seems like a time efficient plan. Right up until you find out that it will take NINE DAYS for the transaction to show up on bank records and bring your balance down to zero. And if in that NINE DAYS since making the transfer payment, your scheduled date for automatic payment should arrive? Well then, the bank will just debit your account again for the full balance showing on the last statement. Huh?

10. Speaking of dates, you must schedule an appointment weeks in advance for a dinner meeting, or a coffee with friends or neighbors. Dropping by or popping round for a visit is a bit of a foreign concept. Figure that out and you're in good social shape in The Netherlands.

11. Getting attention for health issues can be a long, convoluted process. Everyone here has a "house doctor" with whom you schedule visits for any of the common health concerns. If your situation requires additional expertise you are given a referral to a specialist. Getting in to see said specialist is where the long wait begins. Months can go by before appointments are issued and months in between appointments seems to be the norm. The upshot to this complaint though is that the costs involved with medical care are extremely reasonable, almost laughable, when comparing to what we paid for care and prescriptions in the states.

12. You have to pay for the silliest of things. Like a ketchup packet at McDonald's? 35 euro cents. Frugality is a national sport.

13. Bikes are a necessary form of transportation and oh-so-handy to have around, but they are pricey. There is a bit of sticker shock when you price bicycles. Average cost for a new bike is around 400 euros. It is not at all uncommon to see prices reaching to 1,000 euros. For a bike. That you have to pedal. We bought ours at a used bicycle shop and found suitable purchases in the 100 euro range.
That will do for the likes of me. I kind of like that mine is a little rusty and has been hand painted to cover the signs of age. It's a good, sturdy, reliable bike. And the fact that it's old and used gives me a feeling of security that it's not likely to be stolen.

14. Housing costs are high. I have mentioned previously that land and space are limited here in Holland, so it follows that real estate is precious. And expensive. That goes for the purchase prices of a home as well as rental fees.

15. This one is as common a complaint with the Dutch as it is with any expatriate. All approach it with the same venom and vigor; you can consider it an international-equal-opportunity bellyache. Are you ready for it? I will lay it out for you. Winter sucks in The Netherlands. There is nothing at all redeemable about it; the winter months are cold and dark, dismal and depressing. The wind blows constantly. The rain pours continuously, except for the days that the temperatures drop below freezing. Then it's just windy and icy cold. The kind of cold that freezes the tears before they can sweep across your eye; and considering that the winters here are considered mild, that's actually saying something about just how cold mild can be. But it's the gray skies that take it out of you. A great yearning for a clear sky and some sunlight builds inside during the long months of winter. So much so, that as I have shared more than once-or even twice-on this blog, the return of the spring is nothing short of miraculous and everyone turns out to worship the sun and claim victory over another winter.

So, there you have it. And at the end of all of this, I am wondering if it's possible to beat the amount of shameless-self-promotion and linking to ones' own writing I achieved here today?

Let the games begin.

Friday Fifteen


  1. Wow. I do have to say I'm surprised how many similarities there are between living in Holland and China. At least in the customer service sucking, bland food and inconvenient banking realm.

    But I am only surprised because Americans usually know two things about The Netherlands. 1) You can get legal drugs. Ok, one thing. I was going to say Van Gogh, but I think that's a stretch for the average American.

  2. Oh Jen :) I am laughing here :) I'm Belgian and I live in Antwerp, my husband is Dutch and has lived in Breda up until june last year.

    I don't think the banking is inconvenient though, just not credit-card but debit-card minded.

    I'm going to bookmark your blog and look forward to read more about you.

  3. haha as a Belgian (also having lived in the Netherlands) I recognise things that are valid for both our countries. I must admit that point 4 and 6 are my points of frustration in Belgium too. I can be so stressed when I have not finished packing up and they start treating the next customer! You really have to keep uw while your stuff is being scanned or you get behind. On the other hand I like packing up my own stuff and bringing my own re-use bags in order to save plastic bags.
    And in Belgium we don't queue either but that doesn't bother me either.

    And the Belgians share with you complaint 2 and 3 about the Dutch :p. And they talk soooo loud, gosh try to be in an open office space with them when they are on the phone! Challenging! :)

  4. Wow jenn, you can get drugs here? I never heard that before... :)
    Yeah, I would have to agree that is the ONE THING americans definitively know about The Netherlands. You'll notice though that fact wasn't on my "like list" either. Frankly, it just doesn't cross my radar.
    We have an aunt who believes we are in Denmark. I don't think it's ever occured to her that Denmark and The Netherlands are not only not the same country, they are not really even in the same neighborhood!

    Thanks for stopping by! I love Antwerp. We have visited that city many times. I really appreciate your comment.
    I have to agree with you that the pin card system is quite handy, but coming from the states where we are accustomed to higher credit limits on a credit card,(which we use only rarely and to do things like rent a car) and quicker turnaround on a payment, it has made our eyes roll to the top of our heads more than once as we adapt to the way they do things here!

  5. goofball!-
    Nice to hear from you.Thanks so much.
    I carry my own bags now too, my sister made them for us and they are not only strong, but super cute and I feel that I am the envy of all who see me when I shop! I also have a couple 'folded bags' I can stash in my purse and pull out to use when I make an unexpected stop at the grocery store.
    I hesitated a little to add points 2 and 3 at risk of offending anyone, so I appreciate your support! (and your sympathy?)

    Fri Apr 27, 02:06:00 PM 2007

  6. Sorry for laughing, but those wacky Dutch! Mind you, it's been years since I visited Holland, and my parents have been gone for decades, but the way you described Dutch people and their propensity for scolding people had me chuckling (and not cringing, as one might suspect).

    The gray skies would, of course, give you fits. After living in Arizona (where it averages 300 days a year of sunshine) any other place would, but most especially Northern Europe. I wish I could bottle up some sunshine for you and send it your way for when you need it.

  7. Songbird-
    No need to be sorry! Laughter was what I intended in poking my fun at the tendency. Besides, I have to laugh about the scoldings, or I might ALWAYS be in tears.
    Thanks for the offer for bottled sunshine. You have no idea just how very perfect and welcome it would be!

  8. Drugs in Holland?! I'm shocked! Shocked I say.


    Hey - thanks AGAIN for the thinking blogger award - I finally did my post today with the 5 I passed it on too... you'll have to come see when you get a chance..

    Take care and happy FRIDAY!!

  9. All of those points can apply to Germany too. I lived in Berlin for over a year and experienced similar. But I love them nevertheless. :p

  10. may like a little post from my Berlin blog that I wrote last year regarding queuing in Germany. (Your #7)
    Scroll down half way until you come to a post titled 'Queuing in Berlin', dated 9th April. :p

  11. The saga of being an expat cuts across countries, I'm finding that out with eastern chilly winds and grey winter skies in the United States, and with transport system off the roads on Sundays :)

  12. What a great/depressing list. But I still want to visit. Just maybe not in February...

  13. I found you through beaman's site and boy did you make me smile. I could set a few things straight for you if you don't mind?
    5. Buy shopping bags of nylon or any other material. They alst a lifetime and are big enough to hold all your purchases. Bike bags work great too
    6 Find a slow cashier, that is what we Dutch do (the longets line mostly.)
    9 Internet banking, no problems with transfers, within minutes your balance is back to whatever you wan it to be.
    10 Only in certain parts of the country. I originally come from the south where you can drop in with friends,family, neighbours anytime you like.
    12 I would rather pay for ketchup then see people take them for free and not using them.Waste not etc..

    I do recognize us from your post and yes...we are way to much in your face...:o)

  14. Shelby-
    Thanks for the comment. You made me laugh hard!

    thanks to you too and thanks for the link. Loved the piece. You of course said it all so much more eloquently than I can!

    Yes! I totally understand. I can imagine adapting to life in the U.S. would have it's difficulties for sure. It's all about the comforts of our own home isn't it? That's what makes learning to love the new one a little tricky sometimes.

    You are a wise woman. Come over, yes! But come in the Spring. No way you'll regret that.

    I appreciate you stopping by. It's wonderful that you came. I thank you for your comments and do hope that I didn't offend. Remember not everything on that list is necessarily on my own. Like the thing you mentioned about dropping in on folks. That's never been an issue for us, but it is one that other expats whine about.
    Also, the internet banking thing IS what we did and is EXACTLY the problem we had when the bank told us that the balances couldn't/wouldn't change until after a review which would take NINE DAYS. It seems from the comments on this one in particular that others have not had such experiences with the banks. Lucky you is all I have to say. :)
    And lastly thanks for the tip on finding the slow cashier! That's a great one!


  15. Hey, landed on your blog, nice stuff. I found a cool new tool for our blogs... It helps get latest news for our keywords directly on to our blog. I added it on mine. Worked like a charm.

  16. I hear you on the limited hours of operation. I learned quickly to get that last shopping trip to the grocery store in by 6 pm Saturday evening or be out of luck until Monday afternoon! Especially for cigarettes (yeah bad habit). I remember a couple of long bike rides across town in the rain to the gas station market at the edge of town to get a pack on a sunday. Not fun.

    On the contrary though, I loved the bagging your own groceries. I wish grocery stores here would be more proactive to encourage people to bring their own bags. I always had my backpack with me on my bike for shopping trips. Down side - I hated hauling bottles back to the store to get the deposit back.