As exciting as it is to move to a new country and meet new people, starting a new life elsewhere can seem quite foreign and even intimidating at times. This is especially the case if you have never done so before, and even if you have, every country has its own unique culture and customs. This is why it’s important to give yourself time to process and embrace the change(s), whether it’s small adjustments or big shocks. That way, you adapt to your new environment and can cultivate a fun and exciting new life. Here are some of the five culture shocks I experienced whilst living in the Netherlands, to give you an idea of what you might expect if you are considering moving to this nice country!

1. Directness

If you are thinking of moving to the Netherlands, chances are you have heard a thing or two about the straight-forwardness of Dutch people. They have no problem expressing their honest opinion, even when it may be a negative one. This isn’t done with the intention to be rude, in fact it’s quite the opposite: Dutch people value honesty and appreciate transparent conversation. What’s more, they don’t just tell you how they truly feel, they expect you to do the same, so that if there are any issues or concerns, those can be addressed. There is simply no room for sugar-coating if you look at life through this lens. However, if you are not used to this and prefer to approach situations with delicate politeness instead, you may interpret things differently and even be shocked at first. Just remember not to take this personally!

2. Frugal approach to life

In the spirit of transparency, Dutch people play no games when it comes to their money. If you are the type of person that comes from a culture where it is common to pick up the bill for the whole table and treat everyone, this approach might come as a bit of a shock. Dutch people are very precise about money, and bill splitting for everything is extremely common and expected. Some people refer to this as cold or cheap, while others see it as organized and efficient. Remember, the goal of this approach is to be open, clear, and straight-forward in communication so that everyone is treated equally. Essentially, you might just have to prepare yourself for lots of Tikkies (send them out, people won’t be offended, trust me!) and economical outings with friends.

3. Dutch Cuisine

As someone who comes from a culture of hot meals for lunch and dinner, it definitely takes some time getting used to the bread and cheese Dutch lunch. In fact, I never really boxed food into “hot” and “cold” before moving to the Netherlands, but these are common terms around here. Traditionally (probably also for efficiency reasons), people have a quick “cold” sandwich for lunch, and instead save the cooking of a bigger, “hot” meal for dinner when the family can get together after school/work. While on the topic of food, it’s also typical to have a “borrel” with friends where you enjoy some small fried bites. I definitely recommend you try bitterballen next time you’re around! As a fun fact, a typical Dutch breakfast/treat is a buttered piece of toast with chocolate sprinkles on top. This combination might confuse most foreigners but it really is a staple of Dutch culture.

4. Closing Times

Living and working in the Netherlands has taught me a few things, one being; do not rely on late closing times. If you have been to the Netherlands, you might have noticed that closing times for most stores and restaurants are typically quite early in the evening. Although this may initially come off as an inconvenience, early closing times benefit employees, and provide a healthy work environment for the staff. As someone with experience working in the service industry, I can confirm that this arrangement does not go unnoticed, especially amongst the university students working part-time!

5. Healthcare

Last but not least, we must acknowledge the Dutch healthcare system. In the Netherlands, everything goes through your GP first. You should probably consider signing up for one upon your arrival — they go by the name of “huisarts”. It is also important to note that you cannot visit a specialized doctor if you deem it necessary. Only if the GP decides they cannot treat you themselves, will you be redirected to such a doctor. The rationale is that there is no need to be overly dramatic or waste medical resources unless necessary, but this can often be stressful and shocking if you come from a different school of thought. Just know that if you are used to getting regular blood tests, checks, and so on just for peace of mind, Dutch healthcare may not be a perfect match for you. Just be prepared for a different mindset and all will work out! 🙂

Kalina Valcheva
Kalina Valcheva, 19, is a BA Media and Culture second-year student at the University of Amsterdam, originally from Sofia, Bulgaria. She has attended international schooling and lived in over eight countries worldwide, making the Netherlands her ninth destination.