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Top 10 Secrets You’ll Learn After Your Move to the Netherlands?

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Top 10 Secrets You’ll Learn After Your Move to the Netherlands

The Netherlands has a reputation for being one of the most modern and international countries, and is a very popular destination for expats. As a rule, the Dutch are very welcoming and we’re sure that you’re you’ll settle into life in the low countries very quickly.

However, there are few secrets you should know to enhance your expat experience — here are the top ten:

1. It’s Hard to Speak Dutch in the Netherlands

Only Luxembourgers speak more languages than the Dutch, and in reality, the Dutch speak a very high standard of English. The result? Any attempt at broken Dutch will most probably be met with a reply in English. They’re not being rude, they’re just understanding that their English skills are far superior to your Dutch. Of course, you should continue to learn and practice — and luckily InterNations has a language exchange in most Dutch cities, where you can practice your skills with either a native or a more experienced expat. Verbazingwekkend!

2. Disease Curses

Every nationality has those few insults which are reserved for the angriest of situations. Of course, English is pretty universal when it comes to cursing, but the Dutch have nailed the dark art. If you find yourself travelling in the wrong direction on the cycle lane, an annoyed lady might wish a disease from centuries ago upon you. For example, optiefen means “please go and get Typhus”, or you might be told to “go and get smallpox and die”. The rules are simple: Dutch word for disease + Op = swear word. The more serious the illness, the more offensive the curse.

3. Pucker Up!

We all know that the some European nations love a good peck on the cheek to say hello, but surprisingly the Dutch take gold over even the Italians or the French when it comes to smoochy greetings. Three kisses is normal when Dutch women greet other women, as well as between men and women. However, there are a few conditions. Firstly, this is only reserved for close friends or relatives (Granny: yes, new boss: no). Secondly, your lips shouldn’t actually touch the recipient’s cheeks. Just do a sort of air kiss and make the appropriate sound. Follow these rules and you’re good, but if you’re not sure just go for the firm handshake. This works every time!

4. Bicycle! Bicycle!

If you’ve even spent half an hour in the Netherlands, you will have quickly learned that the Dutch love to travel on two wheels. In fact, it is not uncommon to see a mother transporting two children and several bags of shopping home on a rusty, one-geared bike. There are more bikes than residents in the Netherlands, and the huge network of separated cycle paths mean that travelling on two wheels here is safer than anywhere else. Join the revolution and leave the auto at home — go to work Dutch style instead.

5. Just Don’t Wear a Helmet

While it is certainly very Dutch to cycle around town, it is most certainly un-Dutch to wear a helmet. The Dutch argue that there’s simply no need for them.  Of course, we whole-heartedly recommend that you wear a helmet when cycling, but the side-effect of this is that you’re going to be immediately recognized as a foreigner. However, this is a small price to pay for safety. 

6. To the Right, to the Right

When Dutch people go to church they learn the usual eleven commandments: Thou Shalt not steal, thou shalt not kill, etc., and thou shalt give way to anything from the right. This driving rule is taken very seriously, so much so that as a driver approaching a side road (on the right of course), you are expected to slow down and check because another unassuming motorist could come flying out. This rule only applies when there are no road markings of course, but it has caught many an expat by surprise before. If you are greeted with “Ik kwam van rechts!” (“I came from the right!”) then you know you’ve messed up.

7. Mayo Is Serious Business Here

Mayonnaise is of course loved all over the world, but it is reserved only for specific dishes, like chicken perhaps. Not in the Netherlands! They slap it on everything, so you better get used to it. Frittesaus (literally fries sauce in English) is a national treasure, like what tea is to Britain or the hamburger to the USA. It will be served on your fries as a default in a lot of places, so if you are allergic or (god forbid) you just don’t like it, you need to make this clear early on.

8. Congratulations!

This is a useful secret to know, as it can seem odd at first. On your first birthday in the Netherlands you will most likely be met with “congratulations!” from your friends and colleagues. This is strange, because the Netherlands ranks very highly for life expectancy and healthcare quality, so it seems odd that you need to be congratulated on surviving another year — but it’s one of many language nuances that in time you will get to grips with. On your birthday, you will need to bring plenty of cake into the office. This may seem the wrong way around for expats from certain countries (where you get cake on your birthday), but just go for something with Hagelslag (sprinkles) on, it’s up there with Mayo for the Dutch.

9. Saying Goodbye Is an Olympic Event

Let’s say that you’ve invited some of those friends and colleagues to a small party at your house. You’ve had a great time but now it’s time to say goodbye. Well buckle up because this is going to take a while. The Dutch don’t win too many Olympic medals, but they would triumph if saying Doei! (informal goodbye) replaced the marathon. Relatives will say it a few times inside, then the game moves to the open air. The host will stand outside and shout Doei as much as they can and at enough decibels to disturb the neighbors, and must outlast their guest. In freak weather or snow you might be excused though.

10. Join InterNations

Don’t be shocked, you knew the shameless plug was coming! Moving abroad is tricky for anyone, so seeing a few familiar faces who speak your language can be both comforting and useful. We have no doubt that you’ll fly through life in the Netherlands in no time, but why not join us and attend some of our fantastic events to smooth the process? Here you can meet expats from all over the world who will have that little bit more experience and might give you that crucial bit of advice. You can also explore more of your new hometown too, as we have plenty of groups which go about seeing the best sites in Amsterdam and The Hague, as well as other major cities. Make life easier for yourself, and join InterNations to get settled in the Netherlands.


Pascal Tremblay

"With InterNations as my network, I have been able to make many friends learn the ins and outs about living in The Hague."

Lastri Sasongko

"Making new friends and contacts in the Hague was much easier once I began to attent InterNations events."

Global Expat Guide