Several people have asked me what it was like in Holland. How it was different to Australia. So I thought I would do up a blog post highlighting the main differences I found.
Basically, it’s flat. Very flat. The only time I rose up was when we drove over a bridge occasionally. It’s a little strange at first but you get used to it. There are some hills to the very south-east of Holland around Maastricht, but that’s it. The Dutch call themselves “Nederland”. “Neder” in English is “Low”. Makes perfect sense. Australia should be called “HotandHugeLand” by comparison.
It does vary a lot between summer and winter and I (unfortunately) was only there for their winter. Most of the time it’s overcast, and the sun is not up for very long during the day. Sunrise was around 8 am each morning and sunset was around 4:45 pm. During midday, it never got any higher in the sky that what Aussies usually think is about 3:30 pm. In summer it is the opposite and you get large amounts of sun. But alas, I will have to find that out for myself sometime in the future.
While I was there I also experienced one of the coldest winters in Europe for about 20 years. Which was great for me as I did want to check out snow as I saw so little in New Zealand the previous year. It snowed a few times and there were frozen lakes. These were all good experiences for a Queenslander! The temperature was generally around 0 degrees outside most of the time. I found out I had to watch my ears in the cold. They tend to stick out a bit due to my hearing aids and if it was 0 or less, my ears would go numb or start stinging if I didn’t have a big beanie on.
Since we are in Europe which is so heavily populated, there are always at least 2 contrails from aircraft up high in the sky. At any time of any day (provided there was no cloud cover) you could look up and see several planes.
The Dutch people are pretty much the same as the general western people. I didn’t have any issues with anyone. There is a stereotype that the Dutch are sometimes arrogant or rude/blunt. I didn’t find that to be the case at all. I can’t say the same thing for French-occupied Belgium thou.
I reckon about half of all Dutch programming is English shows with Dutch subtitles. This is only a rough guess as I did not watch a lot of TV. This is one of the reasons why almost everyone speaks English. They have the same sort of shows as we do, but curiously they also have shows from the 80’s such as the original Knight Rider and the A team. These were indeed a blast to watch! They are so crap they are funny!
They also had Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares at 7:30 pm on weekly totally unbleeped which was great! My ears were getting sore from the constant high pitched bleeping on the censored version. It’s also refreshing to be somewhere where censorship is not so noticeable. They can tolerate people saying “fuck” and “shit” occasionally without causing a big uproar as you get here in Australia from small-minded but highly vocal minority groups.
Just about everyone speaks English very well in Holland. As mentioned above, about half of the TV shows are American or British. A lot of the advertising in billboards and in shops as you walk around is in English too. It’s the same in music shops. Sure they have Dutch singers but most of it is the popular US/UK artists. So basically, a Dutch person would need to understand English to some degree in order to understand all the labels and ads around then.
I did make a bit of an effort to learn Dutch. It was mainly different types of food! :) (Bosche bollen! Oh they are so yummy!) I was going to enrol in a Dutch-speaking course once I got a job there, but that ended up not happening. :(
Most cars in Holland are small. This is vital since there is hardly any space on the roads! It’s always very narrow in the towns. If I was there with my Holden Commodore I would have sheered off the side mirrors before the end of the first day! A lot of the traffic signs are printed down on the roads rather than on signs on the side of the road. This was a little confusing for a simpleton like me. When you throw in the fact they all drive on the other side of the road (compared to Australia) I was glad I didn’t have to drive anywhere.
The first time I was driven around a roundabout I felt so uncomfortable as it felt like I was going the other way!! There is also not a lot of car parks in towns/cities either. This leads to most people using bikes to move around.
Pretty much everyone in Holland has a bike. They are an awesome way of getting around. Since the land is so flat and there are hardly any car parks it’s just the ultimate solution! No impact on the environment and everyone gets a little exercise as well. You can also cram hundreds of them in a small space. The road network also caters for bike riders very well. A lot of intersections are areas reserved for bikes and there are a lot of bikes lanes next to the roads or on the footpath next to them. I was very impressed. You also don’t need a helmet. It was great to have the wind in your hair (what little hair I have left anyway) as you cycled down the street. Except for when it was very cold. Then it got painful!
Fast food is not as noticeable in Holland as it is in Australia. Sure they still have McDonald’s, KFC, Subway etc but no-where near as many as we do here. To make up for this shortfall the Dutch have gone all out on pastries, meats and cheese. They have incredible foods in these areas! From the absolutely yummy Bosche bollen that you can only get from Den Bosch to the many varieties of cheese to the many different cuts of meat and sausages you can get. With all this yummy food, you don’t find yourself craving a Big Mac. :)
There are occasional cheese specialty shop in Australia. In Holland, this is the norm. Even their standard supermarkets have a massive cheese section filled with rolls and rolls of cheese. Ice tea is also a major drink. Soft drink is not. Most supermarkets have coke, a sprite, but only one or two other flavours and no-where near as much as the varieties of ice tea. Which is great as I do like ice tea that does not taste like crap!