What Dutch Customs Might Seem Strange for Americans

22 May 2014

dutch customs Inspired by the Slate article “What French Customs Might Seem Strange for Americans” and my official anniversary of becoming an expat, I thought I would impart a few Dutch customs that I found initially strange but found to be endearingly wonderful:

Three kisses.
Contrary to their other European counterparts like the French, Italians, Portuguese, Spanish and Greeks, the Dutch customarily like to give three kisses. At first awkward,  the extra kiss feels like an extra reassurance that you’re loved or at least liked enough. The current trend involves three kisses for everyone that’s more than an acquaintance and is done regardless of genders – woman-to-woman, woman-to-man and man-to-man without absolutely any sexual connotations.

Biking everywhere.
A bike is simply considered an extension of one’s body and the most convenient way to travel in the Low Countries. Regardless of weather, the Dutch can be seen biking gracefully around the cities, in the suburbs and between the countrysides.

Having chocolate for breakfasts and pancakes for dinner.
The chocolate is disguised in the form of hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles) placed on bread with butter. And pancakes are the size of dinner plates. It’s not that the Dutch have chocolate for breakfast and pancakes every single day (though many might actually do). It’s simply that the Dutch CAN do this without as much as raising eyebrows or eliciting consternation that is so liberating.

Not working when the sun is out.
Due to living in a country that is historically often grey and somber, the Dutch take every opportunity they get to enjoy being out in the sun. If there is beautiful weather on a weekday, some call-in sick for a “mental health break”, or the majority of sun aficionados leave work early. Anyone who has ever been in the center of a city like Utrecht or Amsterdam will know that every Dutch person will be outside sunworshipping on the terraces, or out at the beautiful Dutch beaches.

Most stores closed on Sundays or have much later opening times. This also applies to Mondays too.
When I first arrived here (seven years ago), everything being closed on a Sunday was one of my major aggravations. Coming from a consumer-driven society, I couldn’t understand why a lot of stores weren’t open on a Sunday and how most stores, even major chains, were slow to open their doors on a Monday morning. While more and more stores are becoming open on Sunday (though opening times are usually around 12pm), I appreciate the more relaxed way of living of taking it nice and easy.

Being frugal
There is something quite refreshing about living within your own means and not having unreasonable (or non-existent) credit card debt. The Dutch, on average, may significantly have a lot less spending power than their American counterparts. But overall, they enjoy a higher standard of living for most of their citizens. Every single expense is meticulously calculated from the amount of grams of meat per person to inventing a bottle-scraper (flessenlikker) to get that last ounce out of a jar.

Congratulating someone on his/her birthday party
I still don’t really understand this custom, but if you ever attend a Dutch person’s birthday party, chances are that you will hear the birthday person being “congratulated” as well as the family members and significant others. Literally. I think it’s their way of acknowledging just how fleeting life can be and that each year a person makes it should really be something to be proud of. It’s an awesome reminder of our mortality and a sincere celebration of life.

Not Being an Armed Society
I’ve been tiptoeing around this subject for a while, but I have to finally come out and be honest. I love living in a country without having to worry about being a victim of gun violence. I’ll always be an American (God Bless ‘Merica!), but as a mom to a two year old boy, I take comfort in not having to worry about him losing his life to stray bullets, tragic accidents at a friend’s home, random acts of violence on the streets or school shootings. And somehow, living in a world without everyone and their grandmother being armed, leads to a much more peaceful and happier society.

Of course there are other Dutch customs that I may never get accustomed to – such as having to become a second-hand smoker – but that’s for another article.  Here’s to Finding Dutchland, where ever you may be.

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