You’re officially known as the Netherlands mainly by the Dutch, but often referred to simply as Holland by the rest of the world, or the Low Countries for those who are more intimately acquainted with you. But to me, you are “Dutchland”, the world in which I choose to see you and turn my face towards the sun (if we’re lucky and it’s around).
Visiting Amsterdam to enjoy your country’s liberal attitude towards certain illicit behaviours is what you’re (in)famous for. But actually moving here and setting up roots, especially in one of your villages, is not a “thing” like moving to Paris, or somewhere under the Tuscan sun.
Celebrating King’s Day, Liberation Day and Memorial Day has put me in a reflective mood. There are several facets of life here that has enriched mine and my family’s life. Let me count the ways.
Being fashionably thrifty
It’s quite refreshing to live in a culture that embraces the virtue of living within one’s means. The Dutch understand that #thestruggleisreal and don’t try to put up to pretenses. Perhaps the best known example is the urban legend about Prime Minister Willem Drees and an American diplomat after World War II. When the American diplomat came to visit the Prime Minister’s home to discuss what America could do to support the Dutch economy, apparently Mrs. Drees served him a cup of tea with just ONE cookie. The American was so shocked at the meager hospitality that he considered it a clear indication that the Dutch needed a lot of assistance to climb out of poverty. Little did the American know that the “one cookie experience” and the modest home was simply Dutch thriftiness.
The biking life
The bicycle isn’t some trendy hipster accessory. It’s an actual means of transportation for the Dutch. And I’m a certified bakfiets (cargo bike) mommy which is akin to the suburban American mom with a minivan. Though at times it can be a pain biking through hail, snow, wind, and rain – sometimes all in one day – I’m grateful for the regular dose of exercise and not to be living a big portion of my life stuck in traffic and fighting for parking spaces. I also look forward to the days when my kids can cycle independently to and from school, their various sports practices and whatever it is on their social agenda.
Yes to sandwiches for breakfast and lunch and pancakes for dinner
A Singaporean expat friend once asked me, “What’s the difference between a Dutch breakfast and a Dutch lunch?” I was stumped.
She answered, “The three hours in between the two meals.”
Once you get past the monotony of having sandwiches for breakfast and lunch, you realize how pragmatic and genius it is. No need to think or spend precious time preparing elaborate meals. Adulting with a four-year-old and a baby has been so much easier thanks to the no fuss approach to meals. Just set the table with breads, slices of cheese, butter and hagelslag and they’re happily eating. On days when we just had enough of all the crying and tantrums, we can just serve pancakes for dinner. And since the Dutch are the tallest people in the world, this way of eating can’t be detrimental to the physical development of children.
Refreshingly direct and honest communication
The Dutch are often mistaken for being rude and too opinionated, especially by expats. But after living here almost ten years, I’ve learned to bite the bullet and appreciate it. After all the tears and insecurities, I’ve developed a thick skin. I always know where I stand. And I’m convinced it’s one of the reasons why I’m so much happier – no second guessing, no passive aggressive communication, no uncertainty. If anything happens to be lost in translation, we can all just have a meeting to talk it out. And as they say, all the problems in the world can be solved with a pot of tea and a heart to heart.
Not giving a f*ck
One of the most liberating aspects of living in this country is that the Dutch don’t seem to give a f*ck. They live life according to their values and don’t try to live up to societal standards or bow to the pressure to be perfect and successful. It extends to parenting where they try their absolute best, but at the end of the day, being good enough more than suffices. And their parenting approach leads to their kids being the happiest in the world.
P.S. If you love procrastinating and want to join an awesome Facebook community, come join our page. I promise I won’t be too annoying.