Lately, people have been asking me how my recent-ish move to the Netherlands has been treating me. The question comes from both friends and strangers alike, and it makes sense! I’m from New York, the concrete jungle. I’m also very American in many ways. I like everything to be biiiiggg. Small European toilets? I can’t even fit in there are you kidding me?! And when I go to restaurants, I actually want the waitstaff to be nice to me. While although Dutch people are very nice in general, those working at restaurants or cafes always seem to be in a bad mood. I could ask them in the most overtly polite way if I could please, please, pretty please get a cup of coffee, and I’m lucky if I get any positive acknowledgment. Most often they just look annoyed at being forced to do more work. Well, safe to say that this neeevvverrr happens in the US. And yes, that’s partly because of the tipping system, but also partly because it’s just good ol’ American hospitality at work.
So, people just want to know what it’s like for someone with my background to leave life as I’ve known it behind and decide to settle down somewhere completely different. I get it— it’s strange as hell! I know I have a Dutch girlfriend, but still, making this decision wasn’t any less scary and I wanted to make that choice on my own terms. And I did. So today I wanted to share the things that drew me, an American, to the Netherlands in the first place. Before I made this quite-frankly sudden transition, I had visited this lovely little country several times before, and here are the things top 3 things I noticed that made me want to move. And full disclosure, I’m loving every minute my time here!
#1 Rich history, culture, and pretty old buildings
The first time I visited the Netherlands, it was on a week-long trip to Amsterdam to see my girlfriend. We had just started dating — we weren’t even “official” when I made the trip — we actually had the (very awkward) talk while sitting by a pond in Vondelpark. Everything about that trip was amazing, and I know, it’s new love, of course I loved everything about Amsterdam. But that was the summer when I had also visited several other places in Europe, including Iceland, Berlin, and the Venice area in Italy. I had also travelled quite a bit at that point already, and I had lived on two continents. I knew what I liked, and to me, I was in awe of culture and architecture I saw all around me.
For an American especially, the fact that Europeans are simply surrounded by buildings that are hundreds of years old all the time comes as bit of a shock. If you haven’t been to Amsterdam, this is what it looks like.
So what made Amsterdam different from any other city? There I was, on a love trip, both falling in love with my current girlfriend of almost four years and this city at the same time. When I looked at Amsterdam, what I saw was that it seemed that the young Dutch people were all by and large hipsters. Not in the original hipster sense where you’re thinking of young 20-year-olds with Macs sitting at a Starbucks with their Matcha Latte. No, here, they were a bit more like a mix between a hipster and hippie, a “hipstee” if you will. Just like me! Which should come as no surprise because I’m a millennial in her 20s who likes to travel. I was struck by the number of art cinemas in the city, matched with an equal number of socially conscious businesses. On one of our dates, my girlfriend and I got takeout from a place that only served meals made from rescued food. I loved it. I loved it all.
Now of course, that was four years ago. And if you’re even a little bit familiar with Amsterdam, you’ll know that it is expensive as fuck. But I’m here to tell you that moving to a place with character in the Netherlands is not just wishful thinking. Amsterdam may be the most popular place to live or visit in the Netherlands at the moment, but it isn’t the only great place to live. This is my current city of Utrecht in a nutshell.
Yes, the streets are really that cute and the buildings are absolutely charming!
Did you think Amsterdam was the only city in the Netherlands with canals? You thought wrong! The entire country is at sea level for fuck’s sake.
As you can see, the aesthetics were a huge part of my decision to move. I guess I might be a bit superficial, but hey, that’s what makes us human. We’re programmed to enjoy the beauty and finer things in life.
#2 Quality of life
Okay, so I’ve told you that things are pretty here. I’ve also said that I enjoyed the “hipstee” vibe I got among the younger folk. But I couldn’t have based my decision just on that? Right? Riiiight? Well, no. Although I wouldn’t put it past me.
The second thing I always tell people is that the standard of living and quality of life is just higher than back in the US. And this is true for most of Western Europe (if not all of it?). Let’s start with the big things that you’re probably already familiar with, a great healthcare system and social security. The culture isn’t every person for themselves here. The Dutch both fiscally and culturally contribute to the greater good of their community. I absolutely hate wealth inequality, and although this still exists here, it’s much less prevalent. This is something I really stand by.
And then on a smaller scale, paying the higher taxes results in things like the streets being impeccably clean and no fucking potholes when you bike. Where I lived in the US, there were so many truly obstructive potholes that I could actually map them out for you on the streets because they were truly such a nuisance. When was the last time I noticed a pothole here? Uh, like, NEVER!
#3 The Dutch value simplicity
Here we are at number three, and what the fuck do I mean by “the Dutch value simplicity?” Well, when I say this what I mean is that even though the standard of living is higher here, and the Dutch are, yes, surrounded by fancy big buildings all the time, they still value the simple things in life. Their supermarkets are very simple, but filled with good quality produce. In the US, I had to choose from low quality and overtly processed or reasonable quality, but hey, that orange will be four dollars please. I didn’t even realize I was struggling until I saw the supermarkets here. The baked goods are homely and comforting, and there is lots of fresh bread and cheese. The good simple things in life. This is one small aspect of it.
The actual difference between the Dutch and Americans though, is how much less materialistic the Dutch are. This is really what I mean by simplicity. The houses aren’t big here, and people don’t even think that’s necessarily a good thing. The Dutch also aren’t showy. Unlike when I lived in New York or DC, I don’t see many people with big fancy cars. If you’re fancy, you have an electric car. See, this is the difference I’m talking about.
And most of all, the Dutch don’t think it’s admirable to work non-stop. They love their hobbies and are firm believers in work-life balance. Family is important. Holidays are important. Working more than 50 hours a week at any job is generally unimaginable. Whereas in the US I have friends working two jobs just so that they can afford their very normal lives. So here, I can happily take my 24 holiday days to enjoy things like hiking in South America.