You may have heard the saying, “when in Rome, do as Romans do.” I’m a big believer in that. My family is multicultural, and I am an American from New York. But I also lived in India for many years and my family is Persian. My extended family is spread out all over the world, and we have one motto, to survive, you have to adapt.
When I speak English, I sound 100% American. Except when I talk to my family… if you hear me on the phone with them, you’re in for a treat. My Indian accent can be truly shocking. This part surprises Americans. What surprises Indians is that I don’t have an accent when I speak Hindi either. It’s all pretty confusing. Because I ADAPT!
Although over the years, I have really just molded into one solid American gal. And everything about me is really American. I wear plaid, like a good ol’ American lesbian. Everything bagels with cream cheese are my absolute favorite thing. When it’s fall, I want a pumpkin spice latte. And without trying, I’m often the loudest one in the room… but I’d like to think I’m not obnoxious at least (wishful thinking probably).
So even though I was taught to adapt, at some point, I liked being American. My identity is that of a New Yorker. I’d gone to high school in New York, I’d gone to college in NY, and I spent seven years after that living in the North East of the US. I AM SO AMERICAN YOU GUYS. And as you can imagine, I wasn’t sure about **how Dutch** I was going to be when I moved to the Netherlands. I had already decided I was going to try. I was going to learn the language and try to learn from the culture, but I expected to still be American in how I did the every day things.
Turns out I was wrong. Here are the things I now do differently thanks to my time here in the Netherlands!
#1 Store my bread in the freezer
If you’re American, you probably read that and did a double take. This doesn’t mean anything to you, does it? What do you mean, “in the freezer”? Is that a typo? Nope. The Dutch, like to put their “brood” (bread) in the freezer. That’s how they store it. You go to the supermarket, buy a loaf of bread, and then you come home, open your freezer, and you stick the whole loaf right in.
That’s right. The Dutch live in a country where they make delicious bread and they willingly put it in the freezer. The taste is never the same again. Now, you’ll notice the title of this post is “things I now do differently,” which means, yours truly has now also started putting whole loaves of bread in the freezer.
When Sara, my Dutch partner, first started doing it to our bread, I was extremely annoyed. I would insist on leaving the loaf out for at least a couple of days before freezing. She would protest. If you freeze two-day-old bread, when you unfreeze it, you’ll be eating defrosted two-day-old bread. She had a point.
The thing is, if you live alone, or it’s just you and your partner, chances are you won’t be eating the whole loaf of bread within a day or two of buying it. And the bread then just isn’t fresh anymore. For us, sometimes the same loaf of bread would last us a week, and then it reeeally wasn’t good anymore. Sure, freezing it changes the texture a bit, but the bread is then still fresh for a MUCH longer time.
#2 Buy baked goods at the supermarket
Back home, there would be days when I craved pie, or eclairs, or what have you. It would be the middle of the day, and I wanted to just sit down and have some pastry with my coffee. But many of the cafes that I loved for their lattes and cappuccinos just didn’t have what I was looking for. I could reliably find a good muffin somewhere, but what if you wanted more? What then? And sometimes, I wanted more.
I don’t have a huge sweet tooth like many people I know (my girlfriend, there is never any chocolate at home because she eats it all the same day we buy it. I mean, seriously, what the fuck?), but I do enjoy some pastries every now and then. So back in the States, I would often bake anything I craved myself. And then I moved to the Netherlands.
Forget the cafes that, of course, almost always can be counted on for a good Dutch apple pie, my eyes literally jumped out of their sockets when I saw the fresh bakery section at the supermarkets here. It’s not that we don’t have bakery sections in the supermarket; I simply don’t think the quality or choice selection is great. Here, I walk into the supermarket, and I have to stop myself from getting one of everything because “who EVER wants to go out and buy something to eat when you’re craving it?” And the prices. I actually don’t understand them. How is a whole apple pie sometimes two euros? How is that even possible?
#3 Be more direct/honest
The Dutch are so freaking direct! You’re telling me. I did a whole post about it because I was so shocked. And yet, I’ve found that there is a lot of value to not beating around the bush. But more importantly, being direct leads to people also being more honest.
Okay, so no, I’m not going around telling people I don’t like their haircut. BUT, if someone asks me for my opinion on something they bought (which they can easily return), I would be open about what I actually thought. THIS DOES NOT COME EASILY TO ME AS AN AMERICAN. Generally speaking, when an American asks another person what they thinking about something, most of the time they’re just looking for you to calm their worries about how the thing they bought is NOT ugly. And as a good American, you’re supposed to smile and say, “OMG that’s sooooo cute.” Whereas now, I truly believe that people would benefit from my honest opinion. If you don’t want my opinion, then don’t ask me for it!
#4 Plan ahead to see people
I am a spontaneous person. If you ask me for three adjectives to describe myself, spontaneous is one of them. ALWAYS. Before, I was wrongly convinced that being spontaneous meant not planning. It’s also not that common in the US to plan doing things like seeing friends weeks in advance. If I asked someone to hang out with me three weeks from the date back in New York, they would look at me like I was growing a second head.
The Dutch like to do things a little differently. If you ask a Dutch person to have drinks with you three months from today on a random Thursday, they wouldn’t even blink before checking their schedule to make sure they didn’t have something planned exactly on that random-ass day three months later. You shouldn’t be surprised if they’re actually busy on that day! Isn’t that fucking insane? But it’s how it’s done.
After MONTHS of making fun of the Dutch for doing this, I realized that I was seeing friends 2-3 times a week, whereas Dutch people have plans almost every evening. I do not want to be doing something social every evening, but I did want to do more with my free time. So I started messaging people to hang out about a week or two in advance, and it turns out, you really do get to see more people when you plan!
And I’m still spontaneous outside of my plans.
#5 Take more breaks
New Yorkers are always on the go! Coffee to go, bagels to go, lunch to go, you name it, it comes in a take-away container. Having spent my entire adult life in the North East of the US, this is my normal. Or, at least, it used to be.
I remember the exact moment when I realized that the Dutch really didn’t do things this way. I was having beer with my girlfriend and a friend around 5pm at one of the many bars with outdoor seating on a canal in Amsterdam. The friend had just gotten off of work, and she was telling us about her day. She had breakfast at home, lunch break with a friend in the city at a cafe, coffee at 3:30 with a colleague, and now she was hanging out with us. This was one of those moments where I absolutely KNEW I had to move to the Netherlands.
Now that I live in the Netherlands, I too take part in this lifestyle. I try to have coffee dates with people during the day, I try to take proper lunch breaks, and I almost never take things to go. Some American might want to take things to go in nice weather, but here, the Dutch like to sit outside and take a break when it’s that rare sunny day.
And I’m still spontaneous outside of my plans.
Basically you still plan to have free time. It is exactly that, when working you ‘know’ your weekly rhythm, that includes ‘spare time’. A calendar is just a fixed time in time AND space, did you ever wonder when those friends from the olden days dropped in unexpectedly where did that time come?