Sunday, November 11, 2007

As you wish...

At Amy's request I'll do a little Holland vs. US post. Before posting this though I must say that I don't buy into stereotypes much. Some of the things I will list will be "stereotyical" Dutch or American and obviously doesn't account for each and every person in the two cultures. For every one American who has a big mouth and makes an ass out of themselves when they're abroad (this is a stereotype of Americans if you didn't know) I know another American who is open minded and willing to live a culturally diverse life. For every Dutch person who is "straightforward" (which is a stereotype of Dutch people, they're a bit... well... they can be uncomfortably honest) I know one who is kind and considerate of your feelings. So keep that in mind when you're reading this.

Let's see... if I would have written this post when I first moved to Holland it would have went something like this:

1) I hate it here
2) the weather sucks
3) The language is impossible
4) I hate it here.
5) the US is the greatest
6)I miss my family
7) I miss American food
8) I hate it here
9) I hate it here

So yeah I had a bit of culture shock mixed with a bit of homesickness when I was fresh off the boat. Now I've been here for a little over 3 years and I definitely feel quite a bit different about the country. Some things will never change though such as;

1) I miss my family and friends... greatly. It never gets easier to miss birthdays, holidays, special occasions or just every day occurrences. It's hard to be away when there is illness, births, emergencies or if I just need a hug from my mom. Thank God for the internet and telephone but some things just are not the same. I get home for about 3 weeks at a time about once a year which isn't nearly enough. I could go for months at a time and it would never be enough. Unless you have ever lived away from your family I don't think you can really understand how much you can miss them. I have yet to find a group of people that I "click" with like my friends back home. I don't put much effort into finding new friends though so part of that is my fault.

2) FOOD: I miss American food... but I'm glad I don't have it a my disposal. It makes weight loss so much easier when fast food is not readily available. I am glad I don't have to fight American sized portions when we go out to eat. I am glad I'm in a culture that doesn't revolve around food. I'm glad there is no food channel on tv.

That said, "typical" dutch food is what the Dutch call "pure" or otherwise known as "bland". No spices or very very little spice is involved int he cooking process. A typical dutch dinner will consist of a vegetable cooked until mushy, boiled potatoes (no salt no butter and definitely no gravy) a some sort of meat, usually fried or boiled in a vat of grease. The grease is sometimes ladled over the potatoes but I pass, thanks. Dutch people tend to eat a lot of "stampot" or vegetables cooked to mush and then mashed together with potatoes. Some typical combinations of stampot are red cabbage and potatoes, cauliflower and potatoes, carrot and potatoes, envdive, onion and potato mixed. Keep in mind none of this has salt in it. Salt and pepper shakers are not on the table.

As I have said many times in my blog Dutch people eat heaps of bread for breakfast and lunch. It's nothing to see a mom pushing a stroller and her child chopping away on a mini loaf of bread as his or her meal or snack.

Holland is the land of cheese and many different kinds are readily available. They all seem to fall under 2 categories though. You have old cheese and then you have young cheese. You can have 15 varieties of "old" or "young" cheeses on the table but when asked what kind of cheese it is you'll get the same reply, it's old or young. It all had to do with the maturity of the cheese but a Dutch person knows which old cheese they like and which young one is their favorite. As a foreigner... you taste them all to figure out which tickles your taste buds. I've yet to meet a cheese I didn't like. It's all freshly cut off of the wheel and just delicious.

Heineken is not a German beer as many people think it is. It's actually Dutch and they are quite proud of it. Beer or wine is often drank with lunch (even if you're lunching will colleagues and have to go back to the office) and dinner. The Dutch have a much more laid back approach to drinkin with meals. Kids often begin drinking at the age of 14 and the legal drinking age is 16.

You almost always have coffee in the evening after supper. Nobody seems to suffer from lack of sleep from the caffeine rush. I've become accustomed to this and can now also drink coffee in the evenings without being wide awake in the evening.

The Dutch do have very good pancakes. They are the size of a pizza and very thin like a crepe. They are typically topped with things like bacon, ham, egg, mushroom or sometimes ice cream and apples. This is one thing you should try if you're every here.

Enough about food.

3) WEATHER: The weather does suck here. It rains a lot. People don't seem to mind or notice though. Kids still play outside in the rain and nobody ducks and runs for cover when it starts sprinkling. Strollers are fitted with plastic covers to keep the babies dry because life has to go on even in the rain. Men and women still ride their bikes to work in the rain.

Kids in the Netherlands have to be given vitamin D supplements because of the lack of sunshine. I lived in Illinois though so I don't miss tornado season in the slightest.

Hardly anybody has air conditioning so when it does get hot it sucks. Even in stores you can sweat like crazy. Thank goodness the hottest season only lasts a few weeks or so.

4) LANGUAGE: Listening to the Dutch language used to make my ears bleed. It really isn't a very pretty language to listen to at all. It's very throaty but if you have a cold you'll be fluent in no time. It's very difficult to learn and you need to really put effort into it to get it right. The reason being that very few Dutch people cannot speak English. In the bigger cities you don't even need to ask "do you speak English" in the stores because it's just known that they do. Many people will hear you stumbling though Dutch and automatically speak English back to you. At first I thought that was freaking awesome. YES! I can speak English... then I realized the impact it has on my learning Dutch.

It is extremely difficult to learn a language in a culture that is so used to dealing with English speaking people that they all easily switch back and forth. Oddly enough, my inlaws are some of the few Dutch people who do not speak English so I have had to learn the language in order to communicate with them. It was a blessing in disguise. Many times in stores when I speak Dutch, a Dutch person will answer me back in English but I continue in Dutch thinking they'll get it, I want to practice my Dutch but low and behold they continue in English. I don't give up though... I just keep speaking Dutch back to them and for the most part they'll just keep speaking English to me. It's bizarre.

I realize this is getting long but there is just so many differences. I'll quickly name some of my more favorite things about living here:

Pets are part of your family and treated very well. They're welcome in almost all public places, stores, the post office, buses and even including some restaurants. You will never see a dog tied to a chain sitting out in the rain. You don't have dogs being kept in cages outside never to be played with or walked properly(meaning every single day). You hardly ever see stray animals running the street. (I've never seen it) Living here has changed my whole attitude about the way animals and pets should be treated and respected.

Public transport is everywhere. In Illinois you just have to have a car. It's not necessary here.

Bikes are used as everyday transportation, not just leisure. It's nothing to see men in suits and ties peddling their way to work. You don't bat an eye when you see a woman in a skirt and heels pumping her way into the city on her bike with her friend side saddle on back. It's the fastest way to get around in the city. It's better for the environment and it's a great way to get in some exercise! There are bike "roads" all over the city though so this makes it safer to ride you bike in Holland. In the US you ride at your own risk for the most part and it's just not set up for this kind of cycling.

Multi-cultural events. In central Illinois you don't have a lot of diversity or cultural happenings. I love the diversity in Amsterdam. From Van Gogh to the theatre to the concert hall to street musicians... there is always something going on. You never have to be bored here.

College and University is affordable. You don't have to go into a life time of debt to get an education.

Social medicine has it's good an bad points. I love that I never have to worry about not having insurance. I have a ton of benefits if I am on maternity leave or already have kids (the government pays a monthly allowance for children and you don't pay for insurance for any child under 18). There are safety nets in place if you lose your job or become disabled (that don't make you live in poverty or squalor). There are no homeless here (if they sleep on the streets it is by choice not because there isn't someplace for them to go). You pay the highest taxes in all of Europe here (40% of your wages go to taxes roughly) but there are many social programs that benefit from these taxes. Of course if you never need any of these programs then you're paying taxes out your arse for nothing. Social medicine sucks when you have to be on a waiting list for medical procedures. It sucks when you have to accept "older" treatments when newer ones are available to keep costs down.

WOW this is so long! There is so much more I could say though but I'll leave it at this.

Ok so if you have anything specific you want to know just post a comment and I'm more than happy to explain or give my .02 on it.


Anonymous said...

It sounds like nothing much has changed in three years.

Amy said...

Thanks Sarah! I can imagine what a culture shock it would be living outside the US. I don't live around my family (we are all scattered across a few states), but being farther away would make that 'missing' that much harder.

I often think how Americans live in such the world of at every corner, delivery, cars to easily get you around. I wish I lived in town where it would be easy to bike around or walk down the block for a coffee (we're out in the country). It's no wonder the US is one of the leaders in the obesity rate.

We actually have many Dutch that live in our area. We are a big dairy area, mostly run by Dutch or Porteguese families. It seems the Dutch are very big into large, extended family.

Thanks for the insight!

Anonymous said...

I'm hoping you don't work for the Amsterdam Board of Tourism.

Lane said...

I can't tell you how much I love the sound of Dutch! :) Does that make me crazy? We came back to visit our old home there this weekend and I didn't want to leave!

Now tell me don't like stampot? We make it now all the time!

Teale said...

You lived in Illinois? Where? I live in IL:)