This post is not written to make fun of Dutch people (I love them!) but to spotlight some idiosyncrasies of the Dutch culture that I find amusing and interesting. Of course commentaries like this are juxtaposed with my own background as a Filipino. What I find interesting might not be interesting to another person from a different cultural background.
So here are some stuff Dutch people like that I observed from my Dutch friends and traveling a number of times in Netherlands.
The Quest for Gezellig
Ask any Dutch person for an untranslatable word in Dutch and for sure they will all come up with one word: gezellig (pronounced heh-SELL-ick). There is no exact English translation for this word but it connotes a quaint, fun or cozy atmosphere. It also connotes belonging, time spent with loved ones or a general sense of togetherness.
It is a word that encompasses the core of Dutch psyche and culture.
Since it’s difficult to translate, the photo below is a perfect example of gezellig: picnic in Vondelpark with the gang, grilling barbeque, laughter (seen later), bikes, Heineken bottles (hidden) and a nice, warm sunny day. A bum devouring a Mcdonald’s quarterpounder on his way to work is clearly not gezellig.
The quest for coziness is the overriding vibe in Netherlands. And I like it. The Dutch seem to create cozy, delightful moments every chance they can. They chat with their friends in outdoor cafes. They take their families to a picnic in the park on a nice, sunny day. They enjoy a boat ride though the canals as the sun sets.
These are not rare moments. This is how they live.
Even in my short stay in Netherlands I found myself in various gezellig moments. For instance, my friend taking me to a funky, bohemian restaurant overlooking the sea, eating good food and drinking a perfectly-chilled bottle of Heineken. And another friend taking me on a road trip across northern Netherlands, pigging out on herring and enjoying a simple home-cooked dinner by the garden while watching a helium balloon soar higher.
But you know this already. Right? Anyway. There are twice more bikes than humans in Netherlands. Fact.
On my second morning in Sneek, Netherlands I woke up to a breakfast table with a box of chocolate sprinkles. Confused and a bit embarrassed because I didn’t know what to do with it, I asked my friend Arnoud why this was on the table.
Is he going to serve me ice cream and sprinkle it with these? For breakfast? I thought.
He didn’t say a word and took a slice of bread and showed me how instead. He smothered butter on the bread and then sprinkled copious amount of the stuff on my bread. “Here, try it” he said, smiling. I giggled to myself while I took a bite. It was sweet and nice but not something I would eat for breakfast.
That was my first hagelslag moment (yes, there were others).
Hagelslag is the Dutch version of sprinkles. Apparently it comes in different varieties. There’s the classic chocolate-flavored hagelslag, fruit-flavored hagelslag and the weird licorice-flavored hagelslag (Dutch people love licorice). Imagine grown-ups having licorice-flavored sprinkles on their toast for lunch. You read that right.
Even before traveling in Netherlands, one of my good friends joked that Dutch people smell like milk. Why? Because they drink milk like soft drinks. From cartons. Even inside trains. They are crazy over milk and other dairy products. This is probably why they are so tall. The average height of an adult in Netherlands is 6 feet and 1 inch. Want to blend in? Buy a carton of milk and carry it around with you as your choice of refreshment while going around the ‘dam.
What’s for breakfast? Milk, Gouda cheese and Dutch sausages ohyes.
Not a big fan of curtains
The first thing I noticed when I was in Netherlands was that most people have big glass windows with no curtains or if they own one, it’s just used as a decor and its split to the sides, almost nonexistent. You can practically see everything inside the house.
Are Dutch people voyeuristic?
Well I am, so on nights that me and my friend have dinner at home, I can see across the street that Marten and his family are watching Dancing with the Stars. And just below them Jochem in his orange shorts and his two kids are having chicken curry for dinner. Yes it’s that detailed! So next time you take a stroll in Amsterdam, don’t be shocked by the resolute lack of curtains (and privacy) of Dutch apartments.
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Have you been to the Netherlands? Did you notice any weird things about Dutch culture or customs? Did you see how crazy Dutch men are with hair gel? Why do they say congratulations on your birthday?!? Join the conversation in the comments section.