Living in The Netherlands: The First Days


It began on a vision board in January 2023. It was my first time to draw one. On it, I indicated The Netherlands as a destination. The truth was, it was not even on the list of countries we would like to live in for a long time. 

Here, I wrote about my observations, the things I need to adjust to, and some tips.

The Dutch way

I've read a lot about the Dutch being straightforward to the point that they come out rude, especially with people who are used to sugarcoating words. However, I have not encountered rudeness or bluntness so far. It is the opposite. They are kind. Their common marks are "hallos" ("hello"), cheerfulness, and chattiness, in a good way. 

Our neighbor stopped by to speak with us for minutes during our first meeting. Those we meet on the street smile, and say "hi", too. 

Those in customer-facing jobs are accommodating to patrons. In grocery stores, they look after your convenience. In food outlets, they answer all your questions regardless if there are customers behind you. 

The best part is English is commonly used. 

The sun, the wind, and the rain

This is tricky. One moment it is hot and sunny, but the breeze is still cold. Then it would suddenly rain. 

It rained intermittently for a week when we first came here. It was always cloudy and gloomy. A few times, we heard the wind howling. Haha! 

If we dress for the sunny weather, according to the forecast, we usually end up changing or adding another layer. Cold is cold! My Asian skin is still adjusting. 

The worse part that the cold weather did was increase my blood pressure. For the first time ever, my readings spiked between 140+/90+, peaking at 150/101! I was puzzled. My diet and sleep were OK, and I had no symptoms. 

Then we learned that cold temperatures could increase blood pressure because our veins become constricted and stiff, so the heart would pump blood harder. I did relaxation and breathing techniques, regular monitoring, a friendly workout, and a daily dose of ginger and garlic. This lasted for one week. 

Amazingly, I can withstand the cold now. Well, maybe there's still a range. 

By the way, it's Spring and going Summer. The sun comes up at 5:30 AM and goes down at 9-ish PM. I have become an early riser because of this. I used to wake up at 7 AM because, in Malaysia, that is when you see the sun peeping through your curtains. Good thing that it is already dark at 10:30 PM, our sleeping time.

The yummies

Before I write about the costs, let me point out that some stores and restaurants sell Asian dishes. These are Vietnamese, Malaysian/Indonesian, and Chinese fares. I saw lumpia (called "loempia" here), meehun goreng (friend vermicelli noodles), nasi goreng (fried rice), gyoza, sushi, maki, and dumpling, among others. As Asians, we are happy to see some dishes back home represented here. I still have yet to find Filipino food, though.

Generally, the cost of grocery items is the same in Malaysia's Jaya Grocer, Ben's Independent Grocer, or Village Grocer. Those in the country know what this means. So for Europe, food prices in The Netherlands are not that bad compared with Denmark, Norway, or Switzerland. Our European friends say prices are lower in France and Germany. We agree that it is much more affordable in Germany based on our experience staying briefly there last year. 

We scouted grocery shops in the locale, and we know where to go now for good buys. We ranked them according to the cost and the availability/variety of items: Lidl, Jumbo, Hoogvliet, Plus, and Arnhem Market. 

The best way to save is to cook at home. We still go out once a week, usually Sundays after church, to try something new. We love Dutch potatoes and their street french fries, also called "chips." But for the ice cream, we already tried two stores. No match for the ones we had in Malaysia.

Let's ride

Aside from tulips and wooden clogs, the Dutch are known for their bikes. Here, bikes are like the kings of the road. Almost everybody owns one.

EVs (electric vehicles) and hybrid cars are common, too. Charging stations are on every corner. 
The Dutch are energy- and environment-conscious people. The government provides residents and citizens with sustainability options for their daily living. As I mentioned, bicycles are one. Many also opt to participate in the garbage segregation program. 

Windmills are their famous energy source. But I see a lot of neighborhoods, including ours, have solar panels.

Trains and buses are accessible but not cheap. Going from one city to another may cost EUR7 one-way. For example, an hour's trip costs EUR21 to EUR25 from the East Netherlands going to Amsterdam or The Hague. Trips within the city only cost cents. 

Most places in The Netherlands may not be as squeaky clean as Singapore or Malaysia. But if I were to compare it with New York (especially the subway), I would choose The Netherlands 100 times over! It's cleaner, more orderly, and safer.

Lingua franca

Although locals say that Dutch is a dying language and everyone speaks English, government documents and corporate communication are still in Dutch. We have no choice but to learn the language. Currently, we are studying using our Duolingo accounts. But my husband has a privilege at work where he can learn Dutch at his company's cost. So cool, right? 

We already know a few Dutch words and expressions. Our favorite, which is also an inside joke, is the sentence: "Ik ben een vrouw." ("I am a woman" in English). Side story: I uttered this when my husband was teasing me, almost close to bullying me, over something. Haha!  

Cafe or coffee shops?

Ah, these two... One should know the difference. Marijuana is legal in the country. When you go to a coffee shop, they serve it as-is or mixed in, say brownies.

So if you're not looking for weeds, and don't want to be a passive smoker, go to a cafe instead, where real coffee and a wholesome crowd await. 

All in all, real experience happens when you live in the country. The video will only show the first few days of living in The Netherlands, and I know there will be more filming days to come.

I always attribute to God the privilege of travel and the wisdom of being out of our comfort zone. He blessed us in Malaysia with a simple but comfortable life. Now in Europe, we see and experience many things for the first time. Although we were in Poland, Germany, and Denmark, the sights and sounds in The Netherlands are new and part of a bigger picture.

What I drew on a vision board in January is now a reality.

My desire for you, my reader, is that may all that you visualize and pray for come true, as well, God willing.