So I have been promising this for a while. A post about Holland and why I decided to leave after 6 months. I intentionally left some time to reflect on the experience and also to allow my grey matter to distil the experiences lived and the lessons learned into a structured, interesting post. Gosh, you are truly getting your money’s worth here! 🙂
A couple of mandatory disclaimers before I kick off. First of all, everything written below is completely subjective, my opinion only and you have to account for the fact that I only lived in Holland for 6 months. Second, in no way I am saying I do not like Holland. I do. It just has not worked for me at this moment of time, but it does not mean it won’t later – I may be back, I made some good friends there and it’s a great place to live in. Third, before I left the UK, I said that this would be an experiment, and so it was. It was an expensive and stressful experiment, but it was also revealing, educational and amazing nevertheless. And you know my motto – action beats inaction. I’d rather try and do something and fail, than not try. So please do not think I lost anything. I think I learned a lot.
With that, if you are short on time and want me to say in one sentence what made me change my mind (the intention was to stay there of course), here it is. Culturally, Holland did not work for me. I have spent too much time in Anglo-Saxon cultures, and Romano-Germanic one, like Dutch, came as a shock to the system. I honestly did not expect there to be so many differences. They were small differences but together they were quite a big deal.
Not enough? I am making a massive generalisation here, but from my experience Holland is great for those who like simple living, nature, sports, who do not obsess about fashion, shopping, material stuff and who like being at home and doing family things.
I should probably say that when I say UK, I mean London, and London is not UK, it’s like a different country. In fact, London on its own has half the population of the whole of Holland. So I will start saying London vs Holland, to be more correct.
In one word, London is very modern, Holland is easy going. London is hierarchic, posh and full speed. Holland is less materialistic, more purpose driven, more hippie like. In London, it’s all about money, in Holland it’s all about freedom. In fact, before I left I told everybody I was after a relaxed lifestyle. You do get a relaxed lifestyle in Holland, but it’s just either too relaxed for me or relaxed in a different way. I do get the irony, trust me.
So what were the main likes and dislikes, what are the advantages and disadvantages of living in Holland? There is no specific order, although I may revise this post later.
It’s warmer in summer in Holland than in London – you get Mediterranean weather quite a bit, and you do get noticeably more sunny days. Summers are great in Holland. However winters are harsher, as is fall. It snows more. Winds are stronger. If it rains, it’s a proper downpour. So it’s more extreme than in London. Expect to invest into serious outdoor wear and shoes, especially if you don’t drive/ have a dog/ have a child. I actually realised I loved weather in London, you get less sunny days but the temperatures are even and there are no extremes.
Very different from London. Dutch food is lovely but if in London it’s heavy on rice, in Holland – it’s potatoes and bread. Expect to eat a lot of them. Cheese and meats are heavenly, and Dutch know their way with dairy and bakery (best apple pie ever!). Veg and fruit are fresh, delish and cheap. But there is limited choice of rice in the shops and almost no presence of Indian food anywhere. We found Patak’s on a dusty bottom shelf in a local supermarket, but it all seemed to be adapted to Holland, i.e. bland. First thing we ate when back to the UK was a good spicy Indian takeaway.
Takeaway and fast food culture in general is not as strong as in the UK. Which is good I guess and explains low obesity rates (I am only concluding from observation). The ready meals departments in the shops are 10x smaller than in the UK’s. Which is good for health again. But it means you need to re/ learn to cook if you can’t and you will need time for cooking. There’s an M&S and online food shops catering to British expats, but prices do bite.
There are some brilliant products in the shops. My 3 fave must be freshly squeezed orange juice stations, fruit puree pouches (in London you can only get Organix, Plum or Hipp and they are massively expensive) and a potato sausage! (gratin) Yum.
Interestingly, EU allows some nasties in the food that are not allowed in the UK, namely the infamous E ingredients. EU has conducted research and concluded that some of them are safe, so greenlighted their use. We of course will never know how much role the food lobby played in that decision or research. So your food will contain less chemicals in the UK.
You definitely get more space for your money, and rental prices in Amsterdam are controlled by the government – I am loosely quoting – to not allow what happened in London, which is high rental prices drove locals out of the city and attracted rich investors who don’t even live there most of the time. I think this is very smart, but then Dutch friends told me Amsterdam rental market is a mess.
We lived in a village 30min away from Amsterdam, just like we do in London. For the same rent as in London, we got a house 3x bigger. It’s not necessarily a good thing though. Half of it was empty and cleaning it was not easy. I am more of an Ikea generation and like living in smaller spaces. We now live in a 1 bedroom in Greater London, and I love it. Cleaning is so much easier!
Beware an unusual to Brits practice though – in Holland, most properties are rented on a ‘bare’ basis, which means the previous tenants take everything, and by everything I mean everything – white goods, curtains, carpets, lamps (not just shade, the whole thing!), etc., so you will rent a bare property. To us, this was a shock. In London, you get all of it included and even expect a landlord to renovate before moving in and maybe even throw in some furnishings.
I loved Dutch banks. ABN AMRO banks in English. I could not believe when I was told that there would be no account closing charge, foreign transfer charge and that I can close an account online, no presence needed. ABN AMRO should so bank in the UK!
You do pay a €3 monthly charge for account maintenance though.
Dutch are mega strict on security. So your bank would give you a token to use. And you will have to go through numerous steps to just transfer money to your husband. This probably makes Dutch banking system very safe from fraud, but using that token made me feel like I stepped back into stone age. UK banks do not care this much about online safety but they do increasingly use mobiles and sms for verification which I think is more in line with times.
Now this is a big one. Dutch do not use credit cards. They like debit. Credit cards are mostly used for abroad. It’s a good thing, of course, you live by your means, I mean look at the Brits with our massive debts. But credit card can also be used as a useful financial planning tool, because it allows you to delay the payment or plan the payment in instalments. I am against debt, but I missed my credit cards.
Another shocker. Paypal is not widely used in Holland. They have their local iDeal system. Forget ordering those goodies from abroad. You will not be able to use your local debit card and need a credit card. Oh wait. They are not wide spread. Foreign credit cards are not accepted. Thank God for Amazon (who deliver to Holland from the UK for free, for purchases above certain amount) but you can’t get everything on Amazon. So you will be jumping through hoops and pulling your hair…
In general, Holland is no cheaper than London, taxes are the same, childcare is more expensive, fuel is more expensive as well. This was a big factor in our relocation. We believed that Holland would be cheaper. But then when you have a little one, nothing is cheap anymore. The price of nappies and hair dye particularly shocked me. There are €1 shops, my favourite was Action. But you won’t save much by shopping there. Transport is as expensive as in London.
Another little thing that was a big deal to me – museums are not free in Holland. And you have to pay for toilets everywhere, even in Starbucks and McDonalds. I mean, common, Dutch businesses! Do you not want more, happier customers? Really? To me, this toilet thing was a BIG deal separating civilization from middle ages. No offence.
Dutch do not like shopping, either full period, or in the same proportions as Brits. Ebay is not popular. Marktplaats is an alternative but it’s nowhere near ebay in terms of choice or ease of use. There are no well structured, large online stores with clear branding (so you don’t need to spend time understanding what they sell) or English language option. Topshop only opened in Amsterdam this year. This really sums it up for me.
I got an impression that Dutch do not like shopping. Which makes sense. It’s too materialistic after all, to be as mad about shopping as Brits who actually consider shopping a pastime. But it’s choice and convenience that this gives, and there is just none of those things in Holland. Try shopping for furniture online in Holland. I could not believe it. Half of the sites referred me to the paper brochure!! The rest asked me to come in the store!
So my conclusion is if you don’t shop a lot, do not need choice (mind you, choice means lower prices) and convenience of a well structured, clearly branded high street, prefer human interaction in the shop over online, love small boutique style shops which need to be discovered (you will need lots of time) and have a good human network who can share recommendations on what to buy where, in person, not online, then you will be ok in Holland.
Shopping is a big thing for me, so I side with the UK here.
Furniture and household items are cheaper in Holland, sometimes by a factor of 2 or 3. We even considered buying a sofa there and bringing it to the UK. Which begs the question – can we not import Dutch furniture, to allow more people more choice than Argos and Ikea?
Customer service. Ah, this is a big one for all expats in Holland. If you think customer service in the shops, especially in the supermarkets, is bad in the UK, brace yourself for the Dutch experience. No smile, lots of evil looks, not waiting until you pack your groceries and piling other customer’s shopping on top of yours, no self check out lines, till operators talking to each other while the customer line awaits… you get the idea. Honestly, prepare to be gobsmacked or have an anxiety attack. It is this bad.
I missed London fashion. Despite so many tribes, so many styles in London, there is indeed such thing as a London fashion code. You just know that somebody is from London by looking at how they are dressed. And you see so many well dressed people. You don’t get that in Holland. There are fashionable, well dressed people of course, but it’s very different, mainly continental with a lot of colour blocking. And vintage, but not in a put together, cool way, like in London, but rather in a messy, just-out-of-bed kind of way. If you like a relaxed dress code and do not care about fashion, you should be fine.
You pay for it. Something like €120 a month. God bless NHS!
You get less sick and with less horrifying viruses in Holland than in London though.
Amazing. Clean buses where you feel safe (try an evening bus ride in South London!). Lots of trams (eco-friendly). Double decker air conditioned trains (why don’t we have them in the UK?!). Running like a clockwork, though Dutch themselves are of a different opinion. I am comparing to the British transport system, they are comparing to the Swiss. Oh well.
No cheaper than in London, surprisingly.
And Holland is a cyclist paradise. I loved how safe and easy it is to ride a bicycle there. And the country is flat, so you don’t need to sweat much.
I had a couple of posts here about Dutch which should give you an idea. Personally, I like them. I like how straightforward they are, I like their honesty, I like how they value family and their obsession with outdoor living. What I don’t like is lack of any manners. In London, whenever I am on the steps with a buggy, someone will stop and help. Not the case in Holland. No one will give you a seat on the train even if you are juggling a massive backpack and a toddler. People may push you and not give way, even when you are with the buggy. So Brits are definitely better mannered in comparison.
Surprisingly, I found Holland to be behind UK on the whole green dimension. I may be missing a point here, because if you have no organised high street and online commerce, and people are forced/ enjoy shopping locally, then that’s probably very eco friendly. Customers will just have to bear the price of less choice and information.
But then buying eco friendly products was almost impossible. Ok, I was trying to do it online and I did stick to Anglo Saxon brands mostly, but still.
Marketing is heavily paper based. I did try to subscribe to online newsletters instead but this was near impossible. I was advised to stick to the pile of dead trees stuffed through my letterbox each weekend instead.
Recycling is disorganised and as we were explained, run by volunteers (?!), to drive the council tax down. Yes, the council tax is 3x less than in London, but you get no services whatsoever, other than the occasional general area clean. Citizens are expected to chip in with the chores. No, thanks, I’d rather stick to the higher council tax.
There is no work at the moment or the choice is way less than in London. There is also no job hunting infrastructure. Prepare to do a lot of face to face networking if you want to find a job in Holland. And that takes time… You are expected to speak at least 3 European languages and no, finding a job for an English speaker is not easy, unless you are prepared to compromise or intern/ volunteer first (for at least 6 months). There is a wide spread internship culture, even large multinationals like Heinz and P&G use free labour. Wrong. Wrong on every level, and I am glad there is a growing movement against this in the UK.
This is why most expats who come to Holland come mainly for 3 reasons: for a job transfer, a partner of someone who is transferring for a job, and to study. Do not expect to easily find a job in Holland, unless you are a specialist (eg engineer or programmer) and/or speak Dutch.
Canals are beautiful but they are producing mosquitos. Lots of them. One thing I really love about London is that there are no mosquitos. I’d like to keep it that way.
Dutch prefer shower (frugality? eco friendliness?), so there are no bathtubs. Oh 😦
Dutch are very tall, so if you are 5’5” like me, you will need a ladder to reach into cabinets, to mirrors, etc.