I recently spent a couple weeks on my first trip to the Netherlands, and thought I would share some random observations. I spent a week in Einhoven, a couple days in Delft, and a few days in Haarlem, and I feel I got an interesting immersion into Dutch culture. The Netherlands wasn’t at the tops of my list of places to go, but circumstances happened that I got to spend time here. As with all my trips to Europe, I enjoy the cultural differences I get when I leave the United States. So here are some random observations, in no particular order.
- It constantly amazes me how easily Europeans switch between languages. Often when someone initiated a conversation with me – they would fire off a dutch phrase that to me sounded like garbled German. I speak a little German, but I had a real hard time understanding Dutch. At any rate, as soon as I said ‘spreekt oo Engels’ they fire off the same phrase in (usually) flawless English. As a person who only speaks one language fluently -but as a software developer who can write in many languages, I am always impressed at how their mind can so easily shift gears.
- The bike culture in the Netherlands is fantastic. As an avid American bicyclist, I am jealous at how they have built their infrastructure around biking. Everywhere I went were bike lanes, and I made a point of renting a bike whenever possible to see the sights. None of the bikes people use are fancy – just very utilitarian. Only the occasional bike racers wore helmets, the rest of the people just casually ride without them.
- I saw little trace of homelessness. I think Europe is dealing with the situation much better than the crisis we face in the United States. There are a lot more public workers doing jobs that you don’t see often in the US – i.e workers repairing bricks in town squares, street cleaners walking around picking up trash, people wiping down walls and floors throughout the train stations. Perhaps the US could follow Europe’s lead in helping mobilize some entry level jobs for the surplus of untrained labor.
- With the rise in online retailers, I have been paying close attention to the demise of mall traffic in the US. So I was curious to see how online retailing will impact Europe. It seems to me that retail in the Netherlands is more scattered – every small town seems to have a market square, but radiating for blocks around that you still see little shops of clothing and various other retailers. I don’t see how these little shops will stay in business if Europe is hit with the mass exodus to online shopping like the US. I saw some delivery trucks making the rounds, but online shopping does not appear to be as pervasive as in the US. It would be tragic to see these small towns turn into shells half empty shops.
- It took me a bit to get used to the public dress code in the Netherlands. The first day it hit the upper 60’s here in the Netherlands, I put on a pair of shorts and hit the sights. Umm…. I was the only person in shorts and I stood out like the tourist I am. Everybody else was wearing jeans and long sleeves and a jacket. The next day was a little warmer – low 70’s and humid, and I wore long pants and a sweatshirt, and I fit in fine. Everybody was still wearing leather jackets and jeans .. and I was overheating.. but looking good. Part of this could be the mobility issue – we here often throw a jacket in the car for if it cools down later – I guess if you are on a bike it may be just easier to wear it.
- I took a lot of trains in my various travels through Dutch towns, and once you get the hang of it it is a pretty efficient way to travel. Most of my trips required changing trains to get to my destination, but because the network is so laid out and the trains are pretty exact on their schedule, I rarely had problems. Most rail station had a place where you could rent a bike to continue your travels for the last leg, which makes for an interesting hub and spoke system of travel.
I had many other various observations but will leave it here for now. It is always enriching to travel to foreign destinations to see how cultures have evolved in different small ways. Now back in America, it causes me to notice little idiosyncrasies that are uniquely American. In an increasing globalized world, I hope these cultural differences can remain, and that each culture retains its own unique little ways of doing things.