A year in The Netherlands. Through the eyes of an expat.

Karolina Fotyga

It has been a little over a year since we came to the The Hague in The Netherlands. I wrote about my first impressions HERE . Those first months were a regular – full blown ‘honeymoon’. You know – when you don’t see the faults of the other person when you’re constantly amazed with how great they are. And even when your friends tell you some nasty little things about them, you use all the energy you have to fight this and rationalize whatever it might be. Yes. This kind of a honeymoon. So everything here seemed just amazing, people were shiny and happy, the sun was shining, we were in ❤️ 

The Netherlands

There’s no “but” anywhere here. Well, maybe a small one. 

But let’s start from the huge PLUS side, and then by the end of this article I may or may not touch on those little downsides of living in the Land of Cheese and more precisely The City of Peace.

The absolute pros of living in The Tulip Country: 

It’s one of the most liberal countries I know:

  • Same-sex marriages for example – this one is very special. The Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriages in April of 2001.
  • Separation of church and state; atheism and agnosticism are common and accepted, and are considered to be non-controversial. Over 50% of the Dutch population declares to be nonreligious. In 2015 over 82% of the population stated they hadn’t at all (or rarely) visited church in the previous year – again link to the source.
  • A multicultural society. No surprise here. It is the city of Peace and the country of Freedom after all. Lots of nationalities, colors of skin, political and religious views. 
  • Legality of marijuana use (don’t even get me started on that CBD oil😉 ). If you’re interested you can see what the situation around the world is HERE

Everyday life is somewhat specific here in the Lowlands;) 

  • THE BIKES are everywhere. Kids going to school, adults to work, shops, movie theatre. No matter the weather (we’ll talk about this one in a little while….) Bike lanes are everywhere, and car drivers are 99% thoughtful about the people on bikes. It’s not just young people that ride the bikes too. You can see people of all age. As young as 5, as old as 90 pedaling around the city. Also, nobody (apart from some eager expats during their first weeks in the country;) ) uses helmets. Not because they are stupid, but because research shows it’s actually pretty safe here to do so. Because of how the people think about the others, there are very few serious accidents.
  • people are actually amazing. It’s true. Not much has my outlook changed since the honeymoon phase. People are friendly and smiling, always ready to help. EVERYONE – literally – 99,9% of the Dutch speaks perfect English. When you accidentally bump into somebody you’ll not get the attitude – just a gentle smile and a small talk that follows. This is simply extraordinary for me. 
  • This point somehow connects with the previous. I don’t quite know how to call it. Festiveness? Celebrations 2.0? They celebrate everything here. From the moment the child is born (and all the street knows about it;) through birthdays, all seasonal dates, bridal showers, retirements, Halloween, Christmas – pretty much every occasion you can think of – they have a card for it. The PHYSICAL card. And lots and lots of decorations. And beautiful too.
  • The country is clean. It really is not an exaggeration. There might be some better and worse areas in the cities, but generally – this is by far the cleanest country I’ve seen. Dubai may be tad cleaner, but that’s a totally different story. Who remembers Teletubbies? And Nono the vacuum cleaner? I spot Nono in the city center every other day. Scrubbing chewing gums from the pavement. This and all the men and women cleaning the streets daily. It adds up nicely. You can really feel comfortable breathing here too. All the trains are powered solely by wind energy. By 2025 (?) all the energy is to come from the renewable sources. So there’s no smog. 
  • Speaking of the streets. If you’re a visual person you’ll appreciate the architecture. A lot. Most of the houses by the canals are pretty old, but boy, how nicely maintained they are. It is a nice feeling to watch those ‘dancing’ houses (the name comes from their wobbly figures – which is the effect of all the water underneath) dating as early as XVI/XVII century. With all the ornaments and enormous windows. Almost all beautifully painted and restored. That’s not all though. The new additions to the city are quite modern, nevertheless, they generally are well matched up to the surroundings.  

  • I haven’t seen a city here without the canals. (To all the Dutchies reading this – is there any?? Maybe in the South?) And that is priceless. The water next to your house, or parallel to the bike lane you use every day gives you this unique feeling being in touch with nature every single day. Even if you don’t leave the city. They are not bare canals too. Lots and lots of birds live there (this will also be a part of the challenges of living here;) ) Ducks, swans, cranes – they all live their noisy and sociable lives right there – next to you.
  • Last maybe, but definitely not the least is the NATURE.  This country is full of natural beauty. There’s SEA – turns out that not everyone knows about it;) And all the flowers and trees, and parks. The nature in its glory. Too bad the climate only lets you enjoy it only a couple of months a year.

So far so good. As you can see not much has changed since the idealization phase. Day by day we see how organized and ecological this country also is. How thoughtful people are. Just like that. 

  • the attitude towards .. unused space. Not once have we seen the churches being used as something else. The trampoline park, fair/markets, kindergartens, restaurants, and bars. It’s so simple and yet so unbelievably not possible elsewhere.
  • The Dutch are very open and assertive. They’ll tell you what they need what they like or don’t – it really is refreshing. 

  • I guess they are chill – so to say;) there’s no honking on the streets or shouting. Life is going at its own pace. Nobody rushes anybody. ZEN.
  • the travel possibilities. The NL is neatly sandwiched between Belgium and Germany and also reasonably close to UK, France, and Luxembourg. With amazing train connections and highways – possibilities are endless. Although – why would you leave??;)

Now the part that I know some of you were waiting for:


Surprising and challenging aspects of living in Holland.


  • A couple of sentences before, I said the Dutch were organized. And they are….. but not in every aspect of life. I cannot believe how absurd some systems are. Banking system for example – outdated and slow. Things that should take a moment in the online system take days if not months. I didn’t go insane only because of the sweet sweet smiling and attitude of the people. Otherwise, I cannot grasp how it’s even possible;) Sometimes you are taken by surprise. The OV chipkaart for example. This amazing item lets you travel around the country – by bus, train, tram – you can even send the money for your card via internet (?) You have to collect it though, at the physical point. You can get a discount for the train travel, but then you cannot use it to rent a bike. It’s supposed to be multipurpose and quick and it….. has the potential – if only it wasn’t for the system…
  • This one is pretty much connected with the above, but not everyone will be living in the NL, most people will be just visiting. You have to know then, that you will not pay with your VISA card everywhere. Nope. Some places will only accept the cards issued in The NL and in the system. Bummer. You can use your visa in any ATM though and pay with cash. 
  • The food – typical Dutch food is deep fried with no veggies. Usually fish and cheese. And fries. I know people who like fries – I may have it sometimes but… Well – they say – you know you’ve turned Dutch if you get a frier for you home;) 
  • The weatherIT RAINS. OFTEN. And when it rains it often POURS. And when it rains it’s often windy too. (Remember folks use the bikes here right?;) ) Even if it doesn’t rain – it may still be windy, and those winds – they really are strong.
  • The language – I mean – I’m Polish, I’ve lived in Israel – I know a thing or two about difficult languages – but Dutch? It’s a new level of difficult ? 
  • This point is a challenge too, although it makes you become somewhat more organized. 18:00 is a holy hour here. Most shops close at 6 pm. And not a minute later. Also, they open up at 10, or 11, or noon (on Mondays in some places;) As long as you remember that – you’re fine.
  • Back to birds. Most of us love them right? Of course – they are cute, and sociable and all that. BUT they also have FLEAS. Our cat has never had fleas before coming here. Never ever. And because we live near the canal, and the canal is hugely populated by the birds – we bring the fleas home on our shoes. So far we’ve had 3 massive manifestations of those insects, now with the strong specific – the problem might be gone. But still. Fleas?? 
  • Lastly – something I can’t seem to understand even now. The tendency of The Dutch to not answer emails. Honestly – I tried going about that from different angles, but whenever I talk to people who live here (other expats that is) – this is something that comes up a lot. How come those otherwise sweet and assertive people feel the need to wait a week or 4 to answer – I don’t comprehend. 

So yes. These might be all the ups and downs of living in The Hague / The Netherlands I could think of for now.

Have you ever been here? Or have you maybe lived in The Netherlands? What’s your opinion about this country?

For me even with the number of challenges of living here, I still have to say I’m absolutely loving it. Those tricky parts make this country look real:)

ps. I know there are not too many pictures here. If you want to see more of The Netherlands – see my INSTAGRAM 🙂


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