Saturday, December 15, 2012

Things that are different here:

I thought that I'd do a post about the big and little things that make living here exciting and different.  Just so I never forget! Here we go...

  • Banking!  In order to do online banking or to buy anything online with your dutch bank card, you have to put your card in this weird little machine called an "e.dentifier," and then input codes back and forth to authorize everything.  We can't get over how strange it all is.  Also, paper checks are a thing of the past here.  If you owe someone money, you get their bank account info and just do a transfer online.  That's how we pay tithing here, too. We actually really like it. Another random thing: when they mailed us our dutch debit cards, we both had to get three separate letters, all sent a few days apart, before we could activate it.  One had an activation code, the next letter had the card itself, and the last letter had our assigned pin.  Pretty elaborate compared to the one letter Wells Fargo sends with your new card back home! 

Our trusty, high-tech e.dentifier. 
  • Chip cards!  If you've travelled in europe before, you might remember that most (or all?) european cards these days are "chip" cards.  You don't swipe them--you stick the front of the card in and the reader reads the chip.  I know in England they still let you use your swipe cards from the US most places, and maybe they do in other places too.  But here: no way.  If you're in a hotel or something they'll let you, but pretty much all stores only take chip cards or cash.  The grocery stores in particular are finicky and will only take maestro (a european type of debit card) or cash. As you can imagine, we were pretty relieved to finally get our dutch debit cards up and running.  
  • Garbage! We are assigned to take our trash out on wednesday and saturday nights at 6 PM.  If you take it at 6:30, you might be too late.  There's an assigned dropping spot about a block away.  And--get this--if you drop your garbage at an unassigned time or place, they will go through your garbage looking for something with your address on it and will send you a hefty fine.  Crazy, huh?  We're considering ourselves lucky that we've never been fined, especially since we dropped our garbage at the wrong place and time the first 2 months we were here. :)
  • Schooling! Since I don't have a child in school, I don't have it completely figured out, but here's what I've pieced together.  Kids start going to school full-time at age 4.  They don't have to wait until the September after their fourth birthday either; they literally start going the day they turn 4.  Most kids are in a half-day school at age 3. 
  • Daycare! People are always surprised that Andy isn't in any day care (or "creche" as it's called here).  Most moms here work 2-3 days a week while their children go to creche. I even know a lot moms who don't work at all, but their children still go to creche for a couple days a week.  Sometimes that sounds pretty nice! :)  Creche is expensive: our friends just had a baby and said it will cost them 1500 euro a month for their daughter to go five days a week.  
  • Child birth!  This is drastically different from the US.  Home birth is very highly encouraged here; the home birth rate is roughly 30%.  Once you're pregnant, your insurance will automatically send you a home birth kit.  Everyone sees midwives here.  Most heavily encourage drug-free deliveries and pregnancies.  Epidurals are the exception.  Anti-nausea medication is virtually impossible to get.  One amazing thing they do here: after you have your baby, someone comes to stay with you for 10 days (!!!) to cook, clean, and help you take care of the baby.  I don't know what they're called, but they're trained women who know what they're doing!  I can't think of anything more incredible after having a baby.  How about we pick that up in the US?  One other thing that surprises me: a nurse at Andy's well child visit was shocked I nursed him for a full year and told me that is very rare here.  I would think that since they're such a holistic country, they would be into nursing their kids until age 4. :) 
  • Manners! I don't think I know any Dutch people that will read this, so hopefully I can get away with saying this...people here are rude.  Tourists always notice it.  Cam and I especially noticed it on our recent trip to London when we realized everyone there was just so polite.  People here talk to you like you're stupid.  If you make a mistake, they'll point it out.  They cut in front of you in line.  (This one happens to me almost every time I stand in a line.  I'm still not brave enough to say something to the cutter, but I'm getting closer!) They bump into you and don't say a thing.  At home, I'm used to people opening doors for me, letting me go first, etc. because I'm pushing a stroller.  Here, people seem think, "Oh, you've got a stroller?  You're going to be slow, so I'm just going to jump ahead of you."  It makes things like maneuvering around the grocery store or getting on and off the tram really difficult because people just don't let you go! Okay--all that being said, I think Dutch people are wonderful people and if you get to know someone, they're very kind.  It's just the day-to-day interaction with strangers that they seem to struggle with.  
  • Laundry!  I know I already did an entire post complaining about this, so I'll just summarize by saying that each tiny load takes 4.5 hours and it's not exactly my favorite thing.
  • Language!  They speak Dutch here, obviously.  One reason we were particularly excited to come to Amsterdam is because they're known here for speaking the best english in europe.  Because of that, I naively didn't expect language to be a barrier at all. I know I should do a better job with trying to learn Dutch, and I shouldn't expect people here to speak my language perfectly.  But--it's been more difficult than I thought it would be. Yes, most of the time I can find someone to communicate with on a basic level, but I have to choose my words carefully and stay away from idiomatic phrases.  It's different to not understand any of the conversations people around me are having.  And it gets old to be spoken to in dutch and then have to say, "I only speak english," about 10x a day. Cameron says people at work speak really good english, though.
  • Health! I guess I've said a few negatives in a row, so let me give a huge positive one here.  I am so impressed with how healthy people are here!  The lifestyle in general is very active, with all the bike riding, walking, etc.  I'm still so impressed every time I see a elderly person on a bike, which is really common.  Obesity is basically non-existent.  People eat so fresh.  Portion sizes are much smaller than in the US.  Cameron and I have both loved this aspect of living here so much.  
  • Walking!  Here's another positive one.  I absolutely love how I can basically walk to anything I need.  Of course this isn't the case for everyone in the Netherlands, but we lucked out with our location.  I can walk to the grocery store in about 2 minutes or to the bigger grocery store in 10.  I can walk to Hema (kinda like Target) in 2 minutes.  As far as clothes shopping goes, we're right in the middle of it all so there are literally hundreds of stores all around us.  Same with places to eat out.  (Oh wait...we have a toddler, so that doesn't apply to us. :)  There are tons of museums within walking distance.  Even the places I take the tram to, I could probably walk to in 20-25 minutes.  Everything feels so accessible.  I miss having a car in some ways, but I feel so free without one.
  • Customer Service! This is the common one everyone knows about europe.  It's proved to be completely true here.  What cracks me up is when you have to call the customer service dept. of a company here, there's an extra charge! It's like 15 cents a minute or something, but I still find it hilarious.  Any time I have to call a company in the US, I'm always so impressed by how kind, attentive, and professional they are in contrast to all my experiences here.  
  • Pot & Prostitution! This is probably the item everyone is expecting, but if you're envisioning the streets here full of pot smokers and prostitutes on every corner, you couldn't be more wrong. Though it feels like most people here do smoke cigarettes, marijuana smoking is mostly reserved for "coffee shops," so you really only get a whiff of it once or twice a day unless you're in the wrong area.  And I think it's mostly tourists who are smoking it anyway.  Still, I'm not used to it and can't stand the smell.  Cameron likes the smell, so go ahead and tease him about that.  As far as the red light district goes, it's really pretty close (5 minute walk), but you never see any semblance of it if you're in the right areas.  One thing that is pretty different is all the sex shops around.  They're much more heavily concentrated in the red light district, but they're scattered around a bit, too.  And in nice areas!  Our friends live in a very nice place, and live a few doors down from one.  There's one I pass almost daily on the way to Rembrandtplein.  I don't really notice it now, but I suppose that's pretty different from living in Bountiful or Round Rock. :) 
  • Grocery shopping!  I feel like shopping here is so different.  Obviously, everything is in Dutch so that makes things tricky.  There are lots of things you can't get here.  Or at least I don't know where to get them or don't realize what they are because they're in dutch.  It basically means I use a lot more produce because I can actually see what it is!  Some of the more common items you can't find: baking soda, vanilla, and chocolate chips. They don't have most of the processed, boxed items we'd have at home.  All this has actually turned into a good thing, I think.  We cook a lot more fresh and healthy.  We have soup 2-3 times a week, which I love.  (Cameron, not so much.)  I literally go to the grocery store every day.  I know that probably sounds crazy, but it really has to be that way because I can't carry too much back to my place.  Plus--it's only a 2 minute walk!  I hated daily shopping at first, but now I really like it.  I love not having to plan a week's worth of meals in advance.  I love that we just buy what we'll need that day.  Everything is so fresh and we hardly waste anything.  We walk by the store all the time anyway, so popping in for 10 minutes each day isn't a big deal.  The only downsides to the stores here are that the aisles are incredibly narrow and were definitely not designed with a stroller in mind.  Also, I'm not a big fan of the "bag your own groceries" thing in europe.  It's a lot to juggle when you're trying to entertain a toddler, pay for everything, and bag your groceries at the same time.  And you feel like you have to hurry really fast or you're holding up the people behind you.  You have to pay for bags too, but we just bring our own, so that's alright.  
  • Online shopping!  I used to do so much online shopping at home.  I haven't bought a thing online here!  I miss it.  I don't know of a good online Netherlands marketplace?  I think you can buy things here from amazon uk, but I can't handle the prices.  I would order from the US, but then you have to pay customs charges on top of shipping and it's not worth it.     
  • Floor Levels!  This one's random.  I'm always pushing the wrong buttons the elevators here because it's different.  The ground floor here is "0," whereas in the US it would be "1."  So I push "2" in the elevator and go up two floors when I meant to only go up to the first floor.  It's confusing.  
  • Doors!  I never know whether to push or pull doors because a lot of times they're the opposite of what they'd be at home.  
  • Stairs!  It would be more appropriate to call them ladders.  The stairs here are so narrow and steep.  I'm so surprised I haven't fallen yet. 
Our slippery stairs.
I come across differences all the time, but I really love it.  It's interesting to learn how others live, and it's a fun adventure to find new ways of doing things!  We feel so lucky to live in such a beautiful, unique place.  


  1. I love this post, it was so interesting. Crazy how different lives are everywhere! I bet you are dying not having online shopping. :) You seriously changed my ways to more online! I would love having shops within walking distance. My sister and I were just talking about that last week. So crazy to hear about there healthcare policies and how children start preschool/school so early. I can't imagine. Well I am glad you aren't staying there for a year but I bet you'd know more dutch!

  2. I loved reading about all the little quirks of your experience. I can't imagine you not being brave enough to call out those "cutters."

  3. Interesting! I think the part about manners is quite funny. Also- Cameron likes the smell of pot? haha, tell him he's a sinner!

  4. so interesting! so many things i'd never think about that might be different living in a different country!

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