A Wolf in Windmill Clothing: How to Adjust to Dutch Life with a Working Partner


A Wolf in Windmill Clothing: How to Adjust to Dutch Life with a Working Partner



Needless to say, expatriating to another country with your partner is not like holidaying abroad together. In the latter case, in the knowledge of its transience, you can just spend your days sampling the finer things in life, lounging by the pool or in a quaint café, trying your best to speak, but invariably butchering the local language as a smiling waiter imperceptibly winces in pain and can even pose with what one hopes is a boa constrictor anesthetized to the point of near death.

However, living abroad is something else entirely. Along with a new home comes a need to find new friends, a new routine and indeed a new life. Opportunities for actually spending time with your partner might seem few and far between in the first few weeks of expat life, especially if he or she has moved for work. Thus, it is imperative to understand, and to integrate into, Dutch culture. Below are some pointers on Dutch culture, how to adjust to the Dutch way of life and make friends:


When in Rome…be as direct as possible – Anyone who has researched the Netherlands, met someone from the Netherlands or spent time there before, will be able to tell you that the Dutch are known for telling it how it is. Famed for their directness that would challenge the trajectory of a burning comet, the Dutch speak their mind and do not mince words.

Even for those who are aware of this cultural idiosyncrasy, the first time they are criticized by a Dutch person can feel like the blow of a wrecking ball. One of the most important aspects of assimilating into the culture is to not only accept a criticism for what the Dutch see it as, an opportunity to improve, but also to freely point out any problems you perceive. Among the Dutch, excessive niceties and compliments are viewed with suspicion.


Dr. Who was Dutch When it comes to organization and time keeping, the Dutch seem like direct descendants of the eponymous Father Time. To the outsider, the ubiquitous datebook in the Netherlands can appear to be a Dutch vestigial limb. However, while younger generations have moved onto keep track of their lives using more modern tools like the iPhone, the Dutch are still inextricably connected to rigorous schedules and timekeeping.

For those new to the Netherlands, this is an important thing to note as social meetings are often planned week to months in advance. Indeed, it is considered quite rude to spontaneously knock on one of your friends doors if you are in the neighborhood.

Furthermore, to be late to a meeting can be considered the height of insult and forewarning by text or phone call, even if you are running just ten minutes over the appointed time, is wise. When living in the Netherlands, learning to live by the rules of the almighty datebook is nothing if not a requirement.


‘We can rebuild him (/her), we have the technology’ – Like The Six Million Dollar Man, you can rebuild your life abroad through the use of modern machinery. Ours is an age that revolves around the Internet. Researching things to do and places to see before you leave will help alleviate your nerves and fill the first days of your Dutch life before you find your feet.

Online forums and social media websites are also fundamental in finding friends and learning about the culture before you even buy a plane ticket. Staying in touch with friends and family at home can also help one adjust. Thanks to Skype, phone calls and emails your old life won’t seem so far away, thus helping you to create your new one.


Get out there and try new things – For those living in any new country, anxiety over cultural differences and wariness over the unknown can become overwhelming and lead to a form of hermitage. The best way to overcome this is to immediately move past it.

Travelling through your new home, trying the local cuisine and even trying to pick up the language are vital steps in finding happiness in your new home. To steer clear of local quirks like hagelslag, Dutch chocolate sprinkles that are often consumed on bread and with milk for lunch, is to create a distance between yourself and your potential Dutch friends, which can be difficult to overcome.


Befriend the Dutch – Although it is a natural impulse to drift toward people from your country of origin, finding a Dutch friend is probably the single most important step to adjusting to life in the Netherlands. Like a parent teaching you how to ride a bike, a person from the local culture can hold your hand and encourage you to try the new things you would never do alone. They can be a key to the door of your new life, introducing you to other Dutch people, helping you become more acquainted with the city, teaching you the tips and tricks of the local community and supporting your efforts to learn the language. According to InterNations, 19% of the people living in the Netherlands are expats. So in case you would want to get to know other expats, that wouldn’t be a problem as well.

Especially written for Expart by Sam Malone of InterNations