Friday, 18 October 2013

I'm not a tourist but I 'm not really Dutch either...

With a suitcase, a really full bag, my viola with a tennis racket strapped onto it I board the plane. Alone. Depature was from Harare, Zimbabwe and the destination Schiphol international airport. Arrival time a fresh morning in May. Blond, blue eyes, nineteen years old, the start of an adventure called: going to university in Holland. Was I an international student? Was I Dutch?

One thing was certain even though I spoke Dutch I did not really understand the Dutch. I thought I knew what I should know. I thought I would be able to understand the ways of the Dutch. What a major culture shock! The wierd thing was that I had not expected a culture shock at all. In the meantime I have survived and started to thrive here so I have some advice for you.

10 tips to survive and thrive in the Netherlands:
  1. Buy a bicycle. It's an easy way to integrate, do as the Dutch do. If you are sensible you will buy some
    At Keukenhof by DrieCulturen 
    good "fietstassen" (bicycle bags) too. Mine are one of the best investments I have ever made. They have served me so well I could write a whole post just about my "fietstassen".
  2. If you are serious about learning Dutch get a button "Spreek Nederlands! met mij!" and pin it on your jacket. Otherwise people start speaking English to you when they hear your accent or hear you struggling to speak Dutch.
  3. Buy a museumkaart which gives you free entry to nearly 400 museums all over the country. To give you an idea there are more than 30 museums in Amsterdam which you can visit with the card.
  4. If you have a garden plant some tulip bulbs, it will make spring even more exciting. You can plant them now between September and December. I mean it is the country of the tulips so why not let them flower in your garden.
  5. Make sure you know how to flush the toilet. There are many different kind of toilets here. Sometimes you need to push a button or pull on a chain. There are even bloggers that write about the toilet here: everything you never wanted to know about Dutch toilets.
  6. When going to a Dutch birthday party remember to congratulate all the family members too, it's what you do here.
  7. If you want to start a conversation while waiting in a queue just start talking about the weather. In the beginning I was irritated about the fact that everyone complained about the weather and was always talking about the weather but it is just a way to start a conversation. What a revelation!  
  8. Start cycling just for fun. There are nearly 35 thousand kilometres of cycle paths in our country. It is the cyclist friendliest country in the world. Discover the cycling culture! Even the BBC wonders why cycling is so popular in the Netherlands? Do you need suggestions for your cycling adventure? If so check this website Nederland Fietsland. 
  9. Taste the local food like stroopwafels, drop (liquorish) and herring. Did you that herring is the thing the Dutch miss most when they live abroad?
  10. Make a local friend and spend time together.
Now back to the question about where I'm from. The answer is a complicated one. I am not a tourist but I am not really Dutch either. I was born and bred in Africa but I have a Dutch passport. When I came to my "passport country" I suffered from a culture shock. I now know I was a hidden immigrant at the time. I looked very Dutch but I thought differently. My identity had been formed by all the years I had lived in Africa. Even though I spoke Dutch at home I did not know the sayings and the slang words. I easily connect with expats and internationally minded people, actually I love being in an environment with people from different nationalities. Years ago I discovered that I was a "third culture kid". That discovery helped me understand my confusion. It gave words to my feelings. I am a member of the "third culture kid" tribe. Actually I am a global citizen living in the Netherlands at the moment. In Dutch we would say "een wereldburger".

Just in case you have never heard of the term "third culture kids" it refers to a person who has spent a
At Madurodam by DrieCulturen

significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture, like I did. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any.

Moving to the Netherlands years ago was the start of my new adventure. I hope you meet as many interesting people as I have here, I hope you become addicted to cycling like I did. I hope you not only survive but thrive in the land of the clogs and tulips. Do you have any survive and thrive tips? Please share them here.

If you enjoy this blog would you take a couple of minutes and vote for my blog in the I'm not a tourist expat blog competition. Voting closes 30 October 2013. So time is short. Thank you for your support.


  1. Your post really resonates with me. One of my parents was Dutch, I was born there, lived many years there some with my parents and some with Oma en Opa. We got used to life away from the Netherlands though, my parents settled in another country and I married a man from the UK. I rarely even speak Dutch anymore, my husband can understand it (just) but our children don't speak or understand it at all, when I go back I feel simultaneously at home and an alien. The Netherlands I hanker for is not the modern Netherlands, not even the Netherlands of my childhood but the home I had with my family - so transient and gone forever except in memory.

    I have never missed herring but I do miss Kroketts and Olieballen.

    1. Thank you for stopping by. I am glad the post resonates with you. Memories are special too. Memories need to be cherished, but like you say the Netherlands of today is not what it was. I grew up in Malawi and later Zimbabwe but when I returned for a visit so many things had changed. By the way I did not mention the oliebollen but when it was new year's eve we always baked oliebollen even on the shores of Lake Malawi. I can imagine that you miss them and "kroketten". Greetings Janneke

  2. Excellent words! Many of the things mentioned here "clicked", after very recently having visited The Netherlands. Much of its culture is still fresh in my mind, especially the cycling and people talking about the weather (funny thing: they do the same here in my hometown of Recife, where it's always hot).

    TCK posts and sharing are so special to me, and bring comfort. Thanks for another great post! Ah, and I loved the pictures! :)

  3. Thanks Lu voor your kind words. I 'm so glad you made it over to the Netherlands, by the way I saw some lovely photos's on your blog that you had made here!
    In the beginning I found it irritating that people were always talking about the weather but that's just the way it is, and I propably do the same now....

  4. Being a 'hidden immigrant' is quite frustrating at times for me but learning how to go in between cultures and relate to more people is a precious positive that TCKs all share.
    I hope we finally get to meet! I will be traveling to Amsterdam over the holidays for vacation and I would love to meet up for a tea and a waffle!

    1. Hi! I do hope we meet! Great to hear you are coming to Amsterdam, see if we can arrange something. You can see all the bicycles with your own eyes! Or have you been here before? Yes sure there are positive sides to being a TCK too, like you say :)