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Five Times I've Struggled with Cultural Differences

Date:31 January 2020
Author:Sinead Walsh
Sinead Walsh
Sinead Walsh

When moving to any new country one can sometimes experience culture shock. Culture shock can manifest itself in many ways, from something as subtle as the way they tell time to something as visible as driving on the opposite side of the road. Here’s some of the main things I experienced when I first moved to the Netherlands. 

Time

The first time I encountered this issue was when I had group work to do for university and I was in a group with mainly Dutch people. We were trying to organise what time to meet in the morning to go through some things before our presentation. We had class at nine so I suggested “half-eight”, my Dutch friend was shocked and confused and said that’s way too early! I was equally confused because to me “half-eight”  was a half hour before nine o’clock. It made perfect sense to me! However, shortly afterwards we figured out that to Dutch people   “half-eight” was a half hour before eight but to English speakers we shorten “half-past eight” to  “half-eight” which is half an hour after eight. 

Honesty/Directness

Dutch people can be very honest, sometimes maybe too honest…  Often they don’t realise the strength of their own honesty and the effect it can have on people. Once in my first year, I started talking to a Dutch person and we seemed to get along very well. I asked if they would like to go for a coffee and talk some more. They said no, they weren’t interested in making friends… I was a little taken aback. More often than not, they do not intend to hurt your feelings. Try not to take it to heart. 

Splitting the Bill

When I first arrived in the Netherlands I never really understood the whole splitting the bill thing too much. It was crazy to me to send someone a Tikkie for 80c. Now, after living here for a while I see why they do it more. Maybe it’s just because of the openness and directness, a “why would I pay for you?” kind of scenario? Maybe it’s just a student thing? Either way, don’t be too surprised if you get a payment request from one of your Dutch classmates for less than one euro. 

They don’t accept Visa

This one was honestly one of the biggest shocks to me. One day in my first year I had lined up with all my groceries and cashier told me the final number, I asked if I could pay the card, she said yes but when she saw my card she told me they don’t accept credit cards. WHAT? Excuuuuse me? You don’t accept Visa? It’s literally like a standard international currency? Yeah no, they don’t accept it, even if it’s Visa Debit, which technically is not a credit card. In the end, I obviously paid in cash but at the time I was just so shocked! 

Drive on the Right

Okay, maybe the fact that they don’t accept Visa isn’t the worst but as weird as it sounds, when I first arrived, I did sometimes struggle to look the right way when crossing the street. Now the same happens in Ireland, it’s very hard to win at this one. The way you look crossing the street is something that’s just so ingrained in us from a young age, you don’t even think about it anymore. Sometimes as an international student in a foreign country, you have to unlearn everything you thought you knew and teach yourself again.

About the author

Sinead Walsh
Hey there! My name is Sinead Walsh. I grew up in Ireland and I'm in the process of figuring out life as an international student in the Netherlands. Aside from an interest in politics and the environment, I am currently studying an MSc in Sustainable Entrepreneurship at Campus Fryslan.  You'll see me around the campus almost daily so don't be afraid to come up for a chat any time!