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3 Things That Surprised Us When Moving to NL

Date:05 August 2020
Author:The Blog Team
Check out all the things that surprised us when moving to NL!
Check out all the things that surprised us when moving to NL!

There are plenty of things that the Netherlands is famous for. Windmills, cheese and tulips are only a few things that might come to your mind. However, there are also some other things that are quite unique here, which aren’t advertised in brochures or tourist shops. In this blog, we share which things really surprised us when moving here so that you aren’t caught off guard. 


1. They test their public warning sirens once a month 

One thing that caught me off guard the first few months after moving to the Netherlands was the monthly test of the public warning sirens. Every first Monday of the month, all sirens in the Netherlands are tested at 12:00 pm for exactly 1 minute and 26 seconds. And let me tell you, it gets really loud when they do. Although it's just a test, once all the sirens go off at the same time it actually sounds like something really bad is happening (like a zombie apocalypse or air raid). Just remember that there is nothing to worry about and keep calm when you hear them for the first time. 

2. Some Places Do not Accept Cash or Credit Card

Coming from Germany, this really caught me by surprise. While cash is still accepted in most places, make sure to check beforehand whether this is actually the case as certain establishments only accept payments with debit cards. Similarly, a lot of places will not accept VISA cards. This can be a real bummer, especially in the beginning when you don’t have a Dutch bank account yet.  

3. Dutch Stairwells Are Crazy

If you’ve never been in a Dutch house before, you’re in for a big surprise. Back in the day, houses in the Netherlands were taxed based on their width. This means that many property developers opted to build narrow but tall houses. The result of this are probably the steepest, narrowest and most intimidating stairwells you have ever encountered in your life. The good thing is that you get used to them quite quickly, but I’d lie to you if I’d say that I haven’t fallen down the stairs a couple of times during my time living here. 


1. Stores and supermarkets have weird schedules

Where I’m from, supermarkets and shops stay open until very late at night, and they’re open every single day of the week. This is why I was very surprised by the fact that in the Netherlands, normal shops usually close at 6pm, except for Thursdays. Why Thursdays? That’s known as the ‘shopping day’, and it’s the only day a week in which stores are open until 9pm. Also, don’t try to go looking for breakfast on Sunday before noon, you probably won’t find a single supermarket open. It takes some getting used to, since schedules also vary depending on the store itself, so make sure you double-check before heading out!

2. When do you greet people with three kisses?

I seriously still don’t know the answer to this question, and it’s made for some pretty awkward encounters. Dutch people usually greet others with three kisses on the cheek, but beware! This is not always the case. Sometimes a handshake is enough, sometimes a simple hug. Other times just a nod and a wave will suffice. But how do you know which is appropriate? Three-kiss greetings are certainly not for every occasion. Definitely don’t greet your teachers or your dentist like this. Now that social distancing is advised, we’ve all received a free-pass on greetings. No more panicking about which greeting to choose, a smile and a wave are absolutely fine (and recommended). 

3. The bridges move

Before coming to the Netherlands, I had already heard about the impressive engineering feats that the Dutch have pulled off, such as moving bridges and huge water dams. However, it was still pretty shocking to me when I saw a bridge move for the first time, literally right in front of me. The bridges either move to the side, split in half, or completely lift up from one side. The first few times you see it are pretty cool, however, it gets pretty boring after a while. Just hope that this doesn’t happen while you’re running late for class, as you (and a swarm of people on bikes) will be waiting for the bridge to open back up for at least five minutes. 


1. You can get food out of a wall

After a night out in the city or for those days you just don’t feel like socializing, you can literally pick up some food straight out of a wall. Tap your bank card against the card reader or pop in a couple coins into the wall and you can open up a little drawer with some classic Dutch fried food. 

2. Dutch food isn’t that exciting

Apart from getting your food from a wall, it doesn’t really get more exciting than that. You would think since the Dutch had colonies all over the world with access to plenty of different herbs and spices, they would have come up with lots of different meals, but tragically, their food tends to lack seasoning and creativity - but don’t just take my word for it, try it yourself! Don’t get me wrong though, I always love a good patatje met mayo (fries with mayonnaise) for a midnight snack.

3. Your shower, toilet and sink will be in different rooms!

One of the weirdest things for me when I moved here was the fact that my bathroom did not have a shower, sink and toilet all in one. Instead, the toilet was in one room, the sink was in my bedroom and the shower had a room of its own too. While having a sink in your room is common for student houses (and super convenient too), it was definitely weird to not have a sink with the toilet. This may be the reason why the Dutch are seen as the least hygienic in Europe - with only 50% of people (according to a survey conducted in 2015) washing their hands with soap after going to the bathroom. However, this has definitely improved with the arrival of COVID-19. 


1. You need a different outfit for each season

I grew up in Queensland, Australia and all I needed was shorts and t-shirt, and maybe a pair of jeans and a hoodie for the one month of winter. Here in the Netherlands, temperatures range from -5°C in winter, to 25°C or more in summer, and you need clothes for every type of weather in between. You can imagine my shock when I realised I would pack away my summer dresses in September and not see them again for 7 months. If you come from a country with a similar climate, this might be super ordinary to you, but it was a real surprise to me!

2. You can dress so casually when going out

Before I moved to the Netherlands, going out to a bar or a club meant changing into heels and a dress, putting on every facial beauty product I owned and spending hours trying to put on fake eyelashes. During my first week in the Netherlands I learnt that this was not the same here. After telling a friend I needed to change out of my jeans before we went to a club, I found out that jeans and sneakers are actually a very normal thing to wear out! While I do sometimes miss the mandatory pre-party pamper session, it's liberating knowing that I don’t actually need to! 

3. You really do ride your bike everywhere

When I moved to the Netherlands, I bought my first bike. I didn’t really have much experience cycling but I didn’t think it was a big deal. After all, I wouldn’t have to ride my bike every day right? I was very wrong. Not only do students ride their bikes to lectures, they also ride their bikes to parties, to dates, and even to their own graduations. If you are unsure about riding a bike, there are other transport options such as buses. However, I would recommend giving it a go and checking out City Central’s FietsFriend, where you can learn how to ride a bike, what the traffic rules are, or even just see the city on a bike tour.

About the author

The Blog Team
The Blog Team
Hey! We're Danique, Marije and Asmo and work together as part of the blog team. Sometimes we go outside and take cringey pictures together for our blogs. So if you see us walking around Groningen together... that's probably what we're doing.


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