18 REASONS WHY I REALLY LOVE THE NETHERLANDS. PART II
I'm back to give that Dutch ego yet another boost, because, you know, they kind of deserve it. Reading Part I will help you understand the references and lingo in this part of the series.
7. THE NORTH SEA
Living in close proximity to a large body of water makes a massive difference. There is just something about living by the sea that is so serene and calming (unless it is warm and sunny out - see point #4), and I am a firm believer that a stroll along the beach is good for your soul. There is even a word for it in the Dutch language - uitwaaien ("to walk in the wind", as in, to take a walk outside to clear one’s mind).
On a more practical note, the North Sea provides an abundance of fresh seafood which I enjoy very much. One of the most known things about the Netherlands is, perhaps, its habit of eating raw herring (haring in Dutch). There are a couple ways of tasting this national delicacy. The traditional one is holding the fish covered with chopped onions by its tail, tilting your head back, and taking that bad boy in. Of course, you can also eat it in the form of broodje haring, where chopped fished is served in a bun, but where's the fun in that?
According to the Nederlands Visbureau (Dutch Fish Bureau), the Dutch do love them some fish: they consume as many as 76 million herring per year. Man, that's a lot of fish.
In the Netherlands, I have always lived near a street market and for that reason, I consider myself pretty lucky. Like their counterparts in other corners of the world, Dutch markets usually sell everything from local fresh produce, bread, and cheese to flowers and small household items. Although a trip to the market is a pretty nice activity as it is, what makes the Dutch ones so appealing is the wide variety of national delights (that aren't raw herring) and seasonal dishes always on offer. If you know anything about Dutch cuisine, you probably have heard about stroopwafel, a gooey pastry made from baked batter and filled with caramel-like syrup. Is the description making your sweet tooth ache a bit? Now imagine having it made right in front of you (watch here): that's a one-way ticket to a sugar coma.
Another speciality that is available all year round is kibbeling, battered and deep-fried chunks of fish (traditionally cod but now pollack, whiting or even pangasius). Like everything else in the Netherlands, it is commonly served with mayonnaise, though with garlic, ketchup or other ingredients. If you happen to be in Leiden on a Saturday morning/afternoon, I highly recommend trying this street food favourite of mine there - I pinky promise you won't be disappointed. Late autumn is an exciting time for a visit to the Dutch market, as that's when you can find oliebollen and poffertjes. And then get fat and be happy. Kidding! (not) Oliebol is a deep-fried ball of dough that is served plain with powdered sugar or with different fillings such as cherry, almond paste or cinnamon. Don't let a Dutchman fool you by saying oliebollen are nothing like doughnuts because that's exactly what they are - ball-shaped doughnuts, just better. Poffertjes, on the other hand, are puffy mini-pancakes served with a lump of butter and some powdered sugar that will brighten up any dark, cold day. In case you haven't noticed by now, the Dutch have mastered comfort food to perfection.
9. THE DUTCH ARE A BIT WEIRD
I find the Dutch and their ways endearingly odd, if not straight-up weird, but this is probably why I like them so much. Let me just briefly come back to their interesting dietary choices, which clearly has been a recurring theme in this series. Dutchies are huge fans of broodje hagelslag, a toast with butter and chocolate sprinkles. Yeah, those things you'd top an ice cream cone with. Then we have drop, a liquorice candy flavoured with ammonium chloride that comes in all possible shapes, forms, sizes, and degrees of saltiness (I can see you drooling over there, Dutch person). Whereas liquorice-flavoured, ehm, confectionaries are also very popular in Scandinavia and Finland, it appears that the Netherlands has kicked it up a notch: not do they consume approximately 32 million kg of liquorice per year, but there are also about a hundred different types of drop to choose from.
If it's your birthday, do not expect for someone to show up with a cake at your party - it's in the scope of responsibility of the birthday person. How tragic is that the day when you are supposed to get spoilt rotten is also the day you spend in the kitchen baking your own birthday cake? Very tragic. But hey, I've got some good news: you can save some for the next day and eat it for breakfast with no shame. See, the Dutch have a thing for having cake in the morning so that even the actual food comes under three different names: ontbijtkoek ("breakfast cake"), peperkoek ("pepper cake"), and kruidkoek (spice cake).
And do you know how your friends from the Netherlands will remember your birthday? They'll consult an obligatory birthday calendar in the toilet. Dutch pragmatism strikes again. What is actually really sweet though, is that the Dutch congratulate each other on your birthday. So, a friend of yours will say to your mother: "Congratulations on your daughter/son's birthday". She, in turn, will say something back to your friends, and so on.
Some other oddities include but are not limited to keeping the curtains open almost at all times, needing a licence to play golf, scheduling the scheduling of something, and so on. But I'll save it for some other time.
In my opinion, if there is one thing that majorly contributes to your nation's well-being, it is a sense of security. The Netherlands performs very well in that regard: while the EU is facing multiple serious challenges, an average Dutch citizen does not need to worry about their tomorrow. The economy won't collapse, prices won't skyrocket overnight, and the quality of life won't suddenly decrease. Living here is quite comfortable unless you try to make it otherwise.
Case in point: as a tenant, you are well protected by the Dutch rental law. If your landlord decides to kick you out, it will be rather difficult for him to do so unless you are a really bad tenant and have created too much trouble. In fact, the landlord is not even allowed to have keys to the house so they cannot legally throw your stuff out or change the lock. Since your rental contract is a powerful document which has legal accession, the agreement can only be terminated by the tenant (with few exceptions) and any complaint will have to be taken to court. Moreover, you can question the rental price if you have a reason to believe that it is too high. Every room and flat in the Netherlands do have a maximum rent that is calculated with the use of the points system regulated by Huurcommissie (The Tenancy Tribunal). The price can be lowered under certain circumstances, and it does not matter whether you are Dutch or a foreign citizen. Long story short, the law is effective. And it is pretty great.
Dutch architecture is an eye candy and a pure aesthetic pleasure. From traditional and classical houses that form the signature Dutch landscape to high-tech constructions of modern museums - walking and, of course, biking these streets never gets boring.
Many buildings, their exterior and interior, are interesting to study. Take, for instance, what is now the home of Museum Ons' Lieve Heer op Solder in Amsterdam ("Our Lord in the Attic"). This 17th-century canal building once housed a Catholic Church on the last three floors that could welcome up to 150 people. The church was built between 1661-1663 in order to provide worshippers with a place to express their religious beliefs as Catholic services were officially forbidden at the time. The place was transformed into a museum in the late 19th century making it the second oldest in the city.
12. BORRELS AND BRUINE KROEGEN
There are few activities that are as quintessentially, echt Dutch as having a borrel. What can be roughly translated as a "very informal reception" that involves drinks and snacks (hapjes; they may or may not include bittergarnituur), borrel is first and foremost a cultural concept that represents the Dutch love for socialising, sense of belonging, and gezelligheid. Any excuse will do: it's Friday (called vrijdagmiddagborrel, or vrijmibo), it's Christmas, it's graduation day, it's we-scheduled-this-eight-months-ago-but-do-not-remember-why-but-lets-borrel. I reckon it has something to do with the appreciation for schedules and nice beverages in a chosen company, so they decided to combine the three and this is how the first borrel took place.
It can get even better if the borrel is hosted at a bruine kroeg ("brown bar") which is an old, laidback café with smoke-stained walls and a cosy dark wood interior. A brown bar should normally score 11 out of 10 on the gezelligheid scale so it is a perfect fit for a borrel. Click here to see what a proper bruine kroeg looks like. Proost!
For Part III, click here.