In Poland, we often say “Co kraj, to obyczaj”, meaning every country has its own customs (similar English saying: “One man`s meat is another man`s poison”). I always learn a lot about the countries I travel to: their history, traditions and local cuisine. Some things surprise me, some shock me, some make me laugh and/or disgust, some are normal to me. No matter how huge the differences are between the country I am from and the place I visit, I always respect and honor the ethnic, religious beliefs, and cultural practices of each community. The best example is China where I often clenched my teeth to understand Chinese and their way of thinking.
Let’s get back to Holland now. The land of tulips, windmills and wooden clogs took me by surprise (in a very positive way) during my last visit. I spent a few days at my Dutch friend’s house in Woudrichem, located in the south of the Netherlands. Although I love to be in Holland and I enjoyed my stay in Woudrichem there were few things I could not get used to as a Pole.
1. Eating chocolate sprinkles on bread for breakfast
Every morning Dutch people consume some untoasted brown bread covered with butter or margarine and sprinkled with hagelslag (famous Dutch chocolate sprinkle). Although it tastes pretty nice, that is the weirdest combination of ingredients I have ever heard of. Nutella on toast is ok, but we use chocolate sprinkle as cupcake/muffin/ice cream toppings. The hagelslag sandwiches are way too sweet and dry for me to have them for my breakfast on a regular basis. In Poland breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It must be warm, nutritious and healthy. We consume scrambled eggs, cottage cheese with chive, tomatoes and onion, sandwiches with ham and cheese, hot milk with granola or sausages.
I had a go and tried this Dutch breakfast a couple of times. It was pretty nice with a glass of hot milk, I can’t deny, but it is definitely too unhealthy and sweet. It is good to have it as a snack from time to time, but it’s not a good breakfast option (sorry guys!).
2. Drinking tap water
It might sound funny, but I felt very offended by being offered a glass of tap water for the first time in Holland (of course at that time I didn’t know that tap water was absolutely safe to drink). I was like “It’s ok, I’m not thirsty anymore”. This is the weirdest (and the most awesome) thing in Holland. You can drink water when you take a shower (freaking cool!), you don’t need to carry bottled water from the shop and you can save a lot of money this way! Although I knew I could drink it any time I wanted to, I still couldn’t get used to it. As a little girl I was taught to drink only bottled or boiled water and tap water reminds me of dirt and germs. No matter how many times I tried to drink it from the tap, I always felt like I was doing something wrong, like having a dinner with my dirty fingers.
3. Seeing locals riding their bikes in suits and ties
Whether you are wearing a fancy dress, suit and tie or just casual outfit nobody cares – everyone rides a bike to work in Holland! My first thought when I saw a man in a nice suit biking quickly through the streets of Amsterdam was “Oh my God, when he gets to work he is going to be all sweaty and smelly” but no one seems to care about it and you know what? I like this attitude! In Poland people would point you out with their fingers and give you dirty looks.
4. Understanding how the Dutch do not put on weight eating greasy food
I have noticed that the majority of Dutch teenagers, young people and sometimes even the whole families eat in a very unhealthy way. Locals often choose to grab a quick Subway sandwich, Mc Donald’s meal, kebab wraps or famous frozen pizza instead of having a healthy salad or fruit shake.
Most of the food Dutch people consume is greasy and lacks basic nutrients our body needs to function properly. Moreover, what worries me the most, the Dutch love to snack on sugary chocolate bars, cookies (common stroopwafles – a waffle made from two thin layers of baked batter with a caramel-like syrup filling), waffles, crisps and candies.
I was indulging myself in these yummy caramel waffles every day! They tasted awesome with a cup of hot milk (I have noticed that most of Dutch people drink only cold milk).
The most surprising thing though is the fact that despite their unhealthy diet they still stay slim and look fit! Can anyone explain why? I never saw an overweight Dutch person in the street. Guys are well-built, they are muscled and tall and girls have very girly shapes. I guess the secret lies in Dutch bikes :).
Both, the frikadel and kroket, are deep-fried (my friend fried it in a machine similar to a fryer). In the Netherlands, it is most often served with mayonnaise, curry or tomato ketchup, mustard or even applesauce. I had mine with a dash of ketchup and salad sauce and it was good.
After days of having a tone of sugary snacks, bread with chocolate sprinkles, kebab meat and Doritos crisps, I cooked a healthy meal for my hosts. The table reflects all the food I eat on a regular basis at home and during my travels – a lot of green veggies (mainly broccoli, lettuce, green beans), my favourite fish which is salmon in a garlic sauce, feta cheese and boiled potatoes with mushrooms. That was a real detox dinner!
5. Understanding why people DO NOT do drugs despite it’s legal
It seems like the Dutch are not interested in drugs at all. Although it’s legal to take them, they don’t. It’s only in Amsterdam that people (foreigners only) go crazy smoking marijuana in the streets.
Based on recent statistics, lifetime prevalence of marijuana use is 25.7% (ages 15-64) in the Netherlands whereas in the States it is 41.5% (ages 12 and up). As a non-smoker and abstainer, my first impression of Amsterdam was not as good as during my second visit this summer. This time, thanks to visiting Woudrichem, I realized that only Amsterdam is all about drugs, alcohol and prostitute and it’s main goal is to attract attention of tourists who want to try something they could never legally do in their own country. The rest of Holland is all about flowers, beautiful windmills, kindly smiling people and idyllic landscapes.
To sum up, Holland was my home for some time and it felt wonderful to be surrounded by such kind-hearted and warm people. It certainly was not my first neither the last visit in the Land of Tulips, so I look forward to seeing what this country has to offer to me next time.
Have you spotted any differences between your home country and Holland? If so, share your thoughts in the comments as I am curious about your experiences.