I certainly wouldn’t say I’m experiencing culture shock transitioning to the Netherlands from the United States, but every now and then something happens that catches my attention and I can’t help but marvel at my own surprise. Here’s a list of some subtle things that are just a little different from what I’m used to.
- Bicycles are a necessary means of transportation. In old SAT terms, bike is to Netherlands as car is to United States. I was informed that this was the case before I arrived, but I didn’t appreciate the magnitude of its truth. It’s not that people bike everywhere because they think it’s fun, healthy, or environmentally friendly – although they may feel this way. It takes LESS time for me to bike to the city center than to take the bus, and it’s cheaper. Additionally, there is no bus route to the nearest grocery store – you have to bike there (or drive, but cars are super expensive).As a side note, I spent ~2 hours searching the internet for every bus and bike route at home to figure out how I could bring my newly rediscovered biking skills back to the United States. My conclusion: I still need a car. The roads I have to take to get to where I’m going are too dangerous for a bike. And bike lanes? What are those?
- Lunch. Almost every day since I got here, I’ve had a cheese sandwich for lunch. By this I mean a slice (or two if I feel like splurging) of cheese between two slices of bread. Oftentimes I heat it up on the mini Panini grill that seems to be a staple of every department in the vet school. There’s a microwave, but it’s rarely ever used. At my school at home, there are seven or eight microwaves and there’s STILL a line to heat up your food. On any given day in the vet school in the Netherlands, everyone has pretty much the same lunch – a cheese sandwich, sometimes with meat but oftentimes not, fruit, and some type of crackers/biscuits. It’s certainly different than the line of microwave meals and leftovers I’m used to seeing!
- Free coffee and tea. While we’re on the topic of food, let’s talk about how free coffee and tea seem to be an expected element of any Dutch department. There’s no “you bring the grounds and I’ll bring the sugar” discussion, it’s just simply provided. And everyone takes a coffee/tea break at 10am and 3pm. We’ve had clients come in during coffee break and they just come in and sit down with us. Their attitude is one of, “Oh, of course, you’re having coffee. No problem, it is that time of day, isn’t it?”
- Sheep have tails (real tails, not short nubby things). Yes, I knew that sheep have tails before I came here, and I also knew that Americans typically dock sheep’s tails. What I didn’t know was that my own mental image of a sheep includes a short, stubby docked tail.
- Boys and girls don’t get separate locker rooms. At least, not at the vet school. Granted, the locker rooms of which I’m speaking are just for changing from street clothes to clinic clothes and not showering or anything where you would get completely naked. However, you’re definitely stripping down to your underwear, and while I don’t mind, I just can’t see that going over well in the USA.
- Safety? What safety? I visited a historic windmill with the other American student in this program, which involved climbing up (and down) a ladder that was almost completely vertical, and at the top there was an obvious lack of barriers to prevent people from getting too close to the edge. My friend’s apartment, on the 10th floor of the building, has a window that opens completely and has no screen, ledge, or other barrier to prevent people from falling/jumping to their doom. In the past week there have been workmen replacing the roof of my building, and I’ve opened my door three times to find a ladder directly blocking my exit, which left me with no choice but to sidle between the ladder and some scaffolding to be able to leave my room. Every time I just can’t help but thinking of how these things would never be accepted in the USA. However, it was explained to me that this is because Europeans have personal liability insurance (for my European friends reading this, personal liability insurance does NOT exist in the USA). Basically, the way that it works is that if you do anything to cause damage to another person’s property/self, your personal liability insurance company talks to their personal liability company and they settle the charges. Obviously it’s much like our auto insurance, but it applies to everything. In the United States we just sue people, which doesn’t seem like a better plan to me.
I may update this post in the future as more things seem to be appropriate to add. I’d love to hear about other people’s experiences that represent the sentiment, “I Wouldn’t Call It Culture Shock But It Is A Little Different”