Having some shops open until 10pm is something many people in the Netherlands, especially expats, don’t know the uphill battle it was and may have helped push through without knowing it. The fight to have any kind of shop open past the regular Dutch hours of 6pm was won about 10 years ago when Albert Heijn decided to have supermarkets in major cities open from 8am to 8pm, something if I remember correctly political party D66 (Democrats), a party that traditionally caters to expats, were very much in favour of. At the time it upset a lot of smaller shops that claimed they could not compete, the same argument used for shops not being open on Sundays, but without the sorry Christian excuse that usually comes with it.
Rob van Gijzel, the Mayor of Eindhoven (Labour) would love to accommodate the expat population of his city by having all matters of shops in the city centre open until 10pm. His goal is to make Eindhoven more attractive to ‘knowledge workers’ who come from cities with millions of residents and who aren’t used to shops closing at 6pm on weekdays and 5pm on weekends, with the exception of ‘late night shopping nights’ until 9pm, usually Thursdays or Fridays. And of course this means the Dutch get to shop more conveniently as well. But the stakeholders are against the 10pm opening hours, saying “it’s a bridge too far”.
Back in 1996 when I came to work here as a PA for the summer, I lived in Delft and worked in Hoofddorp. I finished worked at about 17:30 and it was completely impossible to buy any supermarket food after 6pm: there were no Albert Heijn To Go’s at train stations back then. The Dutch would tell me to buy all my food for the week on Saturdays like everyone else, but how could I buy seven days’ worth of food for two (I had a roommate – we switched weeks) without a car or even a bike, never mind that our small student fridge couldn’t fit all the food? He had time during the day as a student – I didn’t.
Here’s what I had to do to get food for dinner: I would take the train to Hoofddorp as usual, but get off in Leiden since my connection was always a 25-minute wait. Supermarket chain Via (now defunct) was right next to the train station and open at 7am. Opening early was the trick back then to avoid the arguments about being open late. I would have 25 minutes to shop for dinner and catch my train to get to work. Then I would go to the office’s restaurant and ask to use their fridge to store my food. They laughed, but understood my logic. I’d bring the food home in the train and have food for dinner.
When I told my roommate how retarded opening hours were as compared to what I knew he said it will change some day, and it did. It could change some more though, so yes 10pm for at least food would make a lot of our lives easier and provide more jobs to people. Yes, some supermarkets are open until 10pm now, thanks to Albert Heijn and expats whinging about it. Go Eindhoven!
(Link: www.deondernemer.nl, Photo of an endive potato mash with meatless sausage by Jasja Dekker, some rights reserved)
Tags: Eindhoven, expats, opening hours, supermarkets
An online survey carried out by rtlz.nl and Dutchnews.nl with 1,123 respondents (including myself) revealed to anyone who hadn’t heard this before that expats find it really difficult and even ‘almost impossible’ to make friends with the Dutch, and tend to stick with other expats, which doesn’t help them integrate.
Many expats in the Netherlands come from Germany and England, two thirds of which are men and have an average age of 34, often considered an age at which people already have their groups of friends. An additional explanation is that since many expats don’t stay for long (three to five years), the Dutch won’t bother making new friends with people that won’t be there in a few years.
Work remains the number one place to make friends and sports clubs, the second. In fact, the Netherlands is often compared to a big sports club you need to be a member of in order to integrate. And of course learning Dutch will also help any expat loads, although when everyone around them constantly switches to English, it’s a major obstacle.
Rtlz.nl brought up a nice cultural example, which was if a Dutch person invites you over to their place at 8 pm, many expats expect it to include dinner because many of them eat at 8 pm or later, like the Spanish. The unwritten rule is that the Dutch eat at 6 pm and have had dinner, so don’t expect a meal. The funny thing is, the trains are full of Dutch people not eating dinner at 6 pm, so I dare say this unwritten rule needs to go. I was recently invited at 8 pm by Dutch folks, ate dinner before I came over and then was unexpectedly served dinner again because they wanted to accommodate the non Dutch folks, but hadn’t told anybody. I guess communication is key, but let’s call it an improvement for both sides.
(Links: www.rtlz.nl, www.dutchnews.nl, Photo by Quistnix, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 1.0)
Tags: cultural differences, dinner, expats, survey
According to figures of the ATCB (Amsterdam Toerisme en Congres Bureau) featured in the latest paper copy of Amsterdams Stadsblad, less Brits are coming to Amsterdam to the tune of 6% less in 2008. The main culprit is the dropping pound, which is almost equal to the euro (1 GBP today is worth EUR 1.046 as I write this – hey guys, wanna finally have the euro?). Let’s face it, it’s time to visit London now… and I actually wanted to go to Dublin, but hey.
Many cafes in downtown Amsterdam which specifically cater to a UK-oriented audience have seen their clientele shrink. The article mentions that the usual Brits and Irish who frequent such places are mostly expats rather than tourists. Apparently, the talk of the pub is that the Dutch media negatively portrays Brits (and yes, I’m assuming the Irish, Scots and Welsh, too, though I could be wrong) as ‘loud, annoying drunks’. Amsterdam Mayor Job Cohen even said on television in England that this group of Brits were not welcome. Now, picture the hard-working, decent expats at the pub with their pints rightly complaining that everyone is being depicted as idiots, like the media tends to do with ethnic minorities. Imagine the average Dutch person believing the newspaper they pay money to have delivered to their house and you have an image problem.
Why would any British tourist (or British pound user) want to come if they don’t feel welcome? What part of hospitality is the part where you insult a badly behaving minority to piss off the majority you’re trying to woo to your nation’s capital?
UPDATE: BBC four films in Amsterdam and gets Job Cohen’s opinion on camera.
Amsterdam plans ‘cannabis clean up’.
Tags: Amsterdam, Brits, expats, tourism
Radio Netherlands Worldwide asked a thousand Dutchmen living abroad as expats for their views on politeness in their home country. The same questions were put to 300 expats in the Netherlands in a poll carried out by Expatica.com, a website targeting foreign residents. They were also asked whether they found certain groups in the Netherlands polite or impolite.
The poll held in the Netherlands itself showed that people who work in the Dutch service industry, like waiters and shop employees, did not get high marks when it comes to politeness. Civil servants – with whom expats have a lot of contact especially when they first move to the country – also get low marks. One respondent observes that the Dutch are more polite in their homes than in public:
“I think that is due to their Calvinist background. They believe everyone is equal and thus are not comfortable serving others.”
Groups of people that are considered polite in the Netherlands are receptionists, doctors, nurses and policemen. Even though these groups are thought to be polite, the expats indicated that all the types of people mentioned in the poll are actually more polite in their homelands than in the Netherlands. The only group they find to be really rude back home are teenagers.
The usual argument, which I am not 100% sold on, is that the Dutch (not everyone!) are not impolite, but make people uncomfortable with their direct attitude. Making someone you do not know feel uncomfortable can be considered impolite very quickly and so this is a touchy subject.
I have also heard that this comes off extremely poorly in European countries in a foreign job, as the boss freaks out when he/she gets talked to that way by a Dutch person. I’m again not sure being straight is the best strategy. If trying to fit in means always being straight forward, it is not going to work in the Netherlands simply because foreigners are not expected to act that way.
I can say as a foreigner living in the Netherlands for almost 10 years that I had to get used to that ‘verbal jolt’ you can get in a lot of in the big cities, especially Amsterdam. I have also noticed that anyone older than 50 is very polite in any city.
There is a huge difference betweem telling things like they are and not saying please or thank you. I think Radio Netherlands has it mixed up.
Tags: cultural differences, expats, manners, politeness