Any house hunter in the Philadelphia region may have encountered it in the recent red-hot real estate market: Their dream home suddenly appears on Zillow
How bad is it to live in the Netherlands?
As an American that lives in the Netherlands, maybe I can provide a unique response from an American point of view. I will try to be very accurate and even-handed about the response, and try to explain things from an American POV of how things differ. I’ll also try to clearly cut through the BS and give the real perspective and not things you hear in anecdotal stories and in the media (especially the conservative media outlets). I’ll also start it out with a true story that illustrates the “bottom line” after all the pros and cons are netted out, from the perspective of my daughter, who is unsoiled by media or political biases.
So first the story. My family moved here a few years ago from the US, where we lived in a beautiful place, nice gated community, living an upper-middle class life style. Best schools, great neighborhood, good friends, great jobs and incomes, etc etc etc. The quintessential American dream. When I was given this great job opportunity in the Netherlands, both my wife and daughter were less than enthused about it. My wife, being a regular consumer of conservative media, had a vision of the NL being a debaucherous haven for sick sexual and drug addict behaviors. Everybody either visiting or working in a red light booth everyday and smoking weed 24/7. My daughter had the typical pre-teen response of “you are going to ruin my life, and I’ll have no friends, and it’s all the way around the world, away from my friends and family” thing. She cried for three days straight when we made the final decision to come. Refused to talk to me and my wife for a while. The only thing that kept my spirits up was a lot of other people who had worked in various places in Europe before and promised it would be an eternally positive experience for my daughter.
So, now, a few years later, I am getting ready to retire and we will likely move back to the US, since we aren’t citizens here and thus cannot stay without a lot of hassle. So, reluctantly, we will return, but all three of us, including my daughter, are very sad about it.
The lifestyle here in NL, bottom line, is so much better than the American lifestyle. You have a real sense of freedom, values, safety, and acceptance here, that you just don’t get broadly in the US. If my daughter wants to take her bike and ride to the next town over to visit a friend, on a dark and lonely night, there is no fear to let her go. No fear of violence, kidnapping, derranged individuals, etc. And now, after telling my daughter that we will go back to the US finally, where she can reconnect with her old friends and family, we were surprised to find that she had very thoughtfully factored everything into the equation and decided that her life was much better here and had no desire to return. I fully agree.
With that said, what are the Pros and Cons of The NL versus the US? Here is a short list of what I heard when I was moving here, versus what I found.
Perceived con — the NL is an ultra-liberal haven for illicit drugs and sex trade. Truth = There are a few red light districts, just like almost every other country in Europe. They are clean and safe and there are lots of protections in place for everyone, workers and tourists. The infamous red-light district in Amsterdam is more like a giant tourist trap now, full of pubs, bars, restaurants, museums, etc. it’s almost like walking through a weird sort of Disneyland. Families with small kids stroll through there day and night because of all the other unique things to do. And the pot? Yes, it is semi-legal here, which means you can buy it from an authorized dealer if you are a resident, but if you are a young tourist from the US trying to score a hit, it is really difficult unless you have a local helping you. Anyway, the crime you normally would associate with drugs and prostitution is almost non-existent here.
Perceived con – The Dutch have no “filter” and are very direct and rude. Truth – ok, a little bit, but nothing like you would expect. They are actually very warm, friendly, and humorous people in general. They love to joke and laugh, and party, etc. Occasionally, one of them will accidentally “go full Dutch” on you, which usually means they will say something that you would associate with Asperger’s Syndrome, not a really rude, angry rant. You are much more likely to hear a Dutch person complain about your bicycling skills, than actually being aggressively rude to you. As an example, consider the classic dilemma. A wife asks her husband if this dress makes her look fat. While the American man, in a sweaty panic, stumbles uncomfortably through an explanation of how the dress helps accentuate her inner beauty, the Dutch husband would simply tell his wife that she is morbidly obese and no dress could make her look skinny. But he would also say that he loves her and suggests that she lose 30kg, so they can live longer together.
Perceived con – Aggressive and rude bikers everywhere. Truth – yep, 100% true. Don’t screw with a Dutch person on their bike. As soon as they jump on their bicycle, they automatically enter into some kind of LA South Central road-rage gangster mind set. Even the old ladies will run you over and then turn around and scream at you for making her run you over. And when you get a bunch of them biking in unison, it’s as bad as a Hell’s Angels biker gang. Watch out. When I first arrived here, and was learning the biking “rules”, I was riding to the train station one day on a very narrow bike path, only wide enough for one bike, so no one could pass. I was pedaling a little bit slower than the average, and already had a slightly frustrated crowd of people drafting behind me. I could feel them groaning at my pacing. Up ahead, there was an old lady, probably in her 90’s, who was approaching the bike path on an intersecting sidewalk. She had one of those 4-legged walker things, and was making slow cautious steps and not looking upstream on the bike path. The quick calculation of intersecting velocities in my head said that I would slam right into her, about the time she got to the bike path. So I did what any normal human without biker road rage would do: I put on the brakes and slowed down to allow her to cross. And, instantly, it was like a multi-car pile up on a snowy highway. Bam bam bam, the bikes all slammed into me from behind, and the yelling and accusations started flying. The angry riders demanded to know why I was so stupid as to stop suddenly. In my defense, I turned around and pointed at the poor little old lady who I was trying to save. As I turned around, I was horrified to find that she was angrily shaking her walker at me and joining in the chorus of insults at the stupid American. Bottom line, the Dutch are great ‘til there are bikes involved.
Perceived con – super high taxes. Truth = yes and no. Mostly no. Yes, the top tax rate here is 52% versus 40% in the US. Seems to suck, especially for higher income people. For me, the difference in tax rates comes out to about $2000-$2500 per month. However, keep in mind that the extra taxes pay for better public transportation, healthcare, college tuitions, better public schools, and many other things. When I add up these costs that I pay for in the US, I find that— worst-case—I’m about break-even from a net, out-of-pocket perspective. In fact, I may actually be a little bit ahead of the curve here in NL. So, yes, taxes are higher, but your net out-of-pocket costs are about the same, and generally life is easier and better and less frustrating. You get what you pay for. If you laugh at a guy who drives a Ferrari because he paid too much for his car, and you are driving a much cheaper decades-old Yugo, then do you really have a point?
Perceived con – public healthcare is a disaster, you have long wait times, substandard doctors, death panels, etc. Truth = I don’t recognize any of this. It is super easy to get in and see a doctor. I’ve needed two surgeries and some dental work since I’ve lived here, and it has been easy, fast, efficient, high quality, and actually a great experience. And best of all, you don’t have months and months of fighting with doctors and insurance companies about how much they will cover or not, and how much of the cost they are trying to push back on you. I’ve had this happen a few times in the US and it drove me to absolute, insane frustration. Never happens here. You walk out of the doctor when your visit is done. No stopping to show your insurance cards, making co-pays, etc. It’s a dream.
Perceived con – Europe is hyper-liberal and hyper-politically correct and there is sensitivity about any kind of off-color commentary or jokes. Truth – Hah! Not at all. This is about the most politically incorrect place you could imagine, but not for the reasons you may think. The best I can describe it is that when everyone is on a truly equal playing field, nobody gets offended easily about joking. It’s like when I was hanging with my old college buddies. We drink, and curse, and hurl all kinds disgusting-but-funny insults at each other and no one cares, because it’s your buddies and you feel safe with them. You know it is all in good fun. Being offended by jokes has a huge basis in differential of power in the relationships between people. Here in NL, there is more real equality and freedom, so when you joke with coworkers it feels more like joking with your old college buddies. People tell all kinds of off-color jokes in the office here, even the little old ladies in HR. It’s actually quite refreshing.
Perceived con – Labor unions are out of control, and hold the entire populace hostage with the constant threat of strikes. Truth – yes, sort of. It is quite frustrating sometimes. I understand the need for unions and labor protections, but sometimes I wonder if the pendulum has swung too far the other way. It varies from country to country here. Overall, NL is nowhere near as bad as France in this regard.
Perceived Pro – Dutch people are very tall and beautiful. Truth – 100% true. Holy crap, I have never seen so many super-model-looking people running around. Men and women. Insane. A 5 here is a 9+ in the US. Wow.
Perceived Pro – Easy to jump on a train and go almost anywhere in Europe for relatively cheap ticket prices. True. I love that about here. My house is about a 5 minute walk from the nearest train station, and from there I can 1–2 hop to just about anywhere in mainland Europe. It is fast, cheap, efficient, reliable, comfortable, etc. it is so cool to be able to weekend in France, Germany, Switzerland, UK, Estonia, Czech Republic, and on and on and on. And this isn’t the exclusive domain of the rich. Average folks can and do this all the time.
Real Con – Soft-drink sizes. Almost every restaurant you go to only serves tiny little 150–200ml bottles of drinks, and for 3–4 Euros per bottle. By the time you have drunk as much as a McD’s average soft-drink cup you are 5 bottles in for a 20-Euro price tag. Come on NL. Get some dammed soda fountains, with unlimited refills for $3. Join the modern world!
Real Con – Process on top of process on top of process. If you don’t like the take-a-ticket feeder lines at the DMV, then you are in for a shock. You don’t just walk into any store, library, office, drug store—any place—without standing in line to take a ticket, to get in the proper line-up sequence to take your next ticket. Once you get used to it, you see that it is very efficient, but getting used to it is crazy. You can literally walk into an office where there are 5 open customer service agents, with absolutely no one in the waiting room. It can be a total ghost town and yet, when you walk up to the counter and start talking to an agent, he/she will immediately ask you if you have a ticket yet and did they call your number. Then, you can literally go get an f’ing ticket, and walk back to the counter, only to have them say, that the sign doesn’t yet read that they are serving that ticket number. Step back, wait, stare, wait, stare, wait, stare, wait… Ding! Now serving #00001. Back to the agent, show them the ticket, ask your question, and then the agent says, “you chose the wrong ticket type from the machine”. This ticket is for picking something up, not asking a question. Back to the f’ing machine, google-f’ing-translate the f’ing instructions, get a new f’ing ticket for asking an f’ing question. Wait, stare, wait, glare, wait, stare, wait…. Ding! Now serving #00002. Holy crap, Batman!
Real con – Parking. There is no such thing as a free parking space. Even if you parallel park in a back street, with no meters, no signs, no, warnings, no indication at all that parking costs money, and no way to even pay, it still isn’t free. There is some mystery app, or special gadget, or some sign you have to buy or sticker you need to have, and it is different everywhere. If you are driving around and think you found yourself a nice free spot in an open parking space, expect a ticket for $100–150 when you get back. Seriously people. No free parking. Not in store parking lots, not in front of your house, not even at the f’ing IKEA. After you park anywhere, follow someone who looks like they know what they are doing and find out how to pay. The good news is that if you abandon the car altogether and go with public transit, no worries at all.
Real pro – safety and cleanliness. NL is much safer, much cleaner, and much more organized in general than the US. No shootouts in the streets, no crazy 5-guns-per-household culture, no NRA mentality. And as a result, much, much less violent crime and many fewer murders. Also, the Dutch tend to be very neat and organized, so you don’t see a lot of uncut lawns or trash in the streets, even in non-touristy urban areas. Very tidy everywhere.
Real pro – Very low percentage of evangelical neo-cons. The right wing conservative parties over here tend to be very fiscally conservative and want to limit immigration, but they aren’t crazy. In fact, they tend to be very well-spoken and very data-driven and make very good and rational policy points, even if you don’t fully agree. Same with the liberals here. Very intelligent and rational. You will almost never find any mainstream politician who is anti-science, anti-data, or claims global climate change isn’t happening, or that the Earth is only 6000 years old, or that Creationism should be taught in schools, etc. No one would win a popular election having these crazy old beliefs from two centuries ago. On the liberal side, you don’t find a lot of strong feminist movements or racial dividing, or playing rich against poor, or pushing for political correctness. The politics here has its own irrationalities and weird people, but overall it is much more sane and mainstream than the US. A person like Trump could never have been made President here.
Real pro – General education and sanity of the population. Back to my comment about real equality driving more relaxed behaviors, nobody tries to ban schools and business from celebrating Christmas, and in reverse, nobody tries to shove Christmas down the throats of others, or to shame other religious beliefs. It’s just relaxed and fun and cool. With one exception these days, Zwarte Piet. Look it up. I won’t explain.
Real con – Nobody seems to take a foreign credit card. Seriously. Outside of airlines and hotels, and a few restaurants in really touristy areas, you can’t use an f’ing credit card anywhere here. It will drive you bat-s#!t crazy. There is nothing like working all day to buy 100 pieces of furniture at IKEA, grab the right ticket, haul your big-ass carrier full of stuff through the long lines, and get all the way to the end of the checkout, and then find out that they don’t take Visa. Aaaaaaahhhhhhhhh!!! They are moving to a truly cashless environment, and driving good credit behaviors, through local banks. So, if you don’t have a local-bank debit pin card, you might as well be stranded on a desert island. Many places won’t even take cash, so if you plan to stay and travel here, get a local bank account, or prepare to beg for food in the streets.
Real pro -Almost everyone speaks English, except really old people. You can go anywhere and have an easy conversation in English. Most people in NL will speak English better than most Americans.
These are a few of my thoughts on living here. There are a few minor frustrations here and there, but in general, this is a much more civilized, modern, safe, and free place than my home country, and if I could, I would probably opt to become a full citizen and stay. At least till we elect someone better than Donald Trump.