Friday 9 December 2011

What people miss about the Netherlands

An online TV station for Dutch speaking people who live and work in other countries recently ran a survey to ask what Dutch people most miss about their homeland.

The winner was Herring, which people like to eat raw. However, "Cycling" came in at sixth place overall. This was presented in the results as 6th of out of ten.

Actually, "Cycling" came in at 6th out of 213 categories nominated by the public, and another ten related categories helped to water down the "cycling" vote.

The other ten categories about cycling were "The bike", "Cycling without a helmet in the dunes", "Cycle-paths", "Mostly cycle-paths and cycling", "Going along with friends and family by bike", "Wonderful cycling with a warm jacket against the headwinds", "The cycling, my bike, riding through Amsterdam", "Good Cycle-paths", "The bike", "Family, croquettes, real chips, licorice, cycling and the Dutch language".

I think it's notable what sort of cycling people are thinking about. Recreational riding with friends and family; having a nice time on cycle-paths through the dunes and not just any cycle-path, but specifically good cycle-paths.

Cycle-paths go together with cycling in one of the categories. i.e. to cycle you need cycle-paths. What is meant of course is the very dense grid of high quality cycle-paths as seen in The Netherlands. The practical type of bike that most people ride in the Netherlands is a factor. Helmets are not wanted.

In response, a similar survey was run on the English language Dutch news website

This website's audience is English speaking people who currently live and work in the Netherlands. They picked up the top ten categories from the Dutch language survey and asked what people from other countries who currently live and work in the Netherlands think they'll miss most if or when they leave the country. The winning category stands out by a mile.

I've mentioned it before, and I think it still remains true, that people cycle in the Netherlands because it's pleasant to cycle in the Netherlands. Dutch people taken to another place will often stop cycling because conditions don't make the experience of doing so nearly as pleasant elsewhere. People who come from another country to live here are likely to start cycling.

That people cycle in the Netherlands is predominantly because of the enhanced subjective safety brought primarily by cycle-paths and also by segregation of modes without cycle-paths. It's really not "rocket science" and it's certainly not some vague nation of "the culture". The good cycling infrastructure of this country makes a difference to how people live and increases the standard of living of people who live here.

You need the contrast between one place and another to understand this. I've lived in three different countries and found that each has special things to offer. The Netherlands is probably unique in that a slice of the population not selected for being interested in cycling would place cycling in a top ten list of this sort.

Of course, some Dutch people with little, or no, experience of living in other places take what they've got here entirely for granted. They really don't know how lucky they are.

The website also carried out the same survey for Belgian people. In Belgium, frieten (chips / fries) were the winner. Cycling did not appear in their top ten. However this is not surprising. The Belgians don't cycle anything like so much as the Dutch do so they won't miss it so much either. Every country has things which people miss. Beer and really good Indian vegetarian food come top of my list of things that I miss from the UK. It's been decades since I lived there, but I still miss the weather from the New Zealand. The Netherlands has its high cycling modal share despite the weather, not because of it.


Michael S said...

Well, to be honest, some of the categories in the second graph are not surprisingly low. This is tru for e.g. herring, I suspect (cause this is a dutch thing, not one of the asked for foreigners living in the NL), Sinterklaas (as a dutch cultural thing) and family (cause this is what foreigners normally have left and miss in the NL, not at their return). Nevertheless it is impressive, that cycling seems to stand out as the common positive thing, foreigners have experienced in the NL. ... Again, no wonder, since cycling is so wonderful :-)

Tommy said...

I love to ride on my bicycle to the herring stall for a "one on the tail" and a shrimp croquette!!


Andy in Germany said...

It always ascinates me how similar the Dutch and German language are.

When I ride the Bakfiets I miss the nice cycle lanes I could use in Amsterdam. I also miss the lack of hills...

Anonymous said...

Dubbel zoute drop (extra-salty dutch licorice - salty in the salmiak sense, i.e. ammonia salt), and dutch cycling infrastructure.

jet said...

you miss NZ weather? you must be a polar bear! ;)

kfg said...

Wherever there is any significant population of Ashkenazi there will be maatjes.

So the trick to finding it is knowing that you have to seek out a kosher market, something that may not be obvious to the average Dutchie used to being able to get it just anywhere.

It will likely be made in a German or Polish style, however.

Norma said...

Just after reading your post I came across this clip from the Frisian singer 'gewoon Bram'
I can't understand a word of it (it's Frisian) but the song's about good old boy Bram going to his girl who lives in Harkema on his bike. This is what people miss about the Netherlands :-)).

David Hembrow said...

Michael: I definitely agree with you on the herring.

Andy: you should have practiced a few times on this hill before taking the bike back to Germany.

Pjakma: I tried it once. It's an acquired taste...

Jet: We lived just south of Auckland. Quite an agreeable climate, very pleasant in the summer, and never cold. Groningen is only about 1.5 C different in summer peaks, but 8 C different in the winter.

Norma: He's a proper Dutch cyclist - riding in the snow without gloves.

Anonymous said...

Oh, appelstroop (trick apple syrup) too. Pannekoeken/pancake restaurants. Perhaps some other germanic European countries might have them, but they don't exist in Britain/Ireland or the south of Europe at least. You can find them in parts of the USA though.

The usually *far* better organised public services & planning - at least compared to UK & Ireland. (Downside: taxes are much higher in NL, and NL was also prone to gratuitously excessive amounts of bureaucracy, least when we were last there).

I think that's all for now. :)

Kevin Love said...


English and Frisian are also remarkably similar. Whenever I'm in that part of NL it sounds like I am in one of the parts of the UK where the locals speak English with an impossible to understand accent.

David Hembrow said...

Kevin: They are supposedly relatively close. However, I find that in practice the Friese language is more difficult to understand than normal Dutch, the local dialect of Dutch, or indeed heavily accented English.

Anonymous said...

And then there's Bert, who'd just as soon stay in New Zealand, except that his wife longs for home:

Kevin Love said...


I wasn't writing about understanding Frisian. I meant what it sounded like.

Have you ever sat in a pub in the UK where the locals at the next table over were allegedly speaking English, but it was totally incomprehensible? That's what Frisian "sounds like" to me.

The last time that happened to me I was in Cornwall. The locals there also don't do change-ringing the same way as everyone else, but that's a whole 'nother topic.

David Hembrow said...

Kevin: Oh, that's what you mean. Yes, I've had a similar experience. When we moved back from New Zealand to the UK I couldn't understand the west country accents of some of my relatives at all. I learnt quickly. Wurzels for Christmas number one in the UK.

celeph said...

I'm from Germany originally (close
to the Dutch border actually) - and cycling is what I miss most as well. Even more than family & friends! There are many ways to stay in touch with friends and family, but bicycling - I had to give it up completely. Riding on a bike trainer in the basement was just not an option.

It's funny though how much I took for granted when I was growing up.

It was just after I moved to the US that I had to realize how lucky I really was before.

One can't always take nice & flat terrain for granted, or streets to be smooth, clean and well-maintained. I found that when I had to ride through broken glass, trash and potholes everywhere.

It also used to be awesome to ride from one city to another without ever having to hit the main roads and high traffic areas, by using a network of parks, fields, bike-lanes/paths, and calmed traffic zones. I never realized that until I faced a car-centric city design that often doesn't even leave room for sidewalks, not to mention bike-lanes. It still puzzles me how (city) streets can be planned without even the most narrow sidewalk. Yea, let's people walk on streets with traffic rushing by at 50mph - great idea.

I also took for granted that I could reach everything from home and never thought there would be parks in the same city I could only reach by car because there are no routes you could take by bike or even public transportation (public transportation is a whole other story I won't even get into).

I was able to commute by bike to work for a few years and have countless stories about how I was cut off by annoyed motorists, honked, yelled, and how dangerous cycling was in general compared to Germany/Holland.

I got used to that and was able to avoid most of it by riding through the alleys (despite the smell in hot & humid summers), but what got me most was the degree of violence beyond all the terrain, roads and traffic.

When kids grab and punch you trying to fetch your bike & backpack or others who just find it funny to kick your rear wheel because you don't drive a car like normal people (or whatever other motivations there may have been).

After the third assault in two years I gave up and surrendered to the car. That didn't happen even once before I moved to this city, and riding armed with baton & pepper spray isn't my idea of a pleasant pastime. :)

I know I need a therapy - my wife thinks I'm suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. Maybe - but I know I wouldn't need one in the land of happy cyclists. lol

If life was less complicated and I was alone - I wouldn't hesitate a second and move back where you can ride and be happy. Friends & family would probably appreciate that, too. :)

Unknown said...

Just an FYI...The english language has some of its origins in dialects from the northern part of NL and the northwestern part of germany collectively called 'anglo-friesian' brought over by the anglo-saxons when they invaded britain during the dark ages. Actually the word 'english' isnt even english at all, its (what today is called) german for 'englisch' meaning: pertaining to the engels or 'anglos' in english. Anyway, english is a somewhat young language in the world.

Whenever i leave NL i miss the short distances to grocery stores.