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a VirtualTourist member asked on Sep 19, 2013


how is it different

How is life in Hilversum different than in the united states? what would the biggest shock be to a family moving there?

8 Answers

answered on 9/19/13 by
a VT member from Vancouver

Each country has it's own life style and The Netherlands is no different. Probably the biggest shock will be that the spoken word is Dutch, many speak English but Dutch is the official language, so unless you are willing to learn Dutch you may be in for a big shock.

answered on 9/19/13 by
a VT member from Boston

I made a move from Boston to Amsterdam for grad school and found the Dutch culture shockingly different in many ways. For Americans I think one big issue is the matter of space. Living spaces are much smaller than what many of us are used to. Trains are often packed, traffic is always heavy, shops are crowded, concerts are sold out, and a disproportionate amount of the country is urban or densely suburban. Everywhere you go there are people.
This crowding has led to a society based on a carefully maintained consensus, which means that it can sometimes feel quite conformist.
Also, Dutch people tend to be quite upfront with their opinions and express themselves more bluntly than we're used to. What often feels like rudeness to us is simple honesty to them, and they tend to think we beat around the bush too much.
As for the language, you will certainly score points if you learn it, but they will make it as difficult as possible for you by immediately switching to English when they hear your accent, or correcting your errors so mercilessly that you won't want to speak at all.
I could go on, but I strongly suggest you try to get your hands on a book called "The Undutchables" by Colin White and Laurie Boucke. It's a really funny discussion of this topic by expats who had the experience.
BTW, in case I gave the wrong impression, I love the Netherlands and consider it my second home. But it did take effort.

answered on 9/19/13 by
a VT member from Hellevoetsluis

There are some great and readable books about Dutch culture. One is 'Undutchables' which I advise you to read. My Netherlands page is packed with typical Dutch cultural stuff, maybe you'd like to look.
[original VT link]
You may also like Nathalie's page, who lived in The Netherlands.
[original VT link]

As for Hilversum, I lived near there and know the region well (had one of my first jobs in Hilversum, actually). Hilversum is what one could call a country town in the US or a market town in the UK but it is officially a 'village' (which locals are proud to hold on to). It means that schools, shops, train station and amenities (even a hospital) are all available there.
Hilversum is situated in a lovely rural area, it is THE media town in The Netherlands (if one says 'Hilversum' it is synonymous to 'media' ie TV and radio).
Hilversum is also conveniently between Amsterdam and Utrecht at a short distance, so job and university possibilities are good.

Hilversum itself is also quite well to do. Lovely old villa's and in the area of Hilversum some of the grandest houses in the country along the river Vecht.
You can go sailing at Loosdrecht, lots of cycling routes, beautiful small villages like Vreeland (where I lived), the very posh (as in lots of rich people) in nearby Blaricum and Laren.

If you like, I can recommend a language learning method. I am a Dutch language teacher myself and taught many NT2 (Dutch second language).

answered on 9/20/13 by
a VT member from Arnhem

Great overview from dnwitte about some (true) differences between Americans and Dutch, although "shockingly" might be a bit overdone and depends soly on how you look upon things (personality).

Note: Hilversum is the Hollywood of the Netherlands, although Americans will not agree in this as they will not even know one of Dutch film and TV celebs. Anyway, Hilversum is our TV-town and not as crowded as Amsterdam, which rather much green and foresty around. But, yes, the Netherlands is one of the most dense populated area's in the world and we still welcome foreigners to come and live with us crazy people (-: Overcrowdedness is also depending on your place of living now. Someone from New York might consider this a bit different from a person that lives in Wyoming.

The book the Undutchables is indeed a good perspective, although writing from the views of a foreigner looking towards the Netherlands and only little gives a reasoning WHY things in the Netherlands are different. When you understand this cultural-historical causes to the effects that you see now-a-days, you get much more connected to the country and it's people. To have a different approach on how we think, you might concider to read books about how we look upon Americans (e.g. "These are typical Americans"). This also immediately gives a mirroring effect on ones own behaviour.
Speaking the Dutch language, yes I find it a duty for everyone that is going to live in the Netherlands. True, we all speak English and we all want to help foreigners that visit our country. Dutch people are very addaptive and emigrants to Canada, Australia or the States are known to have lost their own language within one generation. In our hearts we do find that people from anywhere in the world living somewhere else should do the same. What I disagree in with dnwitte is that we make it foreigners difficult to learn Dutch by correcting every mistake they make. I myself am a lingual teacher for refugees that come to NL and never am hammering on purity within the Dutch language, simply because we Dutch ourselves hold more than 100 dialects! Pronounciation has therefore many varieties and this makes it unnecessary to keep correcting. Whenever starting to learn Dutch, just ask people to talk (simple) Dutch with you so you can learn it first hand. Most of us will be happy and honoured when you interest yourself for our language, how insignificant it might be on a worldly scale.

ATLC's tips are great and NathalieB did live here in NL after some years in the US. On my pages there are also some. Above all I wish you wonderful stay in the Netherlands and if there are any questions, don;t hesitate to ask them here.

answered on 9/20/13 by
a VT member from Hengelo

Better be prepared to cycle close distances.

Hilversum itself is like most Dutch towns, but as it is "Hillywood" there are some smaller places around where the Dutch "Rich and Famous" live.

Just buy a copy of the book "The Undutchables" and do your reading.

There are some expat groups in the Netherlands; some are very active.
Have a look at:


answered on 9/20/13 by
a VT member from Arnhem

As much as most other Dutchman, I welcome everyone to my country to visit or to stay. However I must speak against "expat societies" as they emphasis differences and hold on to the wish to STAY different. This of course stands opposit towards integration and actually hold a thought of "at home everything is better". Even if so, I find that a dangerous and in many cases insulting idea.

Nowhere in the world one can express their own identity in so much freedom; and nowhere in the world there is such a melting pot of cultural variety as in the Netherlands, except for the fact that it more and more is not a melting pot, but a society consisting of numerous small groups that do not want to blend in at all. A worrying situation that has lead to the rising of (extreme) right wing groups (and I here want to emphasize the cause more than the effect). These groups are an even bigger threat to the present freedom of identity. By the way, I think that identity should not be based on nationality, language, race or religion, but on your own personality that behaves in a group that forms your immediate surrounding (family, friends, colleagues, neighbors and all other people in your vicinity). So, if you change the group, you should partly reconsider your behaviour, which will possibly change your personality. New views should enrich us and we should not stumble over a few "strange" concepts, until we see the complete picture (and if I look around, I am very satisfied about what we created in this small country, allthough there are still things that could change us for the better, without breaking society down).

So, it definately does not mean that people have to leave their identity (which is often influenced by nationality, language, religion etc.), but at least in public start to behave like the general opinion subscribes people how to behave. In general Dutch is spoken in the streets, so learn Dutch (we will help you!). In general one stands up for elderly people in a bus, so get up (I guess in the US this is the same). In general you don't throw candypaper on the street (in the US you risk a penalty, here we do not have that, but still ... do not litter) ... etc. Lately these standards seem to disappear more and more, which makes me worry about in what direction we go. It seems that indeed penalties are the only way to return order and that actually means that people do not understand anymore WHY certain standards were there. Our behaviour comes with our conformising within a group or society. Searching for other people from the group that you once belonged to in the past (and in another place) does not conform, but leads you away from melting into your surroundings.

Of course, these things also have to do with how long you are going to stay in the Netherlands. If it is only for a few years, almost no-one will judge you to not learn Dutch language completely or adapt completely to our ways of living, but ... when your stay will be permenant or for a long time ... then adapt as soon as possible and be progressive by looking towards the future and not back into the past. Don't put your children on the international school, but send them to a Dutch school (they anyway will learn English, added with French and German). Amazing to see how quickly they adapt to their immediate environment, somehow they understand much better than adults how "blending in" should be done. This way will eventually also speed up integration and understanding and with that less conflicts, less tension and more mutual understanding.

answered on 9/20/13 by
a VT member from Boston

..........although "shockingly" might be a bit overdone and depends solely on how you look upon things (personality)........

Perhaps overdone, but I came to live in NL fairly young and was not at prepared for how different a highly developed modern country could be from my own, and in how many subtle and not so subtle ways. I mean things like norms of behavior, bureaucratic procedures, use of limited space, understanding of personal transactions. There are so many items of daily furniture that we don't notice until someone moves them. A typical example is the issue of smiling. I quickly noticed that in many transactions where it is normal for Americans to smile, Dutch people do not, and indeed find it fatuous. It's offputting at first, but quite normal.

As for the language issue, I counted it a significant triumph the first time I went out to do a bit of shopping and did not get handled in English because the shopkeeper couldn't instantly identify my accent. (BTW, my Dutch friends still think I have weird accent, and some people guess I'm Danish.)

answered on 9/20/13 by
a VT member from Arnhem

Well, you made me smile now, as it is great to read your comment! Anyway, I guess you now know that the Dutch themselves have so many accents and dialects themselves, that one actually shouldnĂ˝ bother you with not speaking perfect ABN (standard Dutch).
Your smiling issue was the one that made me smile most, as I exactly know what you mean. Having travelled through America I have encountered numerous occasions in which I however realy felt offended when people smiled at me.
E.g. a parking attendent giving me a parking fine, because I -without knowing that this was not allowed- I parked near a fire hydrant to quickly pick up some groceries. The fine was not that high, but the remark "have a nice day, sir" with a big smile on his face really p***ed me off. I guess you are now smiling as well.
Another time in a restaurant in Monterey, after a wonderful lunch, we already cleared the dishes from the table to be able to chat some more and enjoy the glass of wine. So we put the plates to the side so that the waiter could more easily pick them up and when he arrives he looks very strange at us, asks us with a big smile, why we were doing his job and whether it would cost him his tip. We replied that we were only being helpful and that his remark surely endangered his tip. He turned away with the dishes and mumbled "they must be Dutch" after which I proudly declared that we indeed were Dutch and that this remark for sure evaporated his tip.

In the Netherlands we smile when we are happy. Happy to see someone, happy to be somewhere or simply because we feel happy. Most of us detest smiling for having a benefitial means or commercial value. We feel it to be dishonest, as you are not smiling for a real reason. It makes us feel dirty, as we do not like untrue behaviour. Well, at least I do not like it. By now you no doubt already know this, but it is funny to read your comment.

By the way, after a Dutch person has reached his profit, he know doubt will anyway smile. (-:

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