Jip en Janneke, written by Annie M.G. Schmidt and illustrated by Fiep Westendorp.

These sweet black & white drawings

These lovely two right here are Jip en Janneke: they were born around the 50’s as a comic strip for a dutch newspaper and, ever since, they became the first reading friends of several generations of dutch children (and expats trying to learn dutch). Now you can find them also in T’s, stickers, bags, mugs and all the merchandising imaginable. Even a common expression was born in their honor: “Jip en Janneke taal” (“the language of Jip en Janneke”) which means “speaking in an easy and understandable way”.

Water world

The name of The Netherlands -or Lower lands- is not metaphoric: about one third of the country is below the sea level (e.g. Schipol, the Amsterdam airport, is 10 meters below the North Sea). The explanation of why we aren’t now swimming can be summed up in two words: dunes & dikes. As the first ones are the natural defense against the sea (this is the role of the northern islands), the first attempts of dikes (“terpen” or kind of human-built dunes) were built up here 2.000 years ago by the first inhabitants of Friesland. Since then, The Netherlands has worked restlessly in new ways to “control” the sea and to dry new land, suffering in the meantime several floodings that have killed thousands of people (the last one, in 1953 in the Zeeland province). Nowadays, the country is defended in the north by the Afsluitdijk (“the closing dike”, a 32 km long dike built in 1933 and with a motorway above) and in the south-west by the 700 km of dikes resulted of the “Deltawerken”, the project borned 20 days after the 1953 floods. Obviously, dutch water engineers are considered the best of the world.

Milky way

Dutches love milk: they drink it for breakfast, but some of them drink it also for lunch or dinner, with kroketten or stamppot (kind of hot pot). Of course, they also love cheese: The Netherlands is the world’s biggest exporter of cheese, with an average of 430 million kilograms per year (two thirds of the whole production, 650 kg per year). So, if you put together the consume of milk per capita, 130 litres, and the 17 kg of cheese that each dutch eat a year, you can easily guess why they are in the first place of the world dairy consumption rank. And also you can understand why dutches are the tallest inhabitants of the whole world (this is not “a way to say”: it’s a numerical fact!).

Paradise for bicycles (Photo: Belén C.Díaz)

Paradise for bicycles (Photo: Belén C.Díaz)

Bicycle paradise

If you take a look around you in this country, you might feel there are more bikes than people. It’s partly true: there are 13M bikes in a country of 16’5M people so, just excluding babies and very old people, it’s about 1’5 bike per person. Here you can ride your bike safely over the 19.000 kilometers of bicycles paths that cross the country, also inside the cities, and your journey will be always comfortable because of the flatness of the geography. It’s cheap, healthy, funny, there’re no jams and you will feel as a real dutch… all are advantages! So… don’t hesitate and ride!

“We will always have HEMA”.

Since the first “Hollandsche Eenheidsprijzen Maatschappij Amsterdam” (“Dutch Standard Prices Company Amsterdam”) opened its doors in 1926, HEMA has changed a lot, but it has never lost its success between the dutches. Born as a dime store, now it’s kind of a “all-stuff-you-can-need-if-you-are-dutch”: from clothes to food; kitchen or garden stuff and washitapes or party flags. A visit to HEMA can give you a view of the dutch way of life and, incidentally, you can enjoy a rookworst (smoked sausage) for 2 euros. As in the end of “Casablanca”, whatever you should buy, if you are in The Netherlands, you will always have HEMA.

Flying backpacks

If you’re walking down the street in late June, maybe you will see backpacks hanging with the dutch flag from some of the masts that many dutch houses have in their frontage. It’s not an accident: that means that somebody in the house has finished his/her high-school.

Their flag is red-white-blue, but their color is oranje

Why do the dutch represent themselves in orange, if it has no connection with their flag? Where does this color come from? Orange was the color of the pennant of the first king of the Netherlands, Willem I the Silent. He fought in the XVI century for the independence of the lower lands from he spanish empire of Felipe II and for the religion freedom in the land. Around his victory was signed the first treaty within the Holland provinces (The Utrecht Union) which, finally, became the country of the Netherlands. Despite that the present dutch royal family hold the title of Oranje-Nassau, the powerful meaning of Oranje for dutch people is not just about them but about the founding of a common project and the fighting against common enemies.

View of the skatepark inside a church in Arhnem (photo: Ivo Hutten)

View of the skatepark inside a church in Arhnem (photo: Ivo Hutten)

Skating and dancing inside a church

In Spain, churches can be places to pray or old abandoned buildings, but not a lot much. Here, you can find churches transformed in breweries like the Cafe Olivier here in Utrecht (see Time Travels & Yummy places); churches that have become apartments to rent, like the old Santmartinuskerk in
the Oudegracht (see Must see places); churches as skateparks,
like the skatepark in Arhnem, or even churches as nightclubs,
like the Paradiso in Amsterdam. The main reason is: “if you
have a valuable but unused building and you want to take care
of it, give it a new use and it will take care by itself”. The effectiveness always prevails in The Netherlands!

Super-size windows

When the sun goes down and the lights turn on, the big windows everywhere and the habitual absence of curtains in the houses let you see what is happening inside nearly each house. In an expat sight, this fact can be surprising, and usually is translated in the question: ¿where does this absence of modesty come from? Maybe there are 2 main reasons: 1) In a cloudy-weather country, every sunbeam counts 2) There’s an ingrained idea of Calvinism, the traditional main religion of The Netherlands, which says “if you hide your home means that you have something to hide”.

“Lekker” everywhere

Lekker drinken, lekkereten, lekker slapen, lekkertijd… ¿what does lekker means? Literally, it means “tasty”, but it’s usually used also as “nice”. You say it after eating something that you have enjoyed, as a compliment (e.g.“Dat was lekker!” =“it was tasty!”), but it can be said also to propose somebody to go for some beers saying “Heb je zin om een lekker drinken?” (“do you fancy a nice drink?”) or also to wish happy dreams to somebody (“lekker slappen”=“tasty/nice dreams”). So now you can understand what I mean if I say: “heb je een lekkertijd op mijn website!” 😉