Before moving to the Netherlands for work, I’ve read a lot of blogs on what to expect once I get here. It’s fun to imagine the things I would experience when moving to a new place. Somehow, I was mentally prepared on my big move because I’ve researched enough about the country, the people, the foods, the culture and other traditions. That helped a lot because I did not really feel the culture-shock when I actually started living here.
I listed down the ten things I learned when I actually made the move to the Netherlands from the Philippines. These are basically my personal opinions about the comparison of how I live in the Philippines (PH) vs how I am doing now in the Netherlands (NL).
1. Always check the weather
The weather is very predictable in this tropical country so I enjoy the warm, I mean hot weather most of the time. If we see that the clouds are getting dark, we know it will rain eventually. We know which days are sunny or rainy. I bring an umbrella every day, wherever I go. When it’s sunny and really hot, we use umbrellas, else we will be dripping in sweat. When it’s raining, we still use umbrellas or raincoats. The only time I would check the weather forecast is when there’s a typhoon in the area where I live or in my province.
They said the Dutch weather is unpredictable. There's a day when I experienced all seasons -- hail, snow, rain, wind, and sun in one day! Geographically, NL is a flat country so it's a bit windy, which makes it colder when you're outside. I don’t see many people using umbrellas though, they just use their water/wind resistant jackets or coats. The people also love the sun because it seldom shows up. When the weather is good, I would see people walking around, sun-bathing or doing other fun outdoor activities.
Now, I use the AccuWeather app or Google weather app to have an overview of the weather for the entire day or for the next few weeks. It helps me determine if I would wear a regular shirt, sweater, coats, sneakers or boots when I go outside. It makes me plan the things I want to do when the weather is nice. For example, during the summer, I would check the day(s) when the weather is good to go to the beach. It also gives me an insight when it will be snowing so I can wait and look forward to it. Well, I’m only happy with the snow on its first few days. The app also gives a warning when the wind is too strong or if there’s a possibility of snow/ice.
2. Be practical: If you don’t need it, don’t buy it
The cost of living in the Philippines is cheaper than in Europe. In the PH, I would spend time pampering myself by going to dermatology clinics, going for a massage at spas, having my hair done in a salon, asking a professional for my hair and makeup when I attend special occasions. I would eat in different restaurants in a week. Getting a house and a car are common goals to a lot of people I know. I also noticed that a lot of people are really into online shopping now. I don’t judge anyone on how they spend their money though.
I noticed that the Dutch are very frugal when it comes to spending money. I spoke to some Dutch who would tell me that they don’t use cars because they don’t need it. It’s also expensive to maintain. If you’re living near the city center, it’s also really easy to commute using public transport. Although I was told that you pay less for electric cars. Anyway, we just have different ways on how to deal with travelling or commuting. Everyone has a different opinion about getting a car or not; and getting a driving license is pretty expensive too.
There's also a common saying of "going Dutch", which means that you have to pay for your own expenses. Others explained to me that this is a thing because of the equal rights for men and women. There are women who have strong personalities who doesn't like others to think that they can't pay for their own needs. So it's better to just split the bill and that's actually fair.
3. Setting an appointment is a must
In the PH, it's always a first come, first serve basis. If you want to process some papers in a government agency, you always have to be early. Others start showing up before the office even opens, but you'll already see long queues outside. There are other agencies that have online appointments, but most of the time it's not being followed. So if I want to not spend too much time waiting, I have to be there early in the morning. I experienced waiting in line for about 4 hours when I went to a government's satellite office.
It’s the same thing with planning travels with friends or meetings at work. There’s always someone who’s too early or always late in the meet-up.
An appointment is required for almost everything. If I need to go to a clinic, townhouse, etc., I need to set an appointment online or via call first. I would say the Dutch are very strict with time. If my appointment is at 2:45pm, they will only entertain me at 2:45pm. It's important to not be late either. During meetings, even if they’re late for only one minute they will apologise for it. At work, I have to schedule meetings too, so I learned to always check my calendar.
I met some kids who are also trained to check their appointments at school which is a nice practice for managing time well. It's a good habit actually because I like to do things in schedule. If I want to visit a friend's place or someone wants to meet me, the day/time needs to be agreed too. Just to add up, I wouldn’t like it if someone cancels an appointment with me without prior notice.
4. Public transport is really impressive, but expensive
Heavy traffic is one of the main problems in the Philippines, especially in the busy highways in Metro Manila like EDSA. I used to work in Makati Central Business District and used to live near Guadalupe, Makati City. When I travel to work or going home, it would take over an hour for a 4.5km distance. It's really a pain, knowing that we're wasting too much time travelling. Although the fare is relatively cheap for an air-conditioned bus, around ₱14 only (~€0.017) from Ayala to Guadalupe, as far as I remember. I have friends who also live outside Metro Manila (i.e. Cavite, Bulacan, Pampanga, Rizal) and they travel for around 2-3 hours a day, one-way. I learned to travel through habal or Angkas (motorcycle) because they’re a bit faster. The worse is, sometimes the public utility vehicles are too crowded so commuters have to wait longer to be able to find a ride home.
Most public transports in the Netherlands are powered by renewable energy which is really good for the environment. They always arrive and depart on time. If the sign board says the bus is arriving in 1 minute, it is indeed arriving in 1 minute. I also like planning my trips using travel apps like NS, 9292 or Google Maps. It makes it easier to schedule what time I need depart my place or arrive in a specific destination. You can also see how much is the fare for your entire trip. An OV-chipkaart is being used for contactless payments and it's applicable to public transports such as tram, bus, metro and train. It's very ideal because you can pay with just one card anywhere you go within the Netherlands. Aside from good public transport, the Dutch are also known for cycling and they have specific lanes (red cycle path) for bicycles.
The public transport here is very organized, but expensive. Travelling for the same distance here in NL, let's say if you take the subway from Amsterdam Central station to Albert Cuyp Market (which is about 4.5km distance too), I would have to pay €1.54 (~₱90). If I go to Amsterdam Central from Rotterdam Central (58km), the fare is €16.50 (~₱963.15) one-way, and I think that's a lot of money.
5. Using online dating apps is fine
I have friends who are actively using online dating apps in the Philippines, but I think it's still not widely accepted. There's a stigma of meeting people online that they are only after physical stuff. I know people who think that dating someone whom you met online doesn't look so sincere. They think that it's something that will easily end, because you can always find a new one from online too. But there are situations where the couple know each other for so many years, they’re from the same town and they’re together for so long, but they still don’t end up together.
This may not entirely be related to online dating, but I hate the stigma that Filipinas (girls) who have a foreigner boyfriend are being criticized for it. It's either people think that they're after the money, legal papers or something else. Can't they just accept the fact that the guy fell in love with these Filipinas because they know how to care and they are faithful? If a Filipino (guy) found a foreigner girlfriend, he gets praised for it and gets featured on TV shows, or gets more subscribers in YouTube/Facebook. The same people are so proud because they're raising the Filipino masculinity, or whatever; but they criticize the girls who are in the same situation.
When I moved to NL, I met people who are talking about meeting their significant other through online dating apps. Some of them are happily married for 10-20 years already. It's a very normal conversation that you don't have to be shy whether you met someone from online too. Maybe it depends on what you're looking for, but just be honest and true to yourself. It also makes me think that it doesn't really matter where you meet someone, the important thing is you're both open to understand each other and are willing to grow together.
6. There’s no discrimination
The discrimination I'm talking about is for both gender and race. I think there's still a lot of people who think that there are jobs that are for men only. And I'm proud of those women who are strong enough to show the world that anything a man can do, woman can do too. I don't think there's really a big gender discrimination in the Philippines, unlike other countries where misogyny is really an issue. Regarding race, maybe the trend right now is the love of Filipinos to South Korean idols because of K-pop and K-dramas. Whenever I go online, I would see in my feed some friends sharing their favourite S. Korean idol, actor, or actress. But I still know some people who are disliking other races that I don’t wanna expound anymore. I just hope this kind of attitude will be changed. We just have to accept and love each other.
When we have meetings, I noticed that they always say "guys and girls", instead of just "Hey guys". I also have a Dutch friend who would tell me that men and women are equal now so there's no problem when the initiative comes from a man or a woman. There’s no gender discrimination. Same sex marriage is also legal so I think the LGBTQ+ community is widely accepted here. Maybe there are still people who are against it, but I can't really tell. I have to live here long enough to know more.
There's always an inclusion when it comes to expats. They're very open about communicating with expats in English when they know they don't speak Dutch. I haven't experienced any kind of discriminations (yet) just because I'm Asian, although I hope that doesn't happen. My colleagues just encourage me to learn Dutch too, so I don't get left out in funny conversations.
7. Seeing people smoking weeds is normal
Mariajuana (weeds) is illegal in the Philippines. Others judge the people who are smoking weeds as "drug addicts" already. There's always a negative connotation when you're into weeds. But I know some friends who tried it and they seem to be doing okay. I think it can be legalized, as long as it's used in moderation and in medical purposes only.
In NL, you can go to "coffee shops" to buy weeds. Sometimes, you see guys smoking weeds in the streets and it's normal. I'm pretty familiar with the smell of weeds now too. My other Filipino friends tried the cookies with weeds in it and they said it just feels fine, they did not experience any bad side-effects. I also know some people who are really using drugs in moderation, and they’re just fine.
Just to add, prostitution is also legal in NL. I visited the Red Light District a few times just to look around. No one is allowed to take photos there, so show some respect if you get to visit it one day.
8. Taking too many photos is not a norm
Most Filipinos are using social media. That's why taking photos, anywhere, anytime is a thing so you can share something online. We like selfies too! Although I stopped using social media for several months, I think it's still the best way to get in touch with my family and friends who are in different parts of the world. Whenever I'm with my friends eating in a restaurant or having a short trip somewhere, photos are always part of our day. I don't see anything bad about it, it's just for keeping memories. But there are people who will just take photos or videos of others without their consent. Sometimes, there are photos of someone that goes viral online and the person involved isn't aware of it. Photos taken in different perspectives are being interpreted differently too. It's either you will be praised or be bashed just because of a single photo. We should all be responsible on what we share online.
I noticed that the Dutch like to focus on socializing with people and showing respect by not using the phone when talking with each other, especially when they’re eating together. They will call you rude if they’re talking to you but your eyes are on your phone. I don’t often see people taking photos here so I feel a little bit shy taking my phone out for a photo. But sometimes I really want to take photos of the places that I really like. So I just tell myself “I look like a tourist so it's fine to take photos.”
9. Just say what you’re thinking, people won’t judge you
Filipinos are the most active users of social media in the world and the Philippines is often dubbed as "The Social Media Capital of the World" (read more here). This means that everything you post online, people has something to say whether it's good or bad. If you see someone speaking up or sharing something, it's either they get supporters or bashers. Sometimes, if you're with people who are too political, the atmosphere becomes too toxic. Others always have something to say against you. So it's better to just shut up and move on. Most of the time, you will find people who like to sugarcoat what they want to say, or say something against your back.
There's a lot of Dutch people who also reminds me that I should speak-up my mind because they're not gonna judge me (maybe they still do sometimes). But the thing is, you're open to say whatever you want as long as you don't really damage someone else. Someone is always telling me to be myself all the time. Other expats tell me that the Dutch are very direct and what they say don't have "filters". I think it's good if you want honest feedbacks. Being direct isn't bad at all. It just takes time to be as assertive as the Dutch.
10. Do it yourself (DIY)
DIY is also common in the Philippines, but not as widely done here in NL. Let's say I need someone to install my internet modem, a technician will come over to do it. It's because not all houses have ports ready to just plug in the internet cables. I would call someone to fix a broken furniture or appliance. If I buy furnitures, they're already permanently assembled and the only thing left to do is use them. There’s always someone offering a service for things that everyone else can do.
My dad is the most skilful person I know though. He can do our electrical wirings at home, fix broken appliances, install solar panels, he can drive, knows how to weld, can create furnitures, knows how to grow plants, can raise livestocks, etc.
I stayed in an Airbnb when I first got here and my host said that she organized everything in her apartment, because it's not furnished at all when she got it. She installed the laminate floor, painted the walls, installed the kitchen, set-up the furnitures, everything. When I registered for a new internet subscription, I was surprised that the modem was just sent to my place. I didn't know back then that I can install it by myself, so I asked for a technician to help me with it. Every house here has a port where you could just plug in the internet cable and it should work. When there’s something wrong in my apartment, my landlord would fix it herself, if she can. Most Dutch fix their bikes themselves too.
An expat friend was telling our other Dutch friends that he had someone clean their glass windows and the Dutch were like "Why didn't you do it yourself? You know you can do it right?". But they're also very specific when it comes to jobs. One time, I was picking up a trash to throw it in a garbage bin and my Dutch friend told me: "Why are you doing that? We're paying someone to do that job, so you shouldn't do it."
I've been in the Netherlands for over a year now and I know that there's still a lot of things to discover. Maybe, I'll get to see more Dutch culture and traditions when the pandemic is over and things are back to normal. I heard that there used to be a lot of festivals here, which I think will be really fun to attend to. In general, living here gave me peace of mind and less stress. Maybe it's because I don't read so many news about the crazy politics in the PH right now and I learned not to deal with toxic people anymore.