Not too long ago I spent 10 months or so living in Holland (AKA The Netherlands) and I’ve decided to try and write down a few things I noticed that may help anyone planning on spending some time there, whether it’s just a few days or a lot longer.
Trains are a fast, reliable and relatively cheap way to get around Holland. Tickets can generally be bought on the platform using a machine or from a ticket counter in opening hours. The machines come in two forms: those that accept change, and those that accept supported (Maestro) debit cards. Note that some UK banks count this as a withdrawal and levy a charge (usually a minimum of £1.50) for each transaction. You can also buy a ticket from a ticket office during opening hours, but there is a 50 cent administration charge. Be aware that the ticket offices outside the main stations only open for very limited hours.
A useful site for train times anywhere in Holland is www.ns.nl (hint: click English at the top to switch the site to display English rather than Dutch).
Obviously, Holland uses the Euro.
Anyone can get commission free currency in the UK from the Post Office, either ordered to your local branch or over the counter at larger branches.
You should be able to open a Dutch bank account, but be aware that banks in Holland usually charge a monthly fee for an account. The lack of a permanent address sometimes presents a problem, as does the lack of a Dutch social security number. Getting an account for less than 12 months can also be difficult (just don’t tell them when you sign up). Many of the banks simply won’t give you an account, but different people seem to have different experiences. One that seems a little more relaxed about overseas workers opening accounts is ING. Banks usually open for business between 9 and 4 on weekdays.
You should be able to draw cash on most UK banks at any cash point as they support practically all of the popular card networks (Cirrus, Maestro, Link, Visa, etc), but be aware that this usually incurs a cost (usually £1.50 or 1.5% of the transaction, whichever is higher). You might want to check this with your bank before departing.
Bank cards are used in Holland, but there is a strong leaning towards debit cards on the Maestro network, with many shops and services not accepting anything else (the automatic ticket machines in the train stations and smaller supermarkets for example). The larger shops and restaurants do support Visa and other card types.
Obviously phoning from the hotel phone is pricey.
Most UK networks happily work in Holland without changing anything, but prices per minute for calling will be significantly higher, and it also costs money to receive calls to your phone.
An alternative is to get a local SIM card which means it doesn’t cost money to receive calls to your mobile, and you can make them at significantly lower rates.
Another alternative is to use a service like eKit.
Cable TV seems to be the norm. You usually get BBC 1 and 2 along with a selection of music, news, sports and local channels. Overseas English-language programs tend to be shown in English, but with Dutch subtitles.
Generally, live action English-language films are shown in English with subtitles and animated films are dubbed into Dutch (though often there is a choice of English with subtitles). I’m not sure if it’s common practice, but I found that they always had an intermission in the film mid-way, no matter how long it was or where it was. Refreshments tend to be a bit more wide-ranging, with beer, wine, tea and other things readily available. On one occasion, we were charge extra for a film, when we inquired as to why, we were told that it was because it was a long film, so be aware that you may pay more for a 3-hour marathon.
You can buy DVDs at a variety of stores and they work perfectly well on UK machines as they are the same region (Region 2 DVDs cover all of Europe). As with TV and cinema releases, live action movies tend to be left in English and animated movies are generally dubbed to Dutch.
CDs should also play perfectly well on UK systems.
Bookshops tend to sell a range of English-language paperbacks (or pocketbooks as they are sometimes called), though they’re generally limited to recent bestsellers. They also tend to be slightly more expensive than in the UK. The library also offers a good selection of English-language fiction and magazines.
If you wish to join the library, you need to provide photo ID and proof of address, and there are different tariffs depending on how much you want to borrow each month. The price of the tariff increases as the number of items you can borrow increases. You also pay a weekly cost on top of this for the number of weeks you have a book or audio/visual material hired out. The maximum hire period is 12 weeks.
Shops tend to stay open until about 6pm on weekdays, with one night a week designated for late night shopping when they stay open until 9pm (this day differs from town to town, usually Thursday or Friday).
Supermarkets tend to be much smaller, certainly than those in most countries I’ve been to, they don’t always take a full range of debit and credit cards and the only free carrier bags, if there are any, are small and flimsy. It’s best to invest in a heavy duty re-usable bag which can generally be bought in-store from a display at the check-out.
You need to weigh any loose produce before you get to the checkout using the scales provided. Simply select the item and hit ‘Bon,’ then attach the sticker to your item.
The Dutch drive on the right, typically speed limits are 100 kph for motorways, 70 kph for dual carriageways and 50 kph for normal single-lane roads.
Cyclists usually get priority whenever they approach a road, so you may find that you have to give way to them, something to look out for.
The Dutch are mad for it, bikes are everywhere, pedestrians are relegated to the third most (and least) important group of road users, cyclist number one.
The preferred bikes are what Brits usually describe as ’sit-up-and-beg’ style, with mountain and racing bikes almost non-existant.
Everywhere has cycle parking facilities, but a lock is a good idea as people tend to ‘borrow’ anything which isn’t, one of my colleagues found her bike had been borrowed one evening only to find it reappear the following day with someone else’s lock on it.
You should be able to hire a bike in any town or city.
Telling the Time
One thing that may cause confusion is that the Dutch have a slightly odd way of telling the time. For the most part everything is fine, but if a Brit says ‘half seven’ we mean half past seven (7:30), if you say ‘half seven’ to the Dutch, they interpret it as half past six (6:30) because, to them, it means half to seven. Something to be aware of, stick with saying seven-thirty (for example) and you should be alright.
The Dutch consider it rude to close the curtains until it’s time to go to bed, they also consider it rude to stare into a house/room that has the curtains open.
A big fan of their beer, you’ll have to get used to small glasses with lots of head.