Written by Markus, with photos by Markus
Cereal prawn in Singapore-> my favourite dish
Having moved to the Netherlands from Singapore three years ago, I noticed quite a few significant differences. One of them is their approach to food: in Singapore, eating out is considered a social activity, whereas in The Netherlands most people prefer staying home (even though there's always someone who dares to go out for dinner). In Singapore you'll find restaurants on every corner and almost everyone goes out to eat several times a month, which means that most people can afford it. Not so in The Netherlands, where going out for dinner with friends might cost around €20 per person and most people would rather stay home and cook themselves. This is probably because the Dutch tend to be more frugal than their neighbours from the south.
So what's my point? Well, my point is that if you're looking for an easy way to get into the good books of the Dutch people, try cooking your own food instead of ordering takeaway or delivery. It doesn't need to be anything complicated either – even an omelette will do. Cooking is considered to be one of the most important skills in The Netherlands. Being able to cook is seen as a sign of being responsible, organised, resourceful, and creative. If you're lucky enough to be invited over to someone's place, don't worry about not knowing what to bring – chances are they'd appreciate your willingness to share the work and responsibility involved in preparing food.
The Dutch like to “gourmet”, where you share a grill and what you place, are the items you like.
One of the things I enjoy doing most in The Netherlands is cooking. When I first arrived here, I noticed that a lot of people were fascinated by me making my own meals. To be honest, I didn't really know what to do with myself when they complimented my cooking skills. What should I say back to them? Thank you? No, thank you? Do I need to offer them a slice of cake or something else as well? How does this work?
It took me a while to get used to being appreciated for something I'm actually quite good at and enjoy doing. I think that's why it caught me off guard. In Singapore, nobody ever comments on my cooking. Or my baking skills, for that matter. But in The Netherlands, everyone seems to notice. They take the time to tell me how great my meal tastes and tell me how nice it is to see someone else being passionate about cooking. That's when I realise that cooking is just another thing we do differently in The Netherlands.
And that got me thinking about how similar The Netherlands and Singapore are and how different we are. As I mentioned before, I thought that Singapore was a very homogeneous country until I came here. Now I realise that there's a lot more diversity than I originally thought. The food is a good example. There's Chinese food, Malay food, Indian food, Indonesian food… and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Each nationality has its own unique dishes, and each dish is celebrated by the rest of the population.
An Indo-Chinese restaurant in the Netherlands
In the Netherlands, however, food isn't so diverse. While there are lots of Asian restaurants, they tend to focus on Japanese and Thai cuisine. And some weird localized extremely low quality Indo-Chinese food. That's why it feels like Dutch people are less interested in exploring foreign cuisines than their Singaporean counterparts. Most people stick to the Dutch classics and try new things only when they have guests from abroad.
I've been living in The Netherlands for three years now. In that time I've met a lot of people – all different nationalities and ethnic groups. Some were born and raised in The Netherlands; others emigrated here from other countries. My conclusion is that the Dutch people seem to be quite reserved, and it takes a little while for them to warm up to you. Once they open up to you, they're usually very friendly and polite, and you can expect a warm welcome wherever you go. But that doesn't happen overnight.
Don't get me wrong, I love the Dutch people. I like how they're so curious and eager to learn about other cultures. But I also understand why they're a bit shy. I mean, this is a small country with a population of approximately 17 million people (that's roughly the same as Sydney, Australia). And they live so close together – literally just a stone's throw away. So when I first moved here, I found it hard to break down the barriers. It took me a while to get used to the fact that no one cares about me.
I had to learn to speak to complete strangers and strike up conversations with them.
But once you overcome the initial awkwardness, you realise that the Dutch people are actually pretty cool. Their openness and friendliness makes it easier to make new friends and opens up a whole world of experiences.
If you happen to go to the Netherlands and fear you might end up being alone, that fear is justified if you think you’re going to build a social network by only going to work only and wait at home for someone to call. It will not happen.
Instead, go outside and walk around. Go to a museum. Visit a park. Go sit in a coffeeshop. Pick up a sport like sailing or. Or best of all: get a dog. It is normal to start talking to strangers out of the blue. And most people are very happy to take an informal chat with a stranger to the next level. People will not hesitate to share their phone number and agree to meet again. Especially if it means play-time for their dog.
The conversation is simple: Hey, you have a dog. How old is he? Mine is one year old. Does yours also try to eat remote controls and car keys?
And that you can than with ease follow up with an invite to a home-cooked meal. You’ll find you’ll then have made a friend for live with only little effort.