A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
Returning to the UK at the end of this first semester, I’ve started to notice obvious differences between the two lands that hadn’t occurred to me before. For all that’s wrong with the British train system, I’d missed the snack trolley that, for any journey seemingly longer than 30 minutes, will wander down the aisles plying you with overpriced Kit-Kats and watery coffee. This got me reflecting on the things I’ve learnt about the Netherlands by living in the country for six months, so here are five of those things.
Walking in my hometown, I had a strange feeling that everything was a miniature – I’m used to houses with at least four floors towering over cobbled streets, and here I’m faced with sad-looking two-floor detached houses. Similarly, public bathrooms in the UK give the illusion of being in a sort of Hobbit-house compared to those in the Netherlands. It’s strange, but also comforting (I was probably considered child-height in the Netherlands).
Perhaps this was only my personal experience of a UK university, but the credits system at Dutch universities seems relatively lax, allowing you to simply pick up credits to complete your degree over a number of years. Even the student loans system in the Netherlands seems catered to a flexible education where you can take anywhere between 3 and 10 years to do a degree. Pushing the due date of your dissertation so it takes more than a year? It would be, though not unheard of, at least unconventional at a British university. As well as that, the idea that you could finish two undergraduate degrees in a 5-year space of time would be utterly impossible in the UK; I’ve heard of multiple students here who have done just that. It gives me the odd feeling that my one undergraduate degree, which I paid (loaned) a lot for, isn’t entirely valuable.
I didn’t consider myself a ‘coffee-drinker’ in university – I bought the odd overpriced cup when I couldn’t stay awake for a day in the library. Here though, with the campus coffee priced at 45c, you’d be silly not to drink it. It’s cheaper than water. Even the crap stuff is still digestible. What has been frustrating, though, is the lack of cheap tea to be bought in cafes. Apparently, to entice a population that is enamoured on coffee to drink the British drink equivalent you must have fancy brands that end up being more expensive per cup than a cappuccino.
They honestly will cycle in all weathers. It baffled me when you’d still see people attempting to get through a torrential downpour with only a silly poncho for protection. However, when the snow arrived, and I considered anyone on a bike thoroughly out of their mind, there they were. This should not have shocked me, but it still surprises me every time a Dutch stereotype is proved right.
They truly love words that are utterly self-explanatory. When I first arrived here I’d been frustrated at the lack of granola to be found in the supermarkets, until I realised that they just call it “cruesli” here (i.e. crunchy muesli). Other similarly to-the-point words: penguins are vetganzen (fat geese), a vacuum cleaner is a stofzuiger (dust-sucker), bats are vleermuizen (winged mice), a hippo is a Nijlpaard (horse of the Nile), your gums are tandvlees (teeth flesh/meat). Language quirks like this are fun to discover and, in the long run, make the words easier to remember.