What can you learn from the Dutch

Блог Listen to your broccoli Чему учиться у голландцев

This is my top list of Dutch traits that can be useful. I have learned this after living 10 years in the Netherlands.


Блог Listen to your broccoli Планирование

The Dutch are gurus of planning. At work, this is clear and expected, but in day-to-day life this is something unbelievable. If I start to think about the summer holiday only after I see the sun shining and reminding me of the coming summer, the Dutch start to plan their next summer vacation right after they came back from the current one. That felt like robots to me. Everyone has planners and agendas, notebooks, google calendars with filled-in children vacations, hobbies, family events, personal projects, courses.

Not so long ago a Dutch lady at my dance class said: yesterday I sat down to plan the year and I wanted to know if our dance class will continue on Wednesdays.


10 years ago I looked at people who took out their fat planners and notebooks and start to look for a free date when you ask them for a coffee with amusement. And yes that date could be a Thursday in two months.

Later I realized that there is rationale in this and it all makes sense. I always thought: why plan? Everything will be different tomorrow. And yet I came to an understanding that in most cases tomorrow you will have what you have planned. And if you want to be having coffee with someone in two months, you have to plan it today.

One more reason for all that planning is that the Dutch are very active people outside of working hours. They have a lot of hobbies and activities: salse, local volunteering, courses, workshops, so they are forced to plan. And yes, all these extra activities are one more point to learn from them.


Shake Hands 

Oh, all these uncomfortable moments in the beginning. I was feeling so awkward and confused. I think it took me several months to understand: It is absolutely common for women to shake hands the same way men do. Women do shake hands when introduced, both women and women and men and women. In the culture where I come from women do not ever shake hands, they just smile:).

Do not wear heels 

On the third day of my Dutch life, I needed to go to a wedding party. I glamorously entered this party on a motorbike in a short skirt on high heels. On a bike because we did not have a car, on the heels because it was a wedding and in a short skirt because I had no clue about motor-bikes. I never wore these high heals again. And after five years I threw them away.



Spend and value your time outside 

The Dutch are fond of outside terraces of cafes, their small gardens, any outside activities. Right after something looking like sun appears after the winter, they start to brag about the fact that they already managed to ‘sit outside in their garden’.

Drink wine alone, burn candles and buy flowers, not for romance 

Блог Listen to your broccoli Чему стоит поучиться у голландцев

Maybe my life in Belarus was different or time was different, but we never drank wine just at home with appetizers or just a glass of wine. The wine was always at feasts and parties and it was inappropriate to leave the bottle unfinished.

Burning candles and generally having them at home was not common. Buying flowers in the supermarket just among your normal groceries was double uncommon for me.

Burning candles not for romance but for your own pleasure? Uncommon.

Talk positively about yourself publicly

This needs a separate post! 


Listen to yourself and be aware of your wishes


I never could take this for a reason: ‘I like it, it is fun, I am going to see if it will be fun’. I all the time thought: are we allowed to consider this as a reason? a point? Are all these ‘I like it’ a reason to do something or not to do? It’s work! These are your responsibilities! I was so envious to these people and how many hours of self-reflection I still need to be able to hear what I want.

So how do you like the Dutch?:)


What to buy in Holland

Блог Listen to your broccoli | сувениры из Голландии

What to buy in Holland? A lot of travelers who feel like taking a piece of the country they are visiting home ask this question to themselves.

I am sharing my shortlist for the Dutch stuff. I am not a ‘souvenirs’ person, so things I recommend are normal things that Dutch people also buy in standard Dutch shops like bookstores, Albert Hein (Dutch supermarkets chain), De Bijenkorf (‘Dutch Harrods’).

Stuff from Bookstores

  • “The Netherlands”, book by Charlotte Dematons. This book is amazing and can be stared at endlessly. It’s a book with drawings and in each picture, you can see hundreds of details and stories about the Netherlands. A truck is not just a truck, it is either full of Dutch traditional waffles or it has an image of a famous person of the Dutch literature whose name became a symbol of fair trade for former Dutch colonies. You can also find a visual representation of many Dutch traditions: for example a tradition of swimming in the sea on 1st January.


  • Books for children: these are always nice presents to bring back as they are full of images (called ‘prentenboeken’ in Dutch), so no one has to actually know Dutch to read them. The difficulty is that you have to search good enough not to get a translated book (just because then it loses the point).


  • Diaries: The Dutch are gurus of planning and their bookstores are full of diaries of any possible format. You can always find a notebook with paintings of Dutch artists, interesting quotes, cartoons and you will always remember where and how you started that year.

Souvenirs from supermarkets

My universal advice is if you do not know what, give chocolate or food as a present:

  • Waffles with caramel syrop (stroopwafels) can be bought anywhere and better in a nice colorful can. It is also possible to buy the can separately from waffles. I doubt that whoever gets this colorful can will dare to throw it away after waffles are consumed. And do not forget to educate: the waffle is to be put on the cup of the hot tea so that the waffle will become softer and tastier.


  • ‘Delicate’ chocolate from Albert Hein: with fried corn, with jalapeno pepper, with cocos, with red curry, with rice pieces, with wasabi and strawberry.


  • Douwe Egberts coffee: well, coffee is coffee what is there to say more.

Souveniers from De Bijenkorf

It is very convenient that in the main luxe shop of the Netherlands, you can buy a lot of nice Dutch stuff. So let’s visit the Dutch Harrods, called ‘De Bijenkorf’:

  • A mug from Blond Amsterdam or Pipstudio: Mugs are my weakness and looking for an ideal mug is my favorite challenge. It is even better than looking for a perfect diary.
  • A water bottle  — a very healthy lifestyle, very Dutch, very eco, very bio. Your individual bottle for water that you always have with you and will always remind you of your nice trip.
  • Rituals — body cosmetics with most aromatic smells. These retail chain is growing like mad and is everywhere and come and visit them and see what are they so successful.
  • And the blooming almond by Van Gogh is beautiful no matter where they are printed on, even it is on a shopper bag.


Utrecht. What to see


Утрехт, каналы | Блог Listen to your broccoli

“The worst is when they are throwing up in our flowerpots”, “It became a second Venice, city stolen by tourists” – these are just a couple of headlines about issues with tourists in Amsterdam. I have been hearing about this problem for a couple of years. There is no way to hide from tourists in Amsterdam. Also for tourists. What should they do in order to see the Netherlands? Maybe go to Utrecht?:)

If I would be visiting Utrecht as a tourist, this would be my advice to myself:

  • Leave the station and do not get stuck in the shops. Utrecht train station extended itself into a big shopping mall. High ceilings, popular brands, and chains.


  • Visit Olivier Cafe. A secret and at the same time popular place. This is a Belgian bar in the premises which were a church previously (schuilkerk  – a church that is situated in a normal house and does not look like a church from outside. Such types of churches existed in Europe for different branches of the Christian church. It is peculiar that though it is a very well-known place, it is still not overwhelmed by tourists, office workers still come here for drinks after work.



  •  Utrecht canals are also very special and different from the Amsterdam ones. You can walk following them or take about. 


  • Visit a district with the most expensive houses (Wittevrouwen) and check out how inconvenient the entrances and stairs can look like in the houses for such prices.


  • Eat Mario sandwich (the most famous street sandwich in Utrecht) or Ben sandwich (street lunch place that has a selection of about 40 types of sandwiches).
Утрехт, бутерброд Марио | Блог Listen to your broccoli
Утрехт, бутерброд Бен | Блог Listen to your broccoli

And if you want to become part of the city life, you can join one of Utrecht festivals and events as there are plenty of those: theatre festival, student festival (students rooms become podiums for a day),  medival music festival and many others.

Utrecht what to see

Warm Apple Juice


I am sitting in the lobby of the cultural center of a small Dutch town. In the concert hall, a fest is being held by a Russian school in the Netherlands. A Dutch father is also playing with his daughter in the lobby. Apparently, an older child together with a Russian speaking mother are at the concert and the younger girl is just not interested.

At a certain moment, the father turns to the lady selling drinks in a cafeteria ‘Can we have apple juice? But only not from the fridge?

At that moment the ‘movie’ should stop and the voice-over should explain. A typical Dutch man is a tall healthy sportive guy two meters tall. He was probably brought up in a quite rigid and strict environment: a lot of time outside, little attention to physical comfort, walking without hats in winter, visiting a doctor only if you are sure you are dying, twenty kilometers cycling to school one way. And all of this is just normal.

And now a voice-over for those who are not familiar with a standard Soviet childhood: you really have to keep your ears, nose, and throat warm, otherwise you will get a cold. Immediately.

…The lady looks at the father surprised and with a ‘Are you crazy?’ impression on her face. But she replied calmly ‘No, everything is in the fridge’. The father does not give up (apparently this is not his first time). ‘Could you please warm it up in the microwave?’ I will not describe the lady’s shocked face. I want to share my thoughts – I was thinking, this is the real intercultural connection. Not sure what you should tell a Dutch man in order to convince him of the necessity of warm apple juice. I think this is just love in its essence.

P.S. One more post, if you want to know about Dutch childcare. 

Dutch Childcare. Eating bread with bread and sleeping outside


“We ordered outside beds for sleeping. Soon they will be delivered and then babies will be able to sleep outside during the day.” This was my first encounter with Dutch childcare. I had no idea how a childcare establishment for children from zero to four years old could possibly be organized. I was shocked by the pure idea of sending a six-month-old child there. And now already I have to deal with a notion of outside beds and children without hats in autumn when I am already hearing one.

I barely have time to form my attitude to the outside beds, I cannot even imagine how they look like, but I have to go on with the excursion around the childcare with one of the carers. While I am listening my eyes are on a ten-month-old child sitting in a high chair and being fed by a three-year-old which looks more like covering his face with pureed food.

Dutch Childcare Blog Listen to your broccoli

An outside bed at a Dutch childcare


I could not make up my mind – did I like it there and I would be happier if his childcare looked more like mine? I am trying to recall mine, but I only remember pastel colored little wardrobes and overall atmosphere of unhappiness.

However, all these questions about liking or not are irrelevant. In two weeks I am coming back to work and my son has to go to the childcare (not sure about using “go” in relation to a six-month-old child).

Our Dutch childcare that we have chosen consists of a couple of rooms on the ground floor of a block of apartments, of two tiny bedrooms where a temperature of 18 degrees is maintained (“This is healthier for sleeping” the carer tells us proudly), small hall, small outside backyard.

As our childcare was very small, just two groups, all children were of mixed ages from zero to four.

Such spread of ages is supposed to simulate an idea of a “family” when children of different ages are living together and older ones are helping younger ones.

I felt rather uncomfortable already when the carer shook me up by asking a new question: “What is his character?” I twisted in the chair. It seems very quickly we moved from pacifiers and bottles to habits and character. After a pause, she asked again “Is he a happy child?” “Probably,” I said. I was quite upset that I was not sure whether my child is happy.

So my son started at the childcare and I still could not decide – do I like or not?

From one side they were really flexible to adjust to the personal timetable of Konstantin. They were asking us how much he is sleeping, and what the latest time we wish he was fed. They would also always call us in case of doubt: whether he should get an additional sleep because he is too tired or he has a fever.

Open and trustful communication with parents. Each child had an individual copybook where they would write down something about a child (how much he ate, slept, what was his spirit, what did he do). After a couple of years, the copy-book was replaced by a phone app and we started to receive almost daily photos. The ‘transfer’ of the child to the parent is always accompanied by a short conversation with a parent. They are even taught to do this conversation in the most efficient and informative manner. I learned about that when a trainee asked the main carer whether she can do the ‘transfer’ of our son herself in order to practice it for her studies.

Freedom: children are allowed to do what they want (sing, scream, dance, make a mess all day long) if they stay within certain borders (do not pull hair out of each other).

From the other side when the time will come for the solid food, we will be asked: how many pieces of bread Konstantin is eating at home and what he puts on it. We were mumbling something, unsure whether we can say that we had no intention to give bread, we were so very busy with broccolis and marrows. And then he would be taught at the childcare to eat bread and bread. So that he will able to eat an essential Dutch dish for lunch called a sandwich. That was not so surprising as I already saw my Dutch colleagues, big big man eating two pieces of bread with something very thin between (foreigner call this eating ‘bread with bread”:).

Warm food, such an important part of life in our understanding is a rare thing in Dutch childcare.

Once I received the following information in the newsletter of the childcare of my daughter: “parents ask us more and more often about the possibility of warm food. We are investigating this question. We want to let you know that Dutch ‘some-institution-of-food’ concluded that eating warm food twice a day is not bad (they mean that children will anyhow eat warm dinner at home and if they also eat warm at the childcare it is not bad). Well, good they checked this.

And each time when I saw the dirty floor I was thinking: is it that hard to clean it? Children are crawling on it. Well, probably there is no point anyhow, everyone is wearing street shoes.

Finally, I made up my mind about Dutch childcare years later when came back to Minsk for a visit.

I had to pick up my nephews. I was impressed by cleanness, high ceilings, pot flowers, separate big bedroom with made up beds, white linen and pillows like beautiful boats on these beds. Everything looked so different, so ideal. Till a moment when the carer said to a girl who picked up a toy car in order to play with it: “Maria, what are you doing? You cannot play with it here, you should go on the carpet, otherwise, you will spoil the floor”.

And in a second dirty floor, bread with bread and freedom won over cleanness and impeccable floor.