Ten Non-Cliché Dutch Things I Miss (It’s Not Cheese)

Every blog written by someone who has spent, or is still spending, a prolonged period of time abroad features at least one post about things they’re missing from back home. If the author of said blog happens to be Dutch, this post usually includes cheese, directness, and hagelslag (Google it, you won’t regret it). My list looks different. Sure, having no instant access to hagelslag has had a significant impact on my wellbeing over the years, but I have learned to appreciate crumpets, marmalade, and teacakes to ease the pain. Some things are inreplacable, though, including these ten.

1. Family and friends
Obviously, but few bloggers mention hem. I regularly praise the Flying Spaghetti Monster for its invention of e-mail and Skype, but it’s just not quite the same as actually hanging out with the people you love most. Until I can attend my nan’s birthday party as a hologram, occasional trips to the mothership are the only way to maintain my sanity in this outrageous world.
2. Windmills
Yes, Norfolk has some windmills, but they’re Just Not The Same. As a kid, I had an almost unhealthy obsession with windmills, to the point where my parents took me on a trip to Kinderdijk (well-known windmill-infested tourist spot) to get me my windmill fix.
3. Proper cycling arrangements
Cycling in the UK is a great idea if you’re feeling suicidal. It’s probably why most cyclists annoy the crap out of pedestrians by riding on the pavement. How I miss bright pink cycle lanes, pretty cycle traffic lights, places to park your bike aplenty.
4. Flatness
Cycling is a lot more pleasurable if a) you’re not at risk of being crushed by passing buses and b) if you’re riding in a country that’s as flat as a pancake. I’ve been told that Norfolk is flat. It is not. Stop telling lies.
5. Short distances
A three-hour journey used to be a Really Long Journey. This is because Dutch people can travel from one side of their country to another in under three hours. UK people consider three hours a commute. It’s not a commute. It’s a bore.
6. Three kisses
I’m a firm believer in the handshake as a one-size-fits-all approach to greeting, but occasionally someone insists on kissing me. This is confusing. Some people kiss once, some kiss twice, but no one has ever given me the three reliable kisses I’m used to. Also, Dutch people don’t actually kiss and kind of smack air instead, a pleasant alternative to smearing lipstick all over your friends’ cheeks.
7. Strandpaviljoens
UK seaside kiosks tend to sell bacon butties, sausage rolls, and tea. I love all these foods and beverages but they’re just not the right form of nourishment for the environment. Dutch beach pavillions have proper seating areas and sell everything from Asian-style stirfries to pasta and burgers.
8. Decent houses
OK, Dutch people tend to demolish their buildings every ten years, even if they’re listed, and I like the UK’s tendency to save architectural heritage. An unfortunate result, though, is that your houses are broken. Bizarrely inefficient pipework, confusing shower contraptions, kitchens that look like they’ve been around since the Iron Age, I’ve seen it all. And if British do decide to give your house a much-needed makeover, you paint the walls yellow. If I wanted yellow walls, I’d go and live inside a custard doughnut.
9. Automatiek
Need to have some food on this list after all. Automatiek is a wonderful system where you insert money into a wall and access your junkfood through a tiny glass door. Sounds like science fiction, has been a feature of Dutch high streets for decades. For introvert people, this system has the added benefit of minimizing staff-customer interaction.
10. Hema
A well-known Dutch book about emigrants is called I Only Miss Hema. That says it all, really. Hema is actually a regular department store where people go to buy underwear, white t-shirts, or rookworsten, but somehow it’s the epitome of Dutchness, and missed by every Dutch person abroad.
Now, if someone knows a good hagelslag supplier, I’m all ears.

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