Kindness in the Netherlands

by Yaska Sahara

I have met many people in the Netherlands and many of them have been very kind to me. Next week, I will be writing about my decision to leave the Netherlands and going over some negative aspects of the culture and my time there. But my mother always taught me to start with the positive. And I agree that it is important. Because there is negative and positive everywhere!

In this kindness series, I try to make a general reflection on the local culture, but I also simply like to write about my experiences that happened to happen there, whether a general commentary or not, just for the sake of warm memories. Also, acts of individual kindness fascinate me.

Friendships – I made a few, good life-long Dutch friends in the Netherlands, who would take the time to listen to my problems, to come and save my ass when I got lost with Dutch forms or some other problem, let me come and enjoy the company of their pets, cooked dishes I liked and bought me drinks or snacks I liked. One friend even sent me a box of snacks we often ate together during Lockdown and it was so sweet. I ended up also becoming friends with siblings and other friends of my friends.

Some other nice things friends did:
– Numerous friends would go the extra mile and buy me foreign snacks I liked, black sesame steamed buns I couldn’t get in Leiden, or mochi, for example.
– One friend found me a great second-hand laptop within 5 minutes after my complaining about my current one, the swift action was great. He would also often go out of his way for me.
– Another friend would walk me home from the library when and the bike the rest of his way home, even if he was tired and it was late, and even though Leiden is considered very safe.
– One even cycled from Rotterdam to Amsterdam (twice!) to see me in spring 2020 (socially distanced outdoors)
– I have a friend who was always glad to let me use her things. She would lend me fashion items to enhance my looks! We also used to very freely buy food and drink and small gifts for each other. I could relax at her place as if it was my own!

Also, I could be honest and critical and have heated debates with friends without it straining the friendship (more on than here).

Hospitality – I would say my main overall positive experience in the Netherlands is with regard to hospitality. Families of my Dutch friends have invited me into their homes kindly with open arms, feeding me plenty, accommodating to my limited Dutch abilities and my vegetarian diet.

In my experience, while the Dutch are often friendly enough, their hospitality isn’t quite like nations such as India, where I’ve been asked to have tea with complete stranger. But that’s fine. Things are different and hospitality through more established, personal connection is beautiful.

I noticed many of my friends and their families recognised how different it was for us internationals, that we couldn’t just go to the comfort of home. The homely feel with them was very nice to experience while away from my own, familiar yet different. I have another friend who I met in Leiden but is Belgian, whose family also very kindly hosted and went out of their way for me, I hope to visit again soon so I will make the Kindness in Beligum post as soon as I can.

I bonded with multiple dogs, ate lovely dinners, was treated out in restaurants, I was taken out to see Rotterdam, as well as Ouwekerk and Zierkzee. One friend’s mother bought me some local Zeeland sea-salt after I expressed how much I liked it at dinner one night. I still use it. I stayed with them twice and each time they were very kind, even facilitating me exploring and learning about the area, going out of their way to drive me to different places, showing me an amazing museum and so much more.

I was mostly busy enjoying the moment so I don’t have too many pictures but here are some!

 

Bandol the dog
Morty the Cat in R’dam
Sight seeing in Zierkzee
A lovely picnic I made with a friend’s mother
Chilling on a boat with my friend!

Another set of parents would show me different types of wine and go out of their way to find new vegetarian dishes to make for me. They also made the effort to make the meat they ate around me, a lifelong vegetarian, to be less daunting, (eg, removing the bones and cutting it up). They would listen to me nerd out about languages and the world, as well as permit me to come to gatherings of their friends and families. At first, I was shocked and thought to be imposing, only to later really feel welcomed and to enjoy the company of these new people. They were all very fun and merry, dancing, chatting and singing in a lively manner!

I often ended up engaging in genuine, engaging discussions with these families, in groups or one on one, that went far beyond just small talk, and even if I don’t see them for a good while, or ever again, I will value their kindness and the experiences they gave me.

Friendliness and helpfulness of strangers – For all the rudeness I experienced, I also met very sweet and friendly people. An example of some with whom I enjoyed conversing the most was the local fruit sellers at the Leiden market, who sold their goods with much gusto and many smiles, being very helpful despite my initial nervousness in this new land. They also often gave me little extras or indulged in some nice chats with me. Other market stalls selling brooches and hats would talk to me about their passion for what they sold, trying their best even when their English slipped up. Or, they would help me by getting a mirror for me to try things on even if they couldn’t communicate with me.

I also have a vivid memory of a bank clerk being very kind and patient with me when opening my bank account when he could have easily been fed-up with all the wide-eyed internationals arriving, coming in with the exact same questions.

I met some friendly locals who would also kindly ask me where I got that lovely looking bread loaf from, or how they liked my shoes.

 

Kindness is everywhere, my friends. There is much more, but it would make the post very long. This was just a glimpse!

Look out for my musings upon returning to the Netherlands (hopefully in the spring or summer). Maybe I will do a second kindness post!

Otherwise, read more about my time and relationship with the Netherlands in and the coming weeks.

Also, look out for Kindness posts from other places: Kenya and Rwanda, Lebanon, Japan and Ahmedabad and India (to be written).

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