I have a guilty pleasure – reading those grumpy, grumpy posts on Grumpy Expats™. Angry, frustrated and completely fed up with not just their host country, but their friends, families and spouses. So many issues, and the Netherlands seems to be a regular target.
To be sure, many of the grumps about bureaucracy, poor service and husbands are justified and legit. No question. But there’s also a subset of expats who would be unhappy anywhere.
It depresses me to think so many people are so unhappy living in a high functioning society like the Netherlands. Grumpy Expats has 19,000 members, and a goodly number really, really hate the Netherlands. Even on Dispatches, I was looking at our analytics recently and noticed “I hate the Netherlands” was in the Top 10 of our searches.
As a Happy Expat™, I’m ending 2022 – which has been a good year – with a list of the things I love about the Netherlands. If you’re into reveling in your expat misery, this is probably not the place to do it.
Healthcare – A lot of people (including wife and daughter) will disagree, but so far for me personally, Dutch healthcare has been great. For example, I went to get my third COVID booster and the experience couldn’t have been better or more efficient. I walked into a huge former fulfillment center near our home, handed them my paperwork, got the shot and left. No lines, no issues. The cost? Zero.
Now, there are issues regarding actually getting in to see doctors. And as much as it pains me to say it, in terms of top docs versus top docs, the United States wins.
Leenderbos – Better than therapy. We’re not sure what we’d do if we couldn’t walk and picnic in the Leenderbos in Brabant province where we live. Miles and miles of woods, lakes and trails. Or as we called it in this post, “a four-seasons escape from the city.” This is just one example of open lands around the country. That a country this crowded (17 million people in a space the size of Maryland) has set aside this much land as nature preserves is amazing.
Cocktails (and cigars) in Maastricht – Really, cocktails and cigars anywhere in the Netherlands, where the café society tradition of sitting out and enjoying life (in all weather) is alive and well. But Maastricht has some of the most inviting cafés and romantic corners and quarters without the crowds of Amsterdam.
The best drinks and friendliest staff are at the Beeze Hotel Cocktailbar.
Trains – When friends visited this past summer, we all jumped on the train and headed for ‘s-Hertogenbosch. It was a 15-minute journey. We got off in on the edge of the city and were free to ramble and sample the beer and cocktails. That said, the trains in the Netherlands are like the trains everywhere in Europe, prone to halting service without warning. Though I will say Dutch trains are far more reliable than German.
Having great restaurants even in little towns. One of our favorite places is De Bout in a tiny town near the Belgian border called Soerendonk. But weirdly, there are Michelin-starred restaurants in two of the small Eindhoven suburbs near us, including Tribeca in Heeze and De Lindehof in Nuenen.
Hanging out on the Kleine Berg in Eindhoven. Seeing and being seen is a thing all over Europe. Our HQ city of Eindhoven, which is a tech center, is far from glamorous. Still, we have a street full of great café and restaurants. Most are affordable and all are fun. In the summer, you get to watch a parade of high-end cars such as Porsches, Lamborghinis, Bentleys and even an occasional Ferrari. Okay, it’s not Königsallee, but this is a wealthy city with people – mostly football players – happy to show it off. The great thing is, almost every major Dutch city has a street like this.
Best place for ice cream and macarons – Dutch Homemade, Bruggelaan 10 on the Kleine Berg.
Wandering unrestricted – I’m from Kentucky, and when I was 15 years old, a mentally unstable farmer shot me in the arm when I unwittingly crossed over onto his property while hunting. Here, the odds are very, very low anyone is going to shoot you for any reason, and you’re allowed to walk anywhere that’s not marked as private. And that includes farms.
The W Lounge in Amsterdam – Our happy place. Great drinks, groovy ambiance and a great view of the city. This is on the top floor of the W Hotel at Spuisstraat 175. The W is in two buildings – an old bank and an old telephone exchange. The lounge is in the telephone exchange.
There are dress rules, and they will turn you away. There are DJs at night playing disco and house music.
The museums – We recently went to see the Manhattan Masters show at the Maruitshuis Museum in Den Haag. It reminded us that if you want to see the world’s most sophisticated art in the most civilized settings, the Netherlands is one of the Big Three countries, along with France and Italy.
Ultramodern cities – Amsterdam is cool and everything; the quaint canal houses and the museum quarter. All good. But the most exciting cities here are all about the future. That would be Rotterdam and Eindhoven, with Strijp-S.
The startup scenes – There is nothing more exciting than being around super-smart creative people. Multiple cities in the Netherlands, including Eindhoven, Rotterdam and Amsterdam, are advanced innovation centers, cranking out promising startups in medtech, fintech and deep-tech. That’s why we have our Tech Tuesdays series.
Sanity: There’s something to be said for countries that aren’t teetering on the verge of anarchy. Where services work. Where you can count on most people being cordial or at least not aggressively unpleasant.