The Best Thing about Living in the Netherlands

Bonnie The Bike after undergoing Tiffization

Bonnie is one of my best friends here in the Netherlands. We spend an inordinate amount of time together. Although there have been times when we haven’t been the nicest to each other (like the time I locked her out in the rain or the time she pushed me against a shop window) we always make up in the end. We’ve also been through a lot together: getting caught out in storms, getting lost and finding our way again, exploring new areas and taking trips together.

To be honest, Bonnie was one of the things I dreaded most about coming here. I just wasn’t sure that we’d mesh as her lifestyle is so different from the one I had back in the US. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to handle her. The first few weeks together weren’t easy. And let’s just say we didn’t exactly hit it off the first time I met her.

But since then, Bonnie has introduced me to a whole new world. One I had never spent much time in because it just didn’t fit who I was. Now, its such a huge part of me and I can’t imagine my life without it. She’s helped me begin to lead a healthier lifestyle and she’s taught me to be more independent. I like to think that we’re invincible.

If I were to leave the Netherlands, Bonnie is one of the things I would miss the most. I already miss her whenever I go away, no matter how long I’m gone. Yet she’s always there waiting for me when I get back so we can go off on our latest adventure. It’s funny that the part of living here I thought I would dislike the most has become something I now can’t live without. Bonnie and I have known each other for about a year now, and I can honestly say that it’s been the best year of my life. And Bonnie has a lot to do with that. I hope that we have many more years together, and wherever I end up, if Bonnie’s still around, I’ll be taking her with me.

Who would have thought that I’d end up feeling this way about a bike? I certainly didn’t.

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Driving Rant: Passing your rijbewijs exam

I passed my rijbewijs exam…. the time has come, my precious!

As of next Wednesday afternoon, I will be a licensed driver here in the Netherlands. Yes, this morning I took (for the second time) and passed (for the first time) my Rijbewijsexamen!

As obtaining one’s Dutch license is difficult and expensive enough as it is, I thought I’d throw you a bone (it’s the only one you’ll get!) and share some tips:

  1. Forget the concept of “gradual acceleration.” They want you to instantly reach the higher speed as soon as you see the sign.
  2. Do not stop or slow down at shark’s teeth or yield signs unless you actually see something coming. Supposedly your slowing down obstructs the traffic behind you too much.
  3. Unlike in the US, you look in your mirrors and to the side before you put on your turn signal. This took me the longest time to get right!
  4. Cyclists have the right-of-way. Always. They know this and feel as though it makes them exempt from following any and all traffic rules and regulations.
  5. Always, always, always stay in the right-hand lane unless you are making a left hand turn on a multiple lane road. If there are more than one left-turn lanes, you must stay in the rightmost one. 
  6. Always drive the posted speed limit and no slower unless it is dangerous to do so.
  7. On an equal crossing, the vehicle to the right has priority. Always look to the right at every intersection when traveling on non-priority roads. This rule also holds for bikes, mopeds, and motorcycles.

Know what to expect
Before setting foot in the vehicle, you will be asked to read the license plate number of a car across the parking lot from where you are standing.

Once you arrive at the test vehicle, you may be asked to pop the hood open. At this point, the examiner will ask you to identify the car parts under the hood. Usually, they skip this part and ask you to step into the vehicle right away. There, you will be asked to identify lights, gauges, and buttons inside the car.

Then, you’re off!

During the course of the exam from this point on you will be expected to: perform two special maneuvers; listen to a series of directions from the examiner which you will then be expected to carry out (cluster opdraag); drive on the highway; drive through a precinct; navigate the way to a specified destination using road signs only.

Be prepared to fail the first go around. The CBR seems to enjoy failing people at least once just out of principle. Good luck!

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Dutch Women Don’t Get Fat Either

All that cycling the Dutch do pays off
Could this be one of the reasons Dutch women don’t get fat either?

As an American with a wide cultural background and lots of traveling and living abroad experience, I have always been amazed at how much rich foods European men and women eat and yet remain so slim.

We’ve all heard that French women don’t get fat, but my experience in the Netherlands has shown me that Dutch women don’t get fat either.

After moving to the Netherlands and adapting to the culture here, I quickly figured out why: Lifestyle.

Read my article, Weighty Issues: The Dutch Edition at ExpatExchange.com to see what a difference lifestyle makes. Here’s an excerpt from the piece to whet your appetite:

 

What is it about Europeans that allows them to break almost every dieting rule ever written and still remain so slim?

They eat almost nothing but carbs, have their last meal way after 7pm, drink real milk, eat real mayonnaise, have dessert after at least one of their three meals… You know, all those things they tell you NOT to do when watching your waistline!

And yet, we in America with all of our diets and weight loss aids, a plethora of lite, reduced-fat, and fat-free foods are the ones who are overweight.

The answer is very simple and very logical, yet always overlooked because it is so simple (not to mention it actually takes work).

Lifestyle.

Of the 3 other countries in which I’ve lived, there’s only one that I have enough experience in to actually speak with any sort of authority: Holland. I moved here early December 2008 after marrying a Dutchman.

My first several months here, I drank several cups of tea and coffee per day sweetened with pure sugar. I went from skim milk to halfvolle (“half full” or “half whole”). Every night after dinner, my husband and I would have dessert: ice cream, custard, pudding, etc. Every night we’d watch a movie and polish off a bag of M&Ms between the two of us.

I was introduced to all the Dutch treats. Patat: a large cone filled with fat Flemish fries, smothered in whatever topping you choose. Most Dutch just go for plain mayonnaise, but curry and peanut sauce are also popular. My favorite: a mix of mayonnaise, peanut sauce, and onion called Patat Oorloog, or “fries war.” Ollieballen: a New Year’s treat. It literally means “oil balls.” You take it from there. Bitterballen: God only knows what’s in it, but it’s some sort of meat mixture that’s fried. Speculaas: a spice cookie. Eirekoeken: some sort of bread/cookie thing that resembles angel food cake in texture. Hagelslag: sprinkles that come in all sorts of flavors. Chocolate’s the winner in my book. Vla: a custard pudding. You get the idea.

Do you know how much weight I gained? None. Zip. Zilch. Nil. Not a single inch, kilo, or pound (until my mom came over and lavished us with Easter candy…). Cool, huh? You’re probably wondering how I was able to pull this off… In one word: fiets.

Fiets is Dutch for bike. The Dutch are nuts about their bikes. In the city I live in, they have the traffic lights rigged so you can pretty much expect every light you arrive at to be red. The hope is that this will motivate more people to use their bikes or public transportation. There are bike paths literally everywhere complete with special bike traffic lights and road rules.

A Dutchie utilizes all parts of the two-wheeled contraption: the baggage carrier on the back, the handle bars, they add baskets and bicycle bags, attach baby seats and wagons – anything you can imagine. They carry everything from fresh flowers, to several of their buddies, to furniture.

Families travel on vacation by bike and many Cloggies can even ride without using the handle bars at all! Since being here, I have accomplished riding a bike in heels, with my dog Turner on the leash, with ridiculous amounts of cargo, while talking and texting on my cell, and while holding an umbrella against deadly winds and pelting rain. I cycle to my classes, I cycle into town, I cycle to my friends’ places, meetings, the dentist, the train station, and to work.

But of course, I don’t attribute it all to my bike (her name’s Bonnie, by the way).

The title for this post comes from the title of the recent popular book by Mireille Guiliano, French Women Don’t Get Fat.

What’s the weight situation in your new country? Have you found your eating and exercise habits improving… or not so much?

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