08 January 2014

Going Home, Coming Home, and the Differences You Notice

We were fortunate enough that over the Christmas and New Year, we were able to go back "home" to the States and spend time with family and friends - hence the silence here on the blog. We returned "home" in Tilburg yesterday afternoon, and while the jet lag is trying to keep me from forming coherent thoughts and sentences, I found a few differences between the United States and the Netherlands that are a bit fresh in my mind at the moment. So while I start trying to reorganize my thoughts and the house, I'll share some of the obvious and not-so-obvious differences the struck me during our trip and our return home.

The Obvious Differences:

Small Talk - My occasional socially awkward habits can prevent me from holding a "normal" conversation, but I'm an Olympic super star in English when you compare it to my Dutch "conversations." I understand the colloquialisms and abbreviated questions and don't respond in unnaturally halting, not-quite-completed full sentences followed up with an apology for my speaking skills. It was a nice change of pace.

Driving - After not having been behind the wheel for a year, I was able to drive well enough as all that muscle memory and habits returned. And because I learned to drive in America there was no additional thought time to understand the road signs like occasionally happens even when riding my bicycle.

Cycling - In the Netherlands, bikes are everywhere. It's one of the very unique facets of Dutch culture. In America, cars are your transportation option if you don't live in a big city like New York or Chicago, and even then, cars are a big part of getting around. And after 3 weeks of driving, that first trip to the grocery store on the bike in a head-wind was downright slow...

Food - There's nothing so good as home-cooking, especially when you don't have to cook it (our parents fed us really well). The abundance of Mexican-inspired food was also appreciated.

Clearly, this is not "real" Mexican food. But it's delicious.
Seriously, someone at Albert Heijn needs to get on this.

The Not-So-Obvious Differences:

Snow: Sure, this is a regional observation, but we grew up in the north in the States, so snow is a normal part of winter. We experienced some of the Snowpocolypse that hit the Midwest and New England, but unlike many others, we were still able to fly out. Little Man was looking forward to seeing snow, and he got his wish several feet over. The Netherlands doesn't get blizzards like we experienced in America, so while the snow was a nice change of scenery, I'm happy to let my upper body strength atrophy from lack of shoveling.

Snow Cave

Sledding. You can tell this was taken before the
Snowpocolypse since you can actually see grass.

The Take-Out Culture - It's hard to go almost anywhere in America without finding some sort of take-out option. Of course, McDonalds, KFC, Burger King and more are found all over the world, but it doesn't seem to permeate every space in the landscape in the Netherlands like it does in the US. 

I Can Reach Things in the US - At a towering 5 foot, not-quite 2 inches, I don't even hit the average height for American women. In the Netherlands, the average person is about 2 inches taller than their American cohorts. I'm really short in the US, but I am beyond petite in the Netherlands which is exacerbated by the fact that things are built taller for this taller population. In our home, the kitchen counter comes up to my sternum and I literally can't see into the bathroom mirror or the convection oven because they are both installed above my eye level. It leads to interesting methods of compensation, and thankfully, I haven't yet fallen off anything that I probably shouldn't have been using as a stool. 

Retail Customer Service - In the States, we walked into a hardware store and were asked by every employee that we passed if we needed any help. We passed 10 people. In the Netherlands, employees will sometimes ask if you need help, but it won't be every person in the shop and their mother. It's not that they're being unfriendly or don't care, it's more that if you really do need help you'll ask for it. Which we greatly prefer to feeling stalked and bombarded throughout the store. 

Commercials for Prescription Drugs - In the US you can't watch TV, listen to the radio, or even drive down a highway without encountering "Ask your doctor about..." at least once. That doesn't happen in the Netherlands, and it's nice not to have every condition and treatment known to man thrown in your face every 90 seconds.

"Casual Wear" Has Very Different Meanings: North Americans are more than happy to go "casual," which means that I saw more sweatpants worn in public in 3 weeks in the States than I have in nearly a year and a half in the Netherlands. I often feel out of place next to the other moms at school when I wear my "crappy jeans" to drop Little Man off after I just didn't have it together in the morning and everyone else is made up and dressed for the day. As my cousin said, "It's socially acceptable and expected in our culture that you will wear yoga pants while bring your kid to school for at least the first 7 years," and there are some days I envy those parents.

There are plenty more differences, but these are a few that really caught my attention this time around. And whether good or bad, I'm happy to poke fun at the differences from any side.

Have you gone "home" and realized some obvious and subtle differences?


  1. Yes! To all of it! You could be describing one of our return trips to France (except for the tall women part - which I would appreciate being 6'3"). A big thing I always noticed was having to weigh your own fruit and veggies before going to the check-out, and having to bag your own groceries. Being away always made me appreciate the "other home" that much more. Happy New Year, and welcome back!

  2. ann@travelturtle.net08 January, 2014 16:17

    I notice some things more in the US because I speak the language. But, kids cry more often at stores (I rarely see kids crying in public in Germany, but I have definitely seen it), other people are more likely to talk to my kids in the US, everyone is constantly on their cells and having loud conversations. I find it really inconvenient to drive, take the kids out of a carseat and into a stroller or cart, and then go back into the car. But, I do love that they bag groceries, that they have carts that hold more than one child, that they get free cookies at publix, that 98% of restaurants have high chairs, and the variety of food.

  3. When I went back to the US in October, I definitely noticed how bad American drivers are compared to German drivers. Ze Germans are so composed and orderly, following all of the rules of the road. Americans are ... not. It took me about two minutes of driving my rental car back in the US to remember how to road rage properly. Apparently, it's like riding a bike. I have lost zero skills in creatively insulting the drivers around me.

    Welcome back!

  4. Thanks, Liene! I know what you mean about appreciating the other home. I don't mind weighing the fruits and veggies now that I can read the machine, but before it would take way too long. I did start looking for the scale in a grocery in the US, too.

  5. I think you're right about when you really know the language, you notice more. When we lived in Chicago, it would drive me nuts that some of our errands meant driving across the street to the other store because they would tow you for leaving your car in the "wrong" lot, and that was just one car seat! And you really can't beat Costco free samples - eating your way through the store was always my favorite part. =)

  6. Haha, too funny! Who knew that creative empty threats and insults would be so easy to pick back up. ;)

  7. Welcome back! I always notice how convenient America is. Stores open 24/7? Delivery everything? Tons of options at the stores? No prob. I miss that.

  8. Yaaaaaaaayyy you're back! I was enjoying the post up until I had to imagine you standing on the edge of the bath to be tall enough to do your make-up. Then I started laughing and could not focus. Welcome home.

  9. I was a nanny in Amsterdam for several months last year and I can totally relate about casual wear at the school! I always felt super underdressed. I felt the same way in France too, but in Germany it's a little more relaxed.
    In England, we do the same as you guys do in America, casual wear = sweats!

  10. Thanks!
    I know what you mean about the convenience. I was telling someone about how much I miss "one stop shopping" like Target. I have to do a lot more planning for shopping trips now, which is fine, but it does take longer to get the same type of shopping done.

  11. LOL, I have a mirror on our wardrobe so I don't fall off of Little Man's stool trying to do eye liner in the bathroom mirror... It's dangerous being me.

  12. I suppose I'm self-conscious enough not to dress like a total shlub because of it, lol, but some days I wish I could get away with more. Thanks for stopping by, Kate!

  13. Thanks, Buddy. I have also enjoyed your blog and will continue to check in to read your posts.

  14. I can relate to that feeling of coming home hard anodized cookware set and how you’ve changed but everything else has stayed the same. It can be overwhelming. When I came back from Asia at Christmas I ended up moving out which was scary but now it’s fun. I usually start planning my next trip as soon as I get home!

  15. Oh, I can so relate to this. My sons are nearly 7 ( birthday on Saturday), 3 and 2 - so I've done a lot of clear outs and the third time around is even harder than the first and second times :-( The memories held in some of the little clothes is just so emotional - all three boys having worn them!!

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