This month I left the Czech Republic, my home for more than two years, and moved to the northern Netherlands. I’ve called a lot of places home (Slovenia, Vancouver, Finland, Czechia, and now the Netherlands), but the culture shock has never been as strong as the jump between Prague and Groningen. I don’t believe the Canadian in me finds this land so different, because the contrast between the two countries isn’t that drastic. I’m starting to think the, for lack of a better term, Czechness that’s attached itself after thirty months in Prague bears more responsibility for the transitional difficulties.
Does it still count as culture shock if the place you left isn’t your home?
My first impression of the Netherlands may not seem like much to a Canadian, but it certainly stands out when you’ve spent some years in the Czech Republic. The people in Holland are very warm; they smile and nod and say hello. It’s all very friendly and hospitable. What a stark contrast to Prague or Helsinki, where smiling strangers indicate either drunks or the criminally insane.
Next, I want to go ahead and call shenanigans on the notion that the Dutch are a nation of beer lovers. Sure, they have some tasty beverages, but when it comes to pub culture moving from CZ to NL is like playing in the Major Leagues for a few seasons and then winding up in Double-A. There are some noticeable gaps.
Where Prague encourages mass consumption through large serving portions and irresponsibly low prices, the Netherlands is more a nation of sit in the sun and milk your 0.25L glass for a while, because it costs too much otherwise.
Moreover, when headed out somewhere social, the Czech in me still rushes to the fridge to put a couple beers in the backpack; that’s just what you did. It took a few days before someone kindly pointed out that an open container can be grounds for a steep fine in the Netherlands.
Who would’ve thought: In the land where you can buy a sack of dope and a prostitute in the same errand run as your milk and eggs, a cold beer in the park is frowned upon.
But what of wild animals? Friendly dogs are a staple of Czech streets. Few use leashes and most are well-behaved. Pub dogs are a common sight, as are random hounds walking blocks ahead of their owners. There aren’t a lot of dogs in Groningen, perhaps because it’s a student town, though there is an abundance of loose cats. Bridge cats, boat cats, street cats, park cats, and even dorm cats are a common sight.
However, these are the calmest and friendliest cats you will ever encounter (and this comes from someone who doesn’t much care for felines). This can only lead me to conclude that if you want a cat that acts like a dog, find yourself a Dutch one.
Finally, cities in the Netherlands, even the small ones, are quite beautiful. Prague has a stunning old town, but for every UNESCO heritage site, there are fifty paneláky off in the distance.
I kept walking around thinking, “Yes, this area is all well and nice, but wait until I discover the Soviet-looking district on the edge of town.” Then it became clear that I’d been in Central Europe for too long, where normal means living underneath a concrete viaduct.
The architecture in the Netherlands is an aesthetic treat and unlike any place I’ve ever called home.
None of this is trying to disavow the Czech that’s instilled itself to my character. Frankly, I like that side of my personality. It’s frugal, has a low tolerance for BS, and can handle drink like a professional. The transition is simply more peculiar than any past experience.
A handful of other things will take a while to adjust to (the prevalence of bikes, taking field hockey seriously), but I look forward to the challenge. Hell, in 10 months I may even lament their loss.