Although I’m Indian and have grown up in Australia, I had never actually experienced the “culture clash” that so many people talk about…
…that is, not until I arrived in Europe.
It is a completely different world. It’s also the first time I’ve truly felt like an “outsider”; obviously Sydney is home, and visiting India also feels like going home – I act so local and feel so comfortable when I’m in India that most people assume I live there. But this is totally new, and there are heaps of things I observed in the past week, some of which I’ve already probably forgotten, knowing my memory…
1. Okay. First of all – the public transport. Oh. My. God. If ever perfection existed, this is close to it. It is SO easy to catch public transport around Amsterdam that by my second day I knew which trains and which bus lines took me to the airport and back to my cousin’s flat. I barely have to wait, and the Dutch use a card called an “OV-Chipkaart” where you just tap on and tap off when you travel around and it automatically deducts money. So convenient and SO cheap. And SO reliable. You can set your watch by the trains or buses – if the board says it’s arriving at a certain time, it damn well will come at that time. The buses all have FREE WI-FI (I know, amazing right?!) and they have electronic boards both inside the bus and at the bus stops which tell you when the bus is arriving and, once you get in, what the next stop is and what time it’ll be reaching. For a newbie like me, it makes things SO much easier. It poops on Sydney’s transport system big time, I feel so backward in comparison.
2. Amsterdam Schiphol Airport is ENORMOUS. It’s the second biggest airport in Europe I think, after Frankfurt, and when we landed, taxi-ing down the runway took at least 20 minutes. I kid you not, that’s how big it is. It’s almost 20km in length, which is even more amazing when you realise that the actual city of Amsterdam is probably around the same length as well, if not only a little bigger. It stretches out endlessly, and the runway goes over the road as well, with cars driving underneath.
3. Speaking of cars, everyone drives so fast here! The maximum speed in Sydney is something like 110kmh – I think that’s probably the average driving speed here and apparently that’s slow compared to German roads because the Netherlands supposedly has restrictions on speed. Even in the rain the cars and trucks zoom past and I’ve flinched so many times whilst watching, thinking that a collision is imminent.
4. Everything here is flat. There are no mountains. There are no hills. Everything is evened out. This is because the Netherlands is actually below sea level, so dykes were built to keep out the water and stop flooding, and artificial land has been created in several areas. The roads are all planned and straight and just so very FLAT. It’s a huge change to Sydney where a flat road is a novelty!
5. Smoking is everywhere. I loathe smoking, to put it mildly, and I feel that I spend half my days coughing and avoiding smokers when I’m walking around on the streets. In this respect, I really admire Australia’s anti-smoking campaign and the ban on packaging and advertising and in comparison, Europe seems very backward. I see people smoking here all the time, and the brands are all plastered in the window of shops! There are barely any signs warning of the dangers of smoking and it frustrates me so much that I feel like making those signs myself and putting them up everywhere. I think this is common in Europe – I went to Cologne in Germany for a one day trip and actually saw an advertisement poster for cigarettes at a bus stop! It was really sad. And disgusting. The Australian anti-smoking ad has been so effective that India has actually adopted it and made the advertisement mandatory to screen before every film. People here should really check that out too. Might help with the coughing….just a tip.
6. I took the warmest clothes I had with me, but even they are not enough. While the cold isn’t as severe as I thought, Australia still has no idea what “warm clothing” really means. I have one thick overcoat that I’ve been relying upon, but I need to get myself a thick jacket that everyone here wears to keep out the cold and the wind. It is ALWAYS raining in the Netherlands. In fact the weather in London (and we’ll get to London later) was actually more tolerable!
7. People here are far more posh and formal than they are back at home, and that casual openness of Sydney is something that I really miss. This is not to say that Dutch people are not friendly – they are – but it’s more crisp. Obviously I can’t expect the “yeaaaah no worries maaaaate” that I’m used to, but it’s still something I need to get used to. That being said, everything is SO EFFICIENT. The entire place just screams efficiency. So much order, so much organisation…I need some chaos to feel at home. (Again, London helps with this.) Everything runs on time (see number 1) and it feels like nobody has a bad day or runs late and misses a train or anything like that.
8. Need. To. Learn. Dutch. ASAP. I can’t go grocery shopping properly because I have no idea what half the things are >< Although most people speak English anyway, but I want to try and get a Dutch handbook so I can learn the language and feel more local. My knowledge of German helps but Dutch sounds so strange, I still haven’t gotten used to it.
Anyway, that’s all for now, there are still so many things I’ve experienced but writing them all down will take way too long! More soon.