I experienced culture shock my first night in Holland. I had barely slept during the flight from Minneapolis to Amsterdam. I kept closing my eyes trying to force myself to sleep, only to wake up to see that the little plane on the TV screen was still a long way off. This flight was after a 3 hour layover after my flight from San Francisco, so I was quite bleary eyed when I finally arrived in Schiphol.
Some scenes from around Westland:
Hubby (who was my boyfriend at that time) left me for a few hours to try to get some sleep. By the time I got up, it was late in the evening and it was time to visit his parents. After visiting his parents, he said that we were going to meet his friends. Now Hubby is not the best communicator sometimes so I was not prepared for what I was about to walk into. What I walked into was a huge outdoors party in De Lier, complete with trance music, and filled with what seemed to be every Dutch person under the age of 25. As I said here, Hubby is from Westland, a province in South Holland that barely has any minority residents and doesn’t get much visitors. It is also an area where it seems like everyone knows each other and no one moves away. So when I showed up, I swear I heard some crickets.
Here in the U.S., I find that we don’t really have big night parties in the outdoors. Sure you have your music festivals and raves, but those are restricted to a certain date or weekend in a secluded area and/or it takes place during the day. The parties there are not in the middle of a desert like Burning Man, but right in the residential area. I kept asking Hubby whether the neighbors complain about the noise, drunks, and music. Apparently they have all learned to deal with it. I guess they remember they were young once! Apparently they also have very good janitorial service that cleans up all the mess the next day because all the Dutch just threw their empty beer cups, beer tray, and cigarette stubs on their floor. When I spotted a little boy and girl going through the crowds, I told Hubby that they must have followed their older sibling in and gotten lost. He laughed and explained that they are actually collecting beer trays for money. Kinda like collecting soda cans for money at the recycling plant, except these were 10-year-old kids squeezing through chain-smoking and beer guzzling Dutch teenagers and adults.
There are rows and rows of greenhouses throughout Westland. Residential houses are in close proximity, sometimes right next, to the greenhouses. Greenhouses are an integral part of the Westland environment and culture. Hubby, for example, worked in the greenhouses as a teenager and spent his weekends (and many weeknights) drinking with his friends in a bar that they created in a greenhouse shed. At his friends’ wedding last year, the couple came down the river by boat past the greenhouses and the civil ceremony was conducted in a grape greenhouse. They grow lots of flowers in the greenhouses of course so there is FloraHolland, the flower auction and market company, in Honselersdijk. You can visit but you have to be willing to get up before dawn.
Varend Corso, meaning sailing parade, takes place the during the last week of July and first week of August every year. Boats, filled with decorations, flowers, and volunteers are decked out according to the year’s theme and compete for first prize. They make their way through the Westland villages, past Den Haag and then to Delft during the 45 mile route. This particular year’s theme was Hollywood. And as you can see from the photos, they make sure that the volunteers on the floats are supplied with enough beer for the route.
Toward the south, there is Hoek of Holland which features a long and wide beach. Every summer, there is a big party to celebrate the opening of the beach season. The opening party takes every year on Ascension day, which Dutch employees have a day off for. For being such a secularized country, employees in Holland still have quite a number of days off in observance of religious holidays.
Hubby’s parents took me on a boat tour once through Midden-Delfland, a neighboring province to the east of Westland. Midden-Delfland is a protected green area between very dense and highly urbanized Den Haag in the north and Rotterdam in the south. This tranquil spot provides residents from the surrounding cities with an area to enjoy nature, wildlife, and a slower pace of life, which is sometimes hard to find in the Randstand area. There was a tour guide and another Dutch family in the boat. I could not understand what the tour guide was saying but it was nice to enjoy a peaceful boat ride through the wet grassland.
You can see from the photos above that the water level is quite high. The Dutch have built and protected their country through land reclamation and a sophisticated system of dykes. There is also the Maeslantkering. Maeslantkering is a giant storm surge barrier located between Hoek of Holland and Maassluis. You can go there to take a look and learn about the system at the visitor’s center. About 25% of the country, an area that is currently home to about 60% of the population and encompasses Rotterdam, is below sea level. In 1953, the country got a rude awakening when over 1800 people died from a storm. From this tragedy, the government implemented the Delta Act and the Maeslantkering was created after many years and a huge amount of money ($450 million). They realized that they needed to plan and Maeslantkering. As you can see from the demonstration exhibit below, the giant gates close when needed upon receipt of weather and sea level data.
It is quite an adjustment whenever I go to Holland and stay in Hubby’s area. Although it is only about 10 mins from the The Hague, its people and culture are very different. Hubby forced me to go to a Chinese restaurant in Monster one day, so he can learn what to order I suppose, and the restaurant staff kept staring at me, wondering to each other where I had come from. When we went up to pay, the lady hesitantly asked “Japanese???” I suppose I looked like a lost Japanese tourist. The Chinese food I had by the way, was not like any I have ever had, changed to Dutch tastes and Indonesian influences. Hubby was born at home in the house his parents still live in His mom rides the bicycle or walks to the grocery store, which by the way is not open on Sundays and closes at 6PM. “But what if you need something at night?” I constantly ask Hubby. Reply: “You can ask your neighbor. Plus just plan ahead what you need to buy from the store.” About 75% of the women and about 25% of the men work part-time in Holland so it’s easier to get your shopping done within these hours. He has had the same friends for years and they have pretty much all stayed in the same area – moving out of their parents home to a home down the block or in the next village. It wouldn’t be that much of a contrast if I came from Small Town America but coming from the San Francisco Bay Area, it’s quite a difference.
I am now used to giving three kisses and can spot a Dutch tourist in San Francisco a mile away. Westland has many quirks that I’ll have to try my best to get used to as I’ll be visiting many more times in the future. It is completely different from where I come from and I am glad to have the opportunity to live a life different from the one I have here.