Life in the Netherlands

29 Sep 2008

Well, it’s been a whole month since I arrived in Amsterdam, time to reflect on life here so far.

It seems as if everyone here speaks English, so language hasn’t been a problem. Everyday things like buying groceries and asking for directions is not a problem - the only time I wished I knew Dutch was when reading instructions for cooking the noodles I had bought. Solved that problem by manually typing in the instructions on Google Translate.

I bought an iPhone 3G recently (after a lot of paperwork - the Dutch really seem to like paperwork), so I’ve been trying to translate random dutch words I see just to get a feel of what the language is like. Not that it’s required - anyone can comfortably live in Amsterdam without knowing a single word. Speaking of the iPhone, the 3G network coverage in the city is great and speeds are quite good (unlike the AT&T coverage in the US, from what I hear). A group of international students took a trip to The Hague last week (Den Haag in Dutch, capital of  the Netherlands, pictures here) and I got good network coverage throughout the trip.

Eating out is, unfortunately, quite expensive (compared to India or even the USA). A medium size pizza costs around 10 Euros, so that’s a treat reserved for, say, once a week. That means I would have to cook, but I’ve so far managed to avoid doing that by getting as many ready-to-eat or easy-to-cook packaged foods as I can.

Movies release really late sometimes, so that can be irritating, as an example, ‘Wanted’ came out just last week. Well, atleast they play them in the native language (English), so that’s a consolation.

The weather is quite pleasant, though it rains a lot here, so cloudy days are pretty frequent (which I don’t like). The weather is also quite unpredicatble, you may start your day with sunshine but you’re taught to carry your umbrella/raincoat nevertheless. Waiting to see how cold the winter gets, I’ve heard it doesn’t go as cold as the rest of Europe which is good for me.

The public transportation system is simply fantastic. You buy a paper strip called a strippenkaart and you can use that for travel on all of the cities’ buses, trams and metro. All parts of the city are well connected, and there’s a night bus system for those late party nights (incidentally, Amsterdam’s nightlife is also just as excellent). People here are not as addicted to cars and gas as the Americans - Amsterdam is also known as the bicycle capital of the world. 95% of the streets have a dedicated bike lane and given the relatively small size of the city (atleast compared to what I’m used to) - you don’t need to look further than a bicycle for all your transportation needs in the city. Overall, a pretty active and healthy lifestyle.

Dutch cuisine is not quite famous for anything. This is the first time I’ve had fries with mayonaisse though, and I think I really like it. Stroopwafels are my favorite dutch snack and are ideal anytime of the day with a hot beverage. It’s not hard being a vegetarian here, most restaurants have a variety of options.

The internet speeds are amazing, I don’t think I’ve ever seen bandwidths like these anywhere before 8)

The people are friendly, though my view may be a bit warped because most of the people I interact with are students from the university (and a majority of them are international). It’s amazing though, I’ve met people from more than 30 countries covering all the continents (except for Antarctica, of course), Amsterdam is a really international city.

The university is great, and considerably different from the higher educational institutes in India. The curriculum is pretty flexible, the instructors are open and honest in their handling of the course. Attendance isn’t compulsory, and you can drink coffee in class if you like. Classes are also longer, lasting from 2 to 3 hours with 15 minute breaks in between. Laboratories are well-equipped and nicely maintained by a dedicated IT team. I did hear about all of this, but it’s nice to actually experience learning in an environment like this!

The other big change for me is that I’m meeting students from non-technology backgrounds. Having done my Bachelors in an Engineering college, I’ve grown used to a ‘geeky’ environment which I began taking for granted. It’s refreshing to actually talk to people from other backgrounds like Law, Literature, Finance, Management and Medicine (though I think I’m not very good at this ‘socializing’ thingy). Also, the female-male ratio at the university is a LOT higher than what I’m used to - that’s great!

Shops close at 6pm most days, except for Thursdays, which is the ‘shopping night’. That’s weird though, because everyone has to work on Fridays, why didn’t they pick Friday night? The Dutch also have their parties and get-togethers (or Borrels, as they are called) on Thursday nights. Bah, why not pick a weekend like everyone else in the world!

Well, that’s all I can think of right now. I’m going to try and make the most of my time here! Already have trips planned in October to Barcelona, Spain for MozCamp EU; and Volos, Greece for IWP9.

Until the next post!