Today marks my 33rd day in the beautiful and unique city of Rotterdam. I have come to realize there is much to update everyone on since my last blog post.
First and foremost, I would love to discuss a few of the many cultural differences that I have encountered during my time abroad. One thing I have come to realize is that although you may be so used to something being a particular way, that same exact thing may be done differently in another country. A few statements that I quite often hear (from non-Dutch residents), and personally try to stay away from using, are “I don’t understand why this thing (whatever it may be) is done this way”, or “back home this thing is done differently”, “this is so annoying, why can’t this be done this way”, etc.
It is quite understandable and acceptable for foreigners to want to express their own beliefs and/or cultures to one that is unfamiliar. Instead I really try to stay away from critiquing and comparing my American ways to those of the Dutch culture. For example, it is fascinating that, when walking around the city, there are technically no free public restrooms. Now don’t misinterpret what I am saying here. There are public restrooms … that you could pay anywhere from fifty cents to a euro to use. Just like there is technically tap water at restaurants as long as you specify that you would like a glass of tap water and not just a glass of water. If you just ask for a glass of water, you better understand that the water you will be given is from a bottle—that costs money.
And what American doesn’t like ketchup with their fries?!? Well in the Netherlands, just know that the condiment you put on your fries (aka frietjes) is a great indication whether you are Dutch or a foreigner. In the Netherlands you don’t eat frietjes with ketchup (how overrated!), instead it is normal and encouraged to eat them with some mayonnaise on top. Unique right? Spoiler alert: They have some quality mayonnaise in the Netherlands—the mayonnaise they use is not any Hellman’s we are all used to in the states.
Now about the handful of journeys that I have already been on. These trips have been with either:
- my Facebook messenger group named “Full Dutch,” which has around 30-plus people in it
- Erasmus Student Network (ESN), which is an international student organization that hosts a large array of cultural, sports or social events and city trips, or
- just a small group of friends. Within the Netherlands I have already had the opportunity to travel to Amsterdam, Utrecht, Gouda (pronounced How-da), Daan Hague and obviously Rotterdam.
Amsterdam was quite the experience. ESN took a large group of us on a day trip there where we visited a sex museum (talk about unique), did a city tour (where we visited the famous IAMSTERDAM sign and a canal tour. Since we were with the ESN group, I didn’t feel as though I got to really take in all that Amsterdam has to offer to its guests, such as the Anne Frank Museum or the Van Gogh Museum.
The Gouda and Utrecht trip hosted by ESN was beyond amazing and fun. We started our morning off visiting a cheese farm in the countryside of Gouda. Many Americans are used to pronouncing this city and cheese Goo-da, however as myself and many others stood corrected, it is actually pronounced How-da. Although visiting a cheese farm would have never been on the ‘top things to do’ list, I am sure happy that I did visit it. Who would have ever thought that the process of a food millions of people eat daily could be so finely detailed and time consuming. I must say that cheese tastes a million times better when you get it from the farm that produced it! They had me sold at five euros for a block of delicious Gouda.
Between the traveling of both Gouda and Utrecht, I also had the opportunity to learn how to make stroopwafels and witnessed a couple of friends try pickled herring for the first time. Stroopwafels are a typical Dutch sweet which can be found in any grocery store and/or bakery. They are ball of dough that are placed on a waffle iron and pressed for about a minute or so. The end result is a flat waffle (thinner than a pancake), cut right down the middle, and filled with hot syrup.
The history of the stroopwafel is interesting. In the early 19th century, bakeries would gather the leftovers from breads and others deserts, mix them all together and do the process stated above. These deserts were then taken to the back of the bakery, where the less wealthy would buy them from bakers. They would be sold to the poor in the back of the bakery because the poor were not allowed to enter from the front.
A secret: When drinking with a hot beverage, sit the stroopwafel on the rim of the drink for a few moments to warm up the syrup in the middle.
Lastly, I wanted to discuss the “traditional Dutch food” – the pickled herring. Now let me elaborate on why I put quotation marks around traditional Dutch food. Since I have arrived in Rotterdam, every Dutch person I have spoken to talks about how the pickled herring is very traditional and a must-taste food in order to go full Dutch. However, I have yet to see a Dutch person eat the pickled herring. When offered to my Dutch friends, they make this face of utter disgust as though they don’t like it, but still recommend it to me and other international students.
The pickled herring is a raw herring fish that is cut down the middle, gutted and cleaned, then cured with salt. Although some believe that the salt and vinegar actually cook the herring, I firmly believe it is still raw. In Utrecht, a couple of my peers decided that they were going to try herring. As they tilted their heads back, and let the herring fall into their mouth, it was at that instant that I knew that herring was not a food for me. Their facial expressions said it all.
So until I actually see a Dutch person eat a pickled herring and enjoy it, I will continue to believe that eating pickled herring is just a prank that the Dutch tell foreigners just for their own personal entertainment.
The last thing I would like to touch upon is an update for everyone who read my last post. My last post talked about the homesickness, culture shock and jet-lag that I was experiencing during my first week here. Even after writing that post, I still found myself extremely homesick and still adapting to the Dutch ways. In reality, I have continued to realize many things. For one, I will never not be homesick. I had to come into terms that I will always, to some extent, miss home.
The difference between then and now is that I am comfortable with where I am at. I am glad that I have taken this challenge of moving internationally. For anyone who is thinking about studying or working in a foreign country, I could give you a million reasons why you should do it, and I couldn’t think of a single reason why you shouldn’t. After next week, I will be officially a quarter of the way done with my time here in the Netherlands. I need to continue to make the best out of my time here, because once I am back home, it is back to reality and the normal/structured life I lived before coming here.
As the slogan of the city of Rotterdam says: ‘Make it Happen.”
Salvador Terrones is an interdisciplinary studies in three department (IS3D) student with an emphasis in SDSU leadership, counseling and social change, and a social work major. He is studying Spring semester at Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication in Rotterdam, Netherlands.