It’s been exactly one week since I arrived in the Netherlands. Although that might seem like a short amount of time, I’ve already noticed a lot of cultural differences. The classes are very different here. None of my teachers have no electronics policies, unlike my UVa professors. And it’s not considered rude to talk during an entire lecture or use your phone, unlike it is at UVa. Outside of campus, I’ve noticed other cultural differences. Big-box stores aren’t really a thing here. You have to go to five different mom-and-pop stores to get what you need in the way of groceries as opposed to making one trip to Target or Walmart. People don’t buy their groceries in bulk here but rather make many small trips throughout the week.
Hands-down the biggest challenge my roommates and I faced this week was when we decided we needed some sort of dresser or storage unit for our clothes. We’re living in an Airbnb, so there is a lack of furniture in the apartment (at least the type of furniture you would need for a longer stay). Considering that we’re college students on budgets, we decided to look for a used dresser at a thrift store. We Googled a bunch of thrift stores in the area but what we found when we went there was that they were more vintage furniture and clothing stores than consignment stores. I finally broke down and asked one of the employees at a vintage furniture store where we could find used furniture. It took him a couple of minutes to think of a place, but he ended up giving me the name of a place called “Kringloop.” I did some research and found out that Kringloop isn’t one store, like a Salvation Army, but a word used for used clothing and furniture stores. I searched for “Kringloop” and found a very limited number of places we could go. Most of the reviews were in Dutch so it was difficult for me to discern whether or not the places I found actually sold used furniture or just used clothing. I decided to bite the bullet and make the trek out to one of the stores I found.
My roommates seemed confident in my research abilities, so we Ubered to the place because it was 30+ minutes away by tram (in what I later found out was a bad part of town). I was skeptical that the place even sold furniture and I was worried that we had wasted 20 euros on an Uber, but to my pleasant surprise, it was actually a furniture store. We ended up finding a tall cubby-like unit that we liked. The dresser/cubby unit came un-assembled, so we asked if we could buy the pre-assemnled display unit (we didn’t have the tools nor energy to assemble one on our own). He agreed, we haggled on price, and then finally settled on 60 euros. My two roommates picked up the dresser and not even five steps later, one of them broke the dresser. Needless to say, it was incredibly uncomfortable and we were worried we would have to replace the unit. Fortunately, the owner did not make us pay for it. However, that meant we had to buy the un-assembled dresser and figure out a way to assemble it ourselves.
What we didn’t take into account was how we planned on getting this dresser from the store back to our apartment and up four flights of steep stairs. We tried to call an UberXL but because we were so far outside of the city, there weren’t any Ubers (regular or XL) available. Our only option was to carry this dresser to a commuter rail station, take the commuter rail to a metro station in the city, and then take a tram back to our apartment. That meant about an hour on public transportation carrying a very heavy dresser. It wasn’t the best plan but it was all we had. We took turns carrying the dresser down the street, refreshing the Uber app, and holding up our thumbs in an attempt to hitchhike. Fortunately, we were able to get an Uber about 20 minutes after leaving the store. We prayed that the car would be big enough to fit the dresser and fortunately for us, it was. We spent a couple of minutes putting down the back seats and shoving the dresser into the car before we made our way back to the apartment. Getting the dresser up a very narrow, steep four flights of stairs proved to be challenging. If you’re a fan of Friends, then I think you’ll appreciate this reference:
After we finally got it upstairs, we opened the packaging and realized we had no tools to assemble it. Most people would have probably called it a day at this point, but I am nothing if not determined (read: stubborn). I spent another 20 minutes or so Googling where we could find a hardware store and figuring out which tools we needed. Once I did those two things, we made the 15 minute trek to the hardware store and back. Now the hard part: assembling the dresser. Thankfully, the directions were in English. But as we started to build the dresser, we realized that certain pieces were missing. It seemed that the store owner had opened the package prior to us purchasing it and removed all of the doors from the dresser. As you can imagine, this made assembling the thing more difficult because we had to try to discern which brackets/screws were no longer useful now that we weren’t going to install doors. A very strenuous two hours later and I can happily say that I am no longer living out of a suitcase. Here’s proof:
(In hind sight, it’s probably for the best that the pre-assembled dresser broke because I imagine carrying this on public transportation or putting it in an Uber would have been an even bigger ordeal.)
It was incredibly interesting to me just how difficult it was to get a piece of cheap/used furniture in Rotterdam. Back home, I could drive to any consignment store and probably find what I wanted in 30 minutes. And if that failed, I just could go to Walmart, Target, or Ikea and buy a cheap piece of furniture that I could assemble on my own (all parts, even doors, included). Despite that cultural difference, I really am enjoying my time in the Netherlands and I am enjoying getting to learn about the cultural differences here. While I do miss the big-box furniture stores, I appreciate the little mom-and-pop places because there is a lot of charm to them. There are also a lot of little outdoor markets set up in the city where people go to buy their groceries, which isn’t something that I’m used to back home but that I enjoy here.
In terms of the language, I haven’t had many issues here. There has not been one person that I have met who can’t speak English. And unlike some places in Europe, the Dutch aren’t irritated when you speak English instead of their native language. I haven’t had many opportunities to connect with Dutch people yet because the program I’m in at Erasmus is incredibly diverse, as is Rotterdam as a city. I’ve spent most of my time so far with other exchange students from places such as Chile, China, Norway, etc. Now that I have (somewhat) gathered my bearings, I plan to spend more time getting to know the Dutch people through talking to my professors, meeting other Erasmus students outside of my exchange program, going to museums, exploring downtown markets, etc. Hopefully that doesn’t mean too many fiascoes between now and my next blog post.
Written by Lexi Arledge