It’s a beautiful day in the (Dutch) neighborhood. Dutch people deserve credit for their small-town friendliness and hospitality, which sometimes makes all of Holland feel like a big village (indeed, its biggest city, Amsterdam, has only 800,000 inhabitants).
I’ve never encountered here the big-city coldness and anonymity I faced in New York and London. Shopkeepers always make the effort to greet customers and make conversation while they are processing transactions and strangers often strike up conversations with each other on the bus or in other public places.
I think the best example of this is my relationship with my neighbors. First of all, yes, I have a relationship with my neighbors. This alone may come as surprise to Londoners and New Yorkers. I lived there for years without ever knowing who my neighbors were, less that they existed or were even alive, as long as their post wasn’t piling up and I didn’t smell a rotting odour from their door.
But in Utrecht, where we live in an old-style house terraced house that has been converted into several apartments, we not only know our neighbors by name, we actually hang out with them. We keep in touch with several of them and I’ve gone for coffee, lunch, dinner, and drinks with the girls who live upstairs. One of them even offered let me use her washing machine since we don’t have one in our flat.
Admittedly, I was surprised the first time my neighbor struck up a conversation with me in the entry way (Is she going to rob me? Is she trying to sell me something?), but after her purely friendly intentions became apparent I was delighted. It is a wonderful (and very natural) way to meet people when you are new in town. Afterall, you do live with them!