Cultural differences: the Netherlands vs. Italy

After spending the past holidays with Suppo, his girlfriend Pia (yes, I was the awkward 3rd wheel), and his family in Sicily, I couldn’t help to notice a couple of differences between Italy (Sicily to be exact) and good old the Netherlands. Little note in advance, this piece covers Sicily and Maastricht, two very distinct parts of both countries. Let the culture clash begin.


IT: people with obsessive compulsive disorder don’t have anything on the obsession with food the Italians have. Believe me, this is hardly an exaggeration. They think and talk about it 24/7, something that is pretty annoying for someone who isn’t that preoccupied with how you should properly prep your chicken according to the aunt of a friend.  They talk about it 24/7 because apparantly: “no civil wars ever occured due to food”. A recommendation to food addicts, a no-go for people with an eating disorders or strict dieters.

NL: we eat anything, taste isn’t our best quality. Don’t expect anything fancy from Dutch cuisine, because it is pretty straightforward. However, I never heard anybody complain about our typical ‘broodje kroket’ or our ‘stroopwafels’.

Views and landscapes

NL: we don’t do views. The highest mountain you’ll come across is as big as a side curbe. Mind your step and you’ll do just fine. Maastricht makes up a lot, because of the medieval influences, but panoramic views are very hard to find. If you are the romantic type that loves narrow streets, cosy bars and pittoresk houses Maasticht will be a treat.

IT: the view in Sicily is just plain amazing. Messina watches over the narrow strate between Sicily and the mainland of Italy.  I didn’t come across a lot of views that can match Messina’s especially considering it was winter. The rocky, hilly terrain right next to the sea makes it an amazing spot to let your mind run free. You can judge by yourself whether or not I need to get my eyes checked by the below posted pictures.

Overview of part of Messina and the Waterway between Sicily and the mainland of Italy (Featuring Mr. and Miss. Mushy Mushy).


The eastern view from the Highest point in Messina.


IT: they just don’t do taffic laws. Speed limits don’t count and taffic signs are funny symbols next to the roads. In Rome they apparantly call traffic lights ” Christmas decorations”. You can park everywhere, because parking spots are considered to be nice geometical shapes drawed on the road (yes we came across a triple parking). Driving while being tipsy or talking on the phone is as normal as the color blue.

NL: rules are rules and we can become anal about them. If you break a traffic rule there’s a proper chance that a gentile civil serant is there to write you a ticket. I’m now talking about driving with a car, because cycling (the most common method of transport) allows you to bend every traffic rule there is. So, even the rebels amongst us can do their thing.

Foreign Languages

NL: even grannies can understand English (and German, the language of love, and French in some cases). If you ever get lost or need help in the grocery store, you won’t have any difficulty finding somebody that will assist you.

IT: you better prep up your imagination if you can’t speak Italian, because you will have to make up some great stories to make sure you at least think you are part of the conversation. The level of English is improving apparantly and the lack of English is less profound in student towns and touristic areas. However that won’t save you if you ever have to meet your parents in law from the Italian hottie you picked up.

Hospitality and openness:

IT: if you know somebody of the family or friend circle you are as welcome as it will ever get. They will overfeed you with treats and go all out to make you feel at home. Going up to somebody in a bar or even looking at somebody in the streets is a different story. Not appreciated at all, by either the person self or the friends, cause they will think you are as creepy as Herbert the pervert.


NL: the Dutch won’t just let anybody in, but once you are invited there’s nothing to fear at all. Not a lot of topics are considered to be taboo and you can basically ask anything once you are familiar with previous history of that family. Going up to people for a chat is often appreciated. You can go to anybody in a bar to try your luck, nobody will be offended (most of us like the attention and the consequent boost it gives to your self-esteem.


NL: Dutch people aren’t very hard to please. Most of them will have a preference for either clubbing or pubbing, but won’t mind if they have to go to toher spots once and a while.  Both  clubs and pubs can be found within a ratio of 20km no matter where you are in the Netherlands. Maastricht doesn’t offer any big clubs (a shame), but there are two big clubs in the near proximity; Starfish in Aachen (Germany) and Versuz in Hasselt (Belgium). Pubs and little bars where you can dance are in excess in Maastricht and basically any music type can be found throughout the city.

IT: in Sicily most of the educated people hang around in little bars or on the streets. They don’t have a drinking culture at all and spend most of their night talking to each other while sipping on their beer/wine. Although that was nice for about 3 nights, I really missed having a wild night filled with good house and retarded top 40 music.


Both cultures have their pro’s and con’s. There are always exceptions, but overall these were the things I noticed during my stay in Sicily. I have had a great time and couldn’t wish to be welcomed better in a family I didn’t know before. However, I’m very happy to be back home again in a country that is more in line with my style of life. I’m pretty sure I will never end up living there, but I would not mind getting back for a long vacation. No doubt about that.

6 replies
  1. Holly
    Holly says:

    This was really fun to read. I lived in Rome for 3.5 years before starting my Masters course in Maastricht last September and the cultural differences have been rather disorienting at times! I must confess, I really, REALLY miss the Italian way of life. I loved the aperitivo’s in random piazzas which would go on until the early hours of the morning.. just standing in the warm evening air and chatting away with friends.. I love the architecture and colours and vivacity in Italy. I am finding Maastricht harder to feel at home in but I accept that that is partly because I’m studying here whereas in Rome I was working – it’s a very different way of living. Also, I quickly learnt to speak Italian whereas Dutch (or Limburg dialect!) is harder to pick up because my studies are in English and all my friends here are international. I think it’s harder to feel that you belong somewhere when you’re not familiar with the language. Hopefully with time that will improve!

    Anyway, your observations really rang true with me about what I have seen in the two countries. If you do go back to Italy for that long holiday just be warned that it may work its magic on you.. when I went I was only meant to stay for 3 months!!

    • Joseph
      Joseph says:

      You are right concerning the feeling less at home part. My main problem was my lack of Italian skills. Because not a lot of people speak English over there, I was limited in my communication.

      I loved the aperitivo’s, although I still don;t know why get such a buckload of food for free if you simply order a beer or a coke. At one moment we got about 6 dishes with both hot and cold snacks (including sandwiches) with 2 beers and a coke.. for niente. No student would complain about that..

  2. Claudia
    Claudia says:

    I could not have put it better myself Joep, sometimes the food talking annoys me too and I am Italian! However we do have a lot of nice things there, history, art and landscape wise. Btw, about nobody complaining about the krokett stuff?? Maybe you have not asked around enough 🙂

    • Joseph
      Joseph says:

      well maybe they don’t want to offend us… I knew it would be to good to be true :P. However, most of the ones you buy at the stores and frituur are far from as good as the typical ones. Even the Sicilians loved them when I (hardly somebody you would call a master chef) made them for the family from scratch.

  3. francesca
    francesca says:

    I have read everything but i have a question… Im chilean and im doing a rotary youth exchange program next year for 12 months but i seriusly dont know what country to choose; netherlands or italy cuz i think the first has betther level of life and education and if i like ill be available to stay there for university but the second has a better treat for people cuz italians are so warm and kind and landscapes and language feels pretty magical!!! Wich would you choose? (Im sixteen) thaaaank you 🙂

    • Joep van Agteren
      Joep van Agteren says:

      Hej Fransesca,

      It’s pretty difficult to give you advice on what to do. In general I agree with your own argumentation on the pro’s of the two countries. People in the Netherlands are pretty open as well once you get to know them, but it is more difficult to get that really big family feeling (especially in the big cities) than it will be in Italy. However I would myself always try to go for the country that is least to my own culture to just experience life from another point of view.

      That being said, I actually liked my vacation in Italy, so I’m pretty sure you will as well. I’m not an expert on the difference in educational level between the two countries, so you will have to make up your own mind about it. I’m pretty sure both countries will be to your liking 🙂


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