By Mandie Rose van der Meer
You don’t know what you don’t know (#YDKWYDK)
An ACCESS column for expats in the early stages of their Dutch journey
If you’re new in the Netherlands – however you define ‘new’ – you don’t know what you don’t know. That’s why ACCESS is here for you, with answers to the questions you didn’t think to ask. There is a lot to learn about how the Dutch live, and how they relax! This month’s focus: enjoying the Dutch beaches.
On a sunny day in summertime, Dutch beaches are glorious. Lined with windscreens of all colours, spotted with beachgoers of all ages and nationalities, and smelling of sea and salt and freshness, the beach is the place to be when the sky is blue and the clouds few and far between. All Dutch know this and take advantage at the first promising weather forecast on RTL. Which is why the traffic to get into my beach village of Noordwijk is positively awful on a sunny day! And I love it! The mood of the people is upbeat, even cheerful, despite the struggle to find parking.
Don’t forget the rubber hammer
The winds from the North Sea or Scandinavia mean business so if you don’t want sand in your teeth or stuck in your ears, you’ll want to invest in a windscreen. This means that packed amongst your sunscreen, beach ball and paperback murder mystery novel will be a rubber hammer. You’ll need the hammer to properly pound in the wooden poles of the windscreen if it’s not going to collapse over you while you’re dozing off.
An alternative that doesn’t require the workout ritual of hammering: rent a windscreen from one of the bar-restaurant establishments nearby. Look for the young, Dutch teenage boy embarrassed by the fanny pack he’s wearing. He’ll take cash for the rental.
Besides reducing the wind factor, the windscreens serve a second function. Given the civilized spacing among windscreens, you are not likely to see many of your sun-soaking neighbours. While you should be prepared for crowds, it’s not like you’ll be tripping over other families’ towels. Probably their children, but not their towels.
Naked babies, topless moms and grandmas in bikinis
Not to put you off, but more as a friendly advisory: you will catch unexpected glimpses of partial nakedness at Dutch beaches. For example, many children ages three and under enjoy wading in puddles during low tide totally in the nude. They are more likely to be wearing a hat than a swimsuit.
Secondly, there are more than a few Dutch women ages 30 and over who are comfortable soaking up the sun without their bathing suit tops on. From my experience, this habit – less popular nowadays than in previous generations – is not exhibitionist behaviour but a matter of:
1) equality: “Men can walk around without a shirt on so why can’t I?”
2) aesthetics: “How else am I going to get an even tan?”
3) maturity: “I really don’t care if others are looking at me or thinking anything about me.”
This last point gives way to my third advisory: Grandmas wear bikinis too, and why not? In general, Dutch women of any age see little reason to hide behind a cover-up while they’re at the beach. The sun is finally out, so it’s time to get that much-missed vitamin D! After all, here the point of going to the beach is recreational and healthful, not a platform for fashion statements or boasting fit figures. My advice is not to judge what may at first seem a lack of modesty but to appreciate the wisdom in frankly not giving a hoot.
That said, I am still not used to seeing men wrap a towel around their waist to change out of their speedos and into their undies. Look away, friends. Look away!
Go fly a kite!
Dutch beaches are beautiful. They’re wide and welcoming any time of year. I’ve joined the Dutch for long walks at the shore in December, all of us bundled up in coats and scarves. My husband taught me how to fly a kite on the 1st of January one year. I’ve watched surfers at the beach in February. Grey skies and even rain don’t stop the Dutch from taking in the good sea air for a vigorous walk or cycle through the dunes, followed by a good, well-earned beer and bitterballen afterwards.
In this regard I highly recommend doing as the Dutch do. Don’t wait for the weather to impress you when you can make your own impressions in the sand.
Mandie Rose van der Meer is a writer, editor and ACCESS volunteer originally from New York City. She loves how the North Sea beaches change shape and colour every hour of the day. Reactions to email@example.com
For more about enjoying the Dutch coastline and other nature, read these articles from our ACCESS Magazine and e-zine:
Seasonal pop-ups - seaside cafes, restaurants, hot spots by Ann Jennen
Having a splashing time by Fleur Duggan
Dutch National Parks - education on our doorstep by Association for Environmental Education
For more stories of expats’ personal experiences enjoying the social life here in the Netherlands, check out the book Ready, Steady, Go Dutch, published by DutchNews.nl and ACCESS. See Chapter 5, “Play: making the most of your spare time”; and Chapter 10, “The best and the worst”. Available for purchase at English bookshops in Holland, or via the website: readysteadygodutch.com