No fun on Sundays

With this maybe confusing title I would like to address the topic of Dutch people being busy as bees, while quite often not making a halt on Sundays. This can most easily be seen in the opening hours of shops, restaurants or the university library, which are for the most part open every Sunday. The library in Utrecht is open regularly until 10.30 pm and during the exam period even until 1.00 am, which is longer than in Bern on weekdays. Fittingly the library is also frequented on Sundays during the semester to an extent that I would doubt to happen in Bern, even if the library is open every Sunday. Further activities of Dutch students on Sundays might include meetings for projects or with committees they’re involved in or of course part-time work in for example a café. But of course, I would do injustice to the Dutch student culture if I neglected to say that the above-mentioned activities are typically done in the afternoon, because the morning is usually needed to recover from Saturday night.
So why is it, that Sundays are less used to as an option to recover from the week or do something fun in the Netherlands than in Switzerland (which is by the way done not only by students but also by working people)? The most logical reason might be that the Netherlands are a mostly reformed Christian country, whereas in Switzerland the biggest confession is catholic. This comes with having Sundays as a holy day, where one should not work, do the laundry etc.
My first reaction to this cultural difference was, quite naturally, that I did not worry anymore when the shops closed when going for grocery shopping. This was especially true because I lived in a neighbourhood with Arabic impact. Hence there where not only several options to get prepared food basically every time of the day but also a smaller supermarket that was opened every day from 8 am to 10 pm. So, in terms of shop opening hours I adapted quite quickly and the new became familiar. As I am in fact writing this after my return to Switzerland I can now additionally say, that I almost forgot the few options one has for grocery shopping on Sundays here. This slightly annoying now, but eventually not big of an issue if one re-adapts.
However, the more interesting familiarisation I experienced was that I organised my time a bit differently than at home. Even though as a Swiss student weekdays and weekend might be more of a blur than for people working during the week, this blur became more intense for me in the Netherlands. The weekends were never solely for relaxing and the weekdays not mainly for work. One reason for this might have been that there was always something going on, so I would maybe join an activity during the week and therefore spend half a day of the weekend at the library or at a café studying, both of which were open and thereby offered a nice variety in study spots. In general, I would say that the fact of studying in cafés also was something I hadn’t done in Switzerland and started doing and liking during my exchange. This is because in Utrecht there where not only more cafés generally, but also cafés offering study spots as part of their business model.
If I try to describe the process of understanding parts of the Dutch working environment I would say it was slow and had to involve several narratives of Dutch students (or endeavours to make appointments with them and then noticing how full their agenda was). But steadily I realised that even though many Dutchies are very busy, they like what they’re doing and often find part-time jobs or committee projects that fulfil them. This is something that will make me remember them in a quite positive light, although I sometimes had doubts wheter they are genuinely happy with what they do or if that’s just what they tell everyone and themselves.
I think looking at this aspect as well as noticing and thinking about it definitely helped me in my understanding of the new culture with its people that I have been thrown into.

 

Niklas Kochsiek

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