Let me start by putting things in context. We had been in The Netherlands for a few days when, one morning, I found myself driving my son to school. It was my first time behind the wheel in The Netherlands. My reliable “Waze” indicated a travel time of 16 minutes. Stressed out as I was, we left our hotel a good 45 minutes in advance. Just to make sure, you know, that we’d get there on time.
It so happened it was a good call. I managed to miss my turn and ended up on the highway. I took the first exit I saw, at that point no longer capable of listening (understanding would be more accurate!) to my GPS instructions, my son getting angry with me for making him late on his first week in his new school. Try listening to a GPS and reassure a kid when you no longer know your name… Pointing out you have a 30-minute buffer to find your way somehow doesn’t take away the anger!
Sweating bullets I somehow took notice of the camping site and golf course we drove by. Knowing perfectly well the school was in town and not near those sites I pulled over and decided to put on my car’s GPS and to restart Waze. My logic was: if I can’t follow one’s instructions, maybe hearing them twice (fingers crossed they coincide) would make it easier for them to find a way to my distraught brain? We’d better get to that school on time!
I don’t know how but we did reach his school with a good 10 minutes to spare! I was a nervous wreck and my son was no longer talking to me. Now, I don’t drink much but I can tell you, I desperately wanted a glass of wine to unwind. Being realistic, as it was 8:30 in the morning, I smiled, waved at my son (not that he was looking at me) and slowly drove back to our temporary accommodation on the other side of town.
Reading this you might think driving in The Netherlands is a horrible experience. Not so fast!
My dislike of driving has developed during our time in France. I was not a fan when living in Brussels as there it was more a question of how to avoid road works and wholes in the streets than anything else. Our 4 years spent in Chantilly definitely made everything worse. I found people to be aggressive behind their wheel. On the road they tail you as if it is a question of life and death (which it is but not in the same way) and they absolutely need to get to their destination 30 seconds before you do. Speed limits are only for fools, especially on secondary roads. Radars are frequent but drivers just slow down passing them, foot pressed hard on the gas pedal once those cameras are behind them.
Anyhow, 4 years of driving in France made it I absolutely tried to avoid taking my car as much as possible. Loathing the idea of having to go somewhere other than by foot or public transport.
But then something happened, we moved to The Netherlands. And everything changed.
My first hazardous experience behind me I came to realize this country is made for drivers like me: people tend to respect speed limits and indications are crystal clear. You will occasionally find the disrespectful crazy ones but they are rare, at least in The Hague. The 50-km/hour limit in the city might feel slow, even for me, but as everyone drives the same speed it is ideal. Perfect considering how much it rains and gets dark early in the winter and you have to share the roads with more than a few bikes. It also makes it easier for you (read me) to glance at your GPS when in doubt about your journey.
Another thing I noticed is how well-organized the roads are: lanes to go left, to go right and to go straight, with different traffic lights. Common in other cities, I know, but I never saw it with such an easy and intuitive feel to it. Or maybe it’s just that people are actually respectful of the lanes, not trying to get past you at any cost.
One thing I am thrilled about is that embarking on the highway no longer requires neither getting a ticket nor paying when exiting. No need to be close enough (but not too close, you don’t want to scratch your car) to the paying machine. No need to unbuckle because your arm is too short and you are the doofus that can’t get the distance right so you car is too far and you know you’ll hurt your arm trying to extend it as much as you can out of the window to reach the bloody machine. I’m just too short, never managed to do it without hurting my shoulder! What can I say, nothing really, that’s just how it is/was!
I am now fearless/stressless when thinking of driving somewhere. I’ll always prefer walking or biking but sometimes it is just not an option.
And you know what? I even find it relaxing! Thank you The Netherlands!
Can anyone relate to my experience? Do you enjoy driving where you live?
PS: If you spot a Belgian driving in a car with French license plates in The Hague, if the lady behind the wheel has glasses and is singing her heart out, you got a good chance it is I!
PPS: Thinking of it, I should have Dutch plates in the near future which might make it a bit harder for you to recognize me…