Because I live in Amsterdam, famed licentious city of prostitutes and marijuana, its easy to forget as an outsider that there is a whole other side of Holland... one where strictly religious people frown on "sinning" and where Calvinism reigns supreme. I was just looking at the International Herald Tribune and there was an interesting article there called Small Town of Urk exemplifies pious heart of the Dutch Christian Right. It was quite enlightening to see that there was also a Christian right here.
I was talking to two new friends of mine, she's American and he's Dutch. He's from the South and we were talking about visiting family. He mentioned that where he grew up, you could never see your friends or hang out with them on Sundays. "Sunday is the day for family"he said - "in Holland, your house is your church and you keep it clean like a religion. The man cleans the garden and the car and the woman cleans the house. On Sundays you visit your parents and you all sit together and talk - no tv, no fooling around." This would explain why most of the shops, except around Centraal Station are closed on Sundays.
I've also heard that the Dutch take their mealtimes VERY SERIOUSLY. Most of the people in my office take off at 5pm. From what I have been told, dinner is at 6pm with the whole family around the table. Now, not everyone is like this - I do live in Amsterdam after all. But I'm also an expat so I tend to hang out more with either expats or Dutch people who have had an expat experience. But because the country is so small, we have people commuting in from Utrecht, the Hague, and other countries. A lovely woman that I work closely with commutes 2 hours each way on the train through the countryside to come to work and she has four children!
I've slowly been acclimatizing to the Dutch life but I still feel like there will be a side that I will never know. While friendly, open, and fun - the Dutch are also extremely close with their friends from university and childhood - the hierarchy is family, those friends, work events, and if there is any time left over - perhaps some strange expats. But maybe its not so different from the US after all... I remember thinking how difficult it was to assimilate to North Carolina when I moved there - trying to find someone who wasn't married with kids to befriend me and in the end, my close friends became other transplants looking for the same.