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Miscellaneous queries about the Nl

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My name is Alice, I am a binational (French/British).
I grew up in France. I have spent half my adult (and working) life in France, the other in the UK. I live in a region that voted Leave, Brexit isn’t going well (understatement) and resentment against ‘foreigners’ (which include people like me who are half half and who have two passports so will retain freedom of movement after Brexit) is high. I am therefore considering leaving the UK for good. I really don’t fancy returning back to France as I know from experience that I wouldn’t be perceived as ‘really French’ by many people there, I would prefer to move to a third country where I can join a thriving expat community, preferably English speaking.
I have been been looking at Germany, Austria, Scandinavia and the Netherlands. The Netherlands look very attractive to me as I do not drive. I bought a Dutch language method and I think I could learn to speak the language easily enough, although I would always retain a foreign accent.
I have only been to the Netherlands a couple of times (mainly day trips from Germany to do some sightseeing, buy some petrol, and flowers/seeds/gardening stuff) and I don’t know anyone who settled there long term so I have a couple of queries.
1. How does the Dutch healthcare system compare to the French or the British one, for people who have used them? In the UK, I see a dentist and a physiotherapist (privately, I pay the whole bill) and that’s it. I still travel back to France (once every 2-3 years) for everything else, including hospital treatment (short stays). It’s been rather expensive and time consuming, and I fear I will not be able to travel like that when I get older, or if I get a condition that limits my mobility, or requires frequent visits to hospital (such as radiotherapy or chemotherapy). Even here in the UK, the nearest hospital is a 3-hour trip from where I live, and they have a shortage of beds, so if I had, say, chemo, I would have to travel back and forth by my own means every day…
2. I follow a gluten-free diet, due to auto immune issues. I eat everything else, including cheese (especially cheese!). Is that likely to be criticised? As in, ‘It’s all in your head’ (it isn’t) or ‘Are you on a diet? You’re so skinny already!’. I also eat a lot more vegetables (including greens, cabbage, onions etc.), a lot more meat and fish, and a lot more rice than British people do: is that likely to be criticised? My diet is more or less a Paleo/Mediterranean one, but with lots of aged cheeses (such as Gouda, not cottage cheese). Also I cook from scratch: I have quite a few well-thumbed recipe books, and cooking appliances. I do not use low fat or gluten free products at all. I get constantly criticised as people around me believe low fat diets are the best, cooking your own food isn’t as healthy as eating ready-made meals which have been ‘devised’ by nutritionists, I am going to get deficiencies etc. I get several hours of physical exercise a day, either from walking everywhere, or from going to the gym, so I definitely need my food!
3. According to the various websites I’ve visited, Dutch people don’t do massive amounts of overtime like people here in the UK. Is that really true? I am not lazy, but I’m getting tired of spending my life at work, then commuting. Like 10-hour workdays, leaving at 6am, coming home at 8pm… if I am lucky and if I don’t drop in at the supermarket or visit the physio on the way back. I gave up my gym membership as the only time I could visit during the week was between 9pm and 10pm, and because I have such an early start, I was too tired. I really want a better work-life balance, and to be able to have other activities outside work, like part time studying (not just professional qualifications), doing sports, volunteering... I haven’t gone on holiday or gone away for the weekend for several years now…
4. I have never been a proficient bike rider and haven’t ridden a bike for years. Is it OK if I remain a pedestrian/public transport user?
5. I love sailing (especially on ‘old’ ships, whether genuine or replicas), dinghy sailing, and kayaking. Are the Netherlands a good place to do that? I don’t want to come across as ‘posh’, I just come from a seafaring background, so I genuinely love the sea and moving around on water.
6. I am a member of the Green Party in the UK and would be joining Groenlinks or similar. I am quite passionate about environmental issues, one of my favourite books of these last few years is Frank Schätzing’s novel Der Schwarm (De Zwerm). Do you have to keep mums about subjects like this in the Netherlands or do people discuss politics in public, including at the office? Most of the party members who are active at my local branch are either retired or housewives, I think it’s a bit of a shame. What about when there are elections? I went canvassing for the 2017 General Elections, I had to make sure I was allocated areas where I didn’t risk running into any of my colleagues, who vote UKIP or Conservative ☹
7. I am a feminist and an atheist. Is that going to be an issue? Also, right here in the UK, I get religious people (and fundraisers for charities) knocking on my door several times a year and it is really, really getting on my nerves.
8. How much does it rain and how cold is it compared to the UK? Are there issues with damp when renting? Are the buildings well insulated against damp/cold/noise (especially studio flats)? What about flooding? We had some fairly bad flooding where I lived in the UK in 2007 and where I live now a couple of years back. It wasn’t fun…
9. Is there a maximum age to get a mortgage? I would have a deposit and I would be looking to take out a mortgage for 20 years only, ending when I retire, in my middle 60s. I haven’t managed to get on the property ladder here in the UK, house prices are too high. Initially I could afford a flat, but I was told I didn’t have a credit history, my deposit was too high (!) and my salary too low. Now it’s become unaffordable.
10. I’ve checked out accommodation online, according to the pictures, most houses/blocks of flats don’t seem to have a front garden, and there don’t seem to be a lot of trees on the streets. However there were many many more cars parked in the street than I would have expected, so I am worried about traffic noise. In my area, we have a lot of traffic, including lorries, it can be difficult to sleep, and the house actually vibrates at times.
11. How ‘nosy’ are Dutch people? I have found born and bred Brits to be really really nosy… including housemates, colleagues, landlords… Sometimes their behaviour amounts to stalking…
12. Are single women left alone in the Netherlands? In other words, if you are a single woman, are Dutch men ‘annoying’? If you tell them that you’re not interested, will they understand that ‘no’ means ‘no’, or will they insist? Will your female colleagues attempt to find you a boyfriend? Are there issues of sexual harassment, especially in the workplace? In the UK I have had even more issues than in France, so I now have a fake boyfriend. Will random men approach you in the street, as they do in France? Also, are there issues of groping/eve teasing on public transport? There was quite a lot of that where I worked in France, it’s so much better in the UK, but not enough to make up for the increased sexual harassment in the office. I am uneasy about prostitution having been legalised in the Netherlands, I have tried to check it out and it seems that the majority of the sex workers are from abroad, like in France. I am wary of people telling me they ‘know’ that a lot of French/British women work in prostitution in Paris/London, especially university students, or insisting to tell me all about their wonderful experience with a French/British prostitute etc.
13. Where I work, people tend to go to the pub for drinks at lunch or after work (especially on Friday evening), and even to go clubbing together at the weekend. On payday, the women also tend to go out together and splurge on clothes, shoes, accessories… I am quite skint (I have been very poor at times and I am still renting) and I don’t like to socialise with my colleagues. I also find these ‘team building’ outings rather hypocrite as there is so much turnover in the workplace anyway. Most of the time, people will sit there bragging about their house, or their last/next holiday, or the women will discuss their diets and how many kilos they have lost and how many they still want to lose… So I generally prefer to do my own thing outside work hours (which includes not answering phone calls from colleagues or managers in the evening or at the weekend – I did in the past and they were never work related, they just wanted to ‘check on me’ and to know what I was ‘up to’ – and refusing to be ‘friends’ with them on Facebook, which I no longer use anyway). Even when I do activities with other people (dinghy sailing, archery, Green party meetings), these are always activities which are free or cost very little, and everyone brings their own food, sometimes we organise a little buffet with everyone’s contribution. Is that going to antagonise people?
14. Do people lock their front doors or not if they’re in the house? Where I live, they don’t… and they think it’s fishy if you do, and that you have something to hide. I tried to go along with it for a couple of months. I stopped after waking up at 3am to find an unknown guy right outside my bedroom door. He was staying with my neigbours, had gotten intoxicated (drugs and alcohol) on a night out, and didn’t remember where he was staying, he genuinely thought he was in the right flat and I was another of the neighbours’ friends. At least he didn’t vomit but he nearly gave me a heart attack.
15. Will I encounter any issues if I say that I plan to stay beyond my ‘expiry date’, i.e. that I plan to retire there? In the UK right now there is all this talk about net contributors… and in France many people do not welcome expats who retire there after having worked abroad… With the Netherlands, I am a bit worried that space is limited, especially with rising sea levels, subsidence etc. so people might be even more hostile… and Friesland, where there is the most spare space, seems to be the most foreigner unfriendly region of all!
I haven’t been outside the UK for years, and my last visit to the Netherlands was over 20 years ago (how time flies…) but I will definitely try to travel there for a weekend or a short holiday in 2019, to explore several of the bigger towns. Right now I can’t leave the UK…

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