Driving In Holland

As an English expat it is impossible to win any argument with the Dutch about which country drives on the correct side of the road. It simply can’t be done. It’s not because as a country that drives on the left the English are outnumbered by those that don’t. It’s simply because the Dutch have a very unfair advantage; The dictionary definition and usage of the word ‘right’ as both a directional indication (the opposite to left) and a suggestion that something is correct (the opposite of wrong). In any such conversation our own language is used against us.

Dutchman: “The English drive on the wrong side of the road but we drive on the right side.”
Englishman: “No you don’t.”
Dutchman: “Yes we do. We drive on the right and you drive on the left.”
Englishman: “Well, ok. If you put it like that; you drive on the right side…”
Dutchman: “Thank you.”
Englishman: “…BUT the English drive on the correct side! ”
Dutchman: “No you don’t. You drive on the left side. We drive on the right side.”
Englishman: “Fine! But only in a directional sense.”
Dutchman: “Agreed.”
Englishman: “Thank you.”
Dutchman: “We drive in the right direction. You drive in the wrong direction.”
Englishman: “Arrrggghhhhhhh!”

It’s enough to make you want to commit road rage.

Once you’ve admitted defeat the conversation inevitably continues with the question, “Do you find it easy to drive on the right hand side of the road?”

This is a very valid question. Learning to drive on the other side of the road can be tricky. It involves having to break your old driving habits. Everything changes. You have to use your mirrors differently. You have to drive the other way around roundabouts. Even the gear stick is on the wrong side. I was quite lucky though. I found learning to drive on the right (directional) side of the road to be quite easy. In fact, I discovered rather quickly that accidentally pulling out toward oncoming traffic once is all it takes to learn which side of the road you should be on and stay.

“Is it different driving here then it is in England?” When this question is asked I’m always tempted to start making stuff up to get revenge for the start of the conversation.

“Yes.” I sometimes imagine saying. “We all drive Victorian automobiles that only go five miles an hour and we still use our arms to indicate. Of course it’s the same!”

In reality it’s not though. There is a difference. The English have hills and there is a very real danger of rolling backwards during traffic jams. The biggest slope the Dutch ever have to deal with on the roads is a speed bump. Plus Dutch roads are straighter despite it being the English who were invaded by the Romans.

Then comes the question that you realize the whole conversation has been leading up to. “Who are the better drivers? The English or The Dutch?”

Answering this question always fills my heart with sadness because I simply have to say, “The Dutch”. I know this will have some of my fellow English expats shouting betrayal and calling the Queen to tell her what I have said but you all know it is true. Sure, neither country seems to know what an indicator is and they both like to drive so close to each other that they can hold a conversation through the back window but at least the Dutch don’t hog the fast lane like they might never find it again if they leave it.

22 responses to “Driving In Holland”

  1. Alison says:

    Which Queen? The right one or the left one? Technically, I guess the Dutch queen is the right one, since the Netherlands is to the right of the UK. ;)

    I remember going to the UK to visit family and my parents rented a car so we could get around more freely. My dad kept trying to shift the window handle. He also ended up going the wrong way on a street and got stopped by the police. Fortunately, it was a quiet neighborhood with no traffic, and as soon as he opened his mouth, the police understood.

  2. Justine says:

    haha – what are the chances about a month ago having to go for my dutch license in Rotterdam (am an aussie and had to do the whole driving lessons and exam saga from scratch!) and I get stuck up on a bridge as it opens for the boats to pass. Who would have thought I’d have to do a handbrake start in holland!

    Great blog btw – it always puts a smile on my face!

  3. Bart says:

    I gave up on defending the Belgians’ driving capacities, because in all honesty we’re crappy drivers. We don’t keep distance. We drive and drink. We wouldn’t know who has priority even if the Spanish Inquisition would grill us over a medium fire. And we hog the fast lane, oh yes. Even when there is not a soul on the slow lane for miles and miles to come, we simply refute its existence.

    Still I take comfort from the knowledge that the Turkish are the worst drivers in Europe. And if you’re really tired of this existence, try driving in any large city in Africa. Or any mountain road in Latin America.

  4. Yvette says:

    Haven’t driven a car since I arrived in Holland and probably not going to for a simple reason- in the USA I only ever had a need to learn how to drive an automatic, and I can’t drive stick. D’oh!

    I did give a shot at the “wrong side” driving in New Zealand a few years ago tho, and I recall the hardest thing about it for me was how you instinctively feel like you should be a certain distance from the line, and if you’re not then you tend to automatically drift to line things up. Otherwise if you’re just on a two lane then it’s not too hard to figure out how to drive because it’s not like there are all that many options.

  5. French Bean says:

    Hm. Do I detect some road rage with your frustrations? >.>

    I had the same issue as Yvette: never drove in Europe because I only know how to drive automatic. :/

    The French actually frown upon automatic cars; they claim that it’s a car meant for the “dull-witted” or the “handicapés.” ERGO, the very difficult and very expensive driver’s licence exam *has* to be conducted with a gear shift car.

    This means that those who pass the driving exam are actually good drivers. That being said, the French who live in larger agglomerations like Paris, Lyon and Marseille happen to be very impatient behind the wheel and go to any extreme to get THEIR way in traffic.

  6. MissNeriss says:

    I’m not sure Stu. Whilst the English are fast lane hoggers, they are far better at merging than the Dutch and are still better mannered. The 50 mile an hour drivers in the UK do drive me absolutely mental and you never see those here (mostly as everyone’s driving 130km/hr up someone’s arse). But indeed, give me either country to drive in before I’d ever attempt Beligium, those Belgians are nuts!

  7. Irma says:

    Hey there, I’m Gez’s girlfriend, he’s commented on your blog before. He’s moved over here to live with me (I’m Dutch, he’s British). I’m sure he has his own opinions about driving in the UK versus The Netherlands, but I just had to say I had a nice chuckle reading that conversation about the “right” side of the road, I’ve had many an argument/discussion like that before :)

    As far as driving in the UK goes, I’ve only ever once driven a hire car in the UK and for the first few days I kept smacking my right hand into the door, thinking that’s where the gear stick was *ouch*. I didn’t like it much but thankfully Gez was there to help me navigate the numerous roundabouts the British love so much (which I hate!).

  8. Citizen Stu says:

    Alison – I tried to shift the window handle too and almost pulled out my wife’s hair as I grabbed for my seat belt. I think if we had got stopped by the police I would have put on a think Dutch accent to get out of it :p

    Justine – You might just be the first person ever to do a handbrake start in Holland (Thanks :).

    Bart – You have no idea how many Dutch people have warned me not to drive in Belgium… well, actually by the sounds of it you might :p

    Yvette – I found myself having trouble with how far I was from the line too. I thought it was just me. It’s nice to hear I am not the only one.

    MissNeriss – You have a point. I had the option to drive in Belgium this weekend. when I heard all the stories I decided to take the train.

    French Bean – And let us not forget the Arc De Triomphe. I could not believe the crazy traffic around that thing when I saw it.

    Irma – Hehe. That’s funny that you should mention the roundabouts. My wife (who is also Dutch) could not believe how many roundabouts there are. she was simply shocked. She even tried to count how many we encountered at one point but had to give up.

  9. Consider your self lucky – In the UK and Europe people drive on either the left or the right. In Malta, they drive in the shade …

  10. Gez says:

    Heh. Guess I had an unfair advantage when it came to moving to The Netherlands: I ride a motorbike. Handy thing being that you sit in the middle of the vehicle, and just go with the flow. No gearstick on the wrong side to worry about (and it’s done with the left foot anyhow, unless riding a quirky bike). I had driving lessons in the UK when I was 18, but failed the test twice there. Took diving lessons over here last year, passed on the second attempt. Haven’t driven a car in the UK since passing my test here though – could be…interesting.

  11. Gez says:

    Erm, make that “Took driving lessons over here” too, not diving lessons!

  12. Wezz6400 says:

    Welcome back! Nice post once again.

    “It’s enough to make you want to commit road rage.”

    Somehow I vaguely remember something about you, me and a bus… one way or another, I’m in! ;-)

  13. Citizen Stu says:

    Unexpected Traveller – Ok. that does sound scary.

    Gez – I have a similar story. Although I did pass my test in the UK when I was 18 (fourth attempt *cough*) I didn’t drive much after that. It’s only now at 32 that I’ve started driving again but now in Holland. So being back in England and driving the other week was very strange. Also, which side of the sea do you dive on? :p

    Wezz6400 – Thank you. Is this some drunken deal I made?

  14. DragonLady says:

    Sorry Alison, if you are in Scotland (Still part of the UK at the moment) facing London The Netherlands is on the left.

  15. Tinkerbelle (@Lillyheart999) says:


  16. AmsterdaMummy says:

    When I go back home to the UK, I get totally confused driving if there are no cars on the road, I can’t remember which side I should be driving on, for me both left and right are correct for me…. I drove for 14 years in UK and have been driving here for 11 years – OMG, that was scary working that out..

  17. Andy says:

    I rented a Van the other week to help a friend move. The conversation went.

    Me: What side of the road do we drive on again.
    Friend: Not this one!! as a car came towards us.

  18. Windmill Tales says:

    Have you seen that they also go up and down stairs the wrong way too?

  19. Citizen Stu says:

    AmsterdamMummy – That’s kind of the situation I find myself in now. I think the more I drive over here the more difficult it will get for me to.

    Andy – lol. Brilliant funny (as long as no one got hurt) :p

    Windmill Tales – Really?

  20. The Honourable Husband says:

    In Germany, the Dutch have a reputation as abysmal drivers. They hit the German border and immediately think that they can plant their foot—which, of course, they can, legally.

    But Germans go through intensive training about the many rules and procedures to enable unlimited speed, safely. The Dutch have not. The Dutch have no concept of the Rechtsfahrgebot, which means you need to get out of the middle lane if a grumpy Swabian in a Porsche wants to drive at 250 kph when you want to drive at 220. And as you observe, Dutch drivers do not know what an indicator is used for.

    Stu, you put all this down Dutch geography, and how little skill it takes to get from one side of the country to the other. There’s some truth to this. You can get around Holland in a golf cart.

  21. The Honourable Husband says:

    @Amsterdam Mummy

    Keeping to the correct side of the road is easy if you have lots of cues in the environment. But it’s exactly the situation you describe—deserted road, no lines, no other cars—which is the most unsettling. On approaching a deserted roundabout, have you ever entered it from the wrong direction?

    I had this problem once, when switching from Japan to the USA. Problem is, I had that problem in tehmiddle of my New York State driving test. What a story THAT is.

  22. Christian Lebis says:

    Hm here in Belgium we often say the dutch can’t drive.

    They cut in front of you at the last moment on the speedway. And they always drive 10km/h too slow (at least when they drive in Belgium)

    I do agree that belgians are aggressive drivers. But i think the french are worse

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