1 Year in the Netherlands

It’s officially been 365 days, an entire year, since I moved to the Netherlands. What a year, its had it’s up and downs and I can say unreservedly that its been an adventure.

1533748434605

Brexit: This is the gift that just keeps giving, much like an STD. I literally have no idea what my future holds or what will happen with Brexit. I moved from England as I didn’t want to live in a country that isn’t a member of the EU, my opinion on this has not changed. I can see that the UK has changed as a result of Brexit and most certainly not for the better. I can only hope that I will continue to have EU freedom of movement and live in Netherlands or wherever the wind takes me.

Expat Life: I have now been a dirty foreigner living abroad for over 18 years, officially, Ive lived abroad longer than I lived in my birth country. I think it makes it easier to adapt but equally I will always feel like a foreigner no matter where I live. Being an expat means I tend to attract other expats, we have common ground. It’s great to be able to share experiences that natives/locals can’t relate to or haven’t experienced themselves. I’ve met some amazing expats living here in the Netherlands and I’m proud to be able to call them friends. I created a social group in Amstelveen, I’ve never hosted so many dinner parties, given baking lessons, or responded to so many Whatsapp/Facebook messages in my life. I’m not so proud to admit that I’m occasionally so busy that I have to book people in my diary weeks in advance, like a true Dutch person.

Art and Culture: There is more to the Netherlands than tulips and wood shoes. I love the fact that every weekend I have the opportunity to do things. At least two weekends in every four, I am taking advantage of my museum card and exploring. I’ve seen some amazing exhibits, museums, castles, things that left me in tears with laughter and I’ve equally seen things that were less than impressive. The Stedelijks in Amsterdam is by far my favourite modern art museum and if ever I have a spare hour in the city, this is where you’ll find me. Despite visiting a number of the large cities, Amsterdam is still my favourite. Forgetting the tourist, drugs and the Red Light District (I understand it can be hard to overlook these), it’s a city with history, heritage and so much to see and do.

Dating: This has truly been interesting for me. As with most things in my life, its been comically funny, not all good but most certainly funny. There are a number of blogs about dating in the Netherlands and how its a challenge for expats. Having personally experienced it, I agree. I’ve decided to do a separate blog dedicated to being single and my dating experiences rather than take up paragraphs here – watch this space.

Working with Dutchies: This has been an experience! I have to admit that I’m incredibly lucky to work with the people that I do, my wider team are fantastic. We all laugh, a lot, occasionally even being told off for laughing too loudly or worse, having too much fun in the office. They say I’ve corrupted them, I think this could be true.

There are three things that stick out to me the most about Dutch office life, the elevator, the coffee machine and sandwiches.

  • The Elevator – Being British means I’m reserved, no eye contact is generally made (ok, this could be my functioning autism coming out too) but you most certainly don’t talk to people in the elevator, oh sweet Jesus, no! Ideal British elevator interaction, THERE IS NONE, we all ignore each other listening to our headphones, happy days! I also like to think having my headphones in is a sign that I’m not approachable but NO, this does not deter the Dutch. Apparently stranger danger isn’t applicable in a Dutch elevator and strangers talk to each other, in EVERY elevator. I’ve now become the kind of person that if I see someone getting in the elevator, I walk that little bit slower to avoid having to get in the elevator with them and have any form of conversation. Honestly, its kind of nice that people talk to each other, on the other hand, it’s really weird (het is echt vreemd, hoor!) and goes against all my British instincts. What I also love, quite adore in fact, is watching the Dutchies completely checking themselves out in the elevator mirrors, you can see it in their face and then all of the personal adjustments that follow suit. I would honestly say my experience is like 8 out of 10 people will do it. I take the attitude that if I don’t know what I look like by the time I get in the office elevator, there’s no hope left for me or point in looking in the mirror, it’s just too late.
  • The Coffee Machine – this is the mecca for office chat, its like a beacon that draws people in. I’ve never quite seen anything like it. Apparently chatting at your desks isn’t the done thing, no, you save it, you wait, you hold it all in until you go to the coffee machine. This makes me grateful that my first coffee of the day is hours before anyone gets in and then 10am caffeine fix is provided by Starbucks. I break all the rules and force people to talk to me at my desk or theirs and then completely ignore them if I’m walking by the coffee machine. Sometimes you have the be cruel to be kind. Yet somehow, despite this, people in my office seem to really like me and go out of their way to chat to me, away from the coffee machine.
  • Sandwiches – a serious dutch lunch. Never get between a Dutch person and their sandwich (or play hide and seek with them, lesson learnt for me!). Everyone arrives at the office with their homemade sandwiches in a plastic bag and consumes them throughout the day. Breakfast, snack, and lunch, all sandwiches. My colleagues don’t understand how I can eat a homemade chicken salad most days and look at me, look at my salad and then back to me and just shake their heads. The irony being I do the same at their sandwiches. I also eat a yogurt every morning for breakfast in the office, which also breaks the above sandwich rule.

 

Two wheels: I really enjoy cycling. Words, I would have never thought I’d ever say. Being knocked off my bike by a car was an experience I hope to never re-experience but sadly is a common occurrence in a country full of bikes and cars. I have an app that I create routes and explore the local area with. I enjoy being able to cycle the days frustrations out or attempt to anyway. I still think Dutch people who take a leisurely 40-60 ride are nuts ball crazy though, that’s not leisurely at all.

Even after a year, these things still do not seem normal to me.

  • I find this more funny than rude but its the way that men in the elevator will not make eye contact but rather you see their eyes going from my red lipstick to my chest and then back and forth at least two times. My colleague and I laugh about this most days, it’s a common occurrence and so obvious. Honestly, I do have to stop myself from bending down and staring at their crotch as a ‘return the look’.
  • Customer service – This country literally has none. I think I’m more surprised whenever I actually come across any.
  • Paracetamol does not solve the worlds illnesses, unless you’re in the Netherlands.
  • Rain! ZOMGs! So much rain! Having lived in England, I thought I knew rain but no, just no! I think on average it rains something like 30 minutes everyday, that’s a lot of rain.
  • Dog excrement. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not pro-dog but seriously, its disgusting that people just don’t clean up after their dogs, at all. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone with a dog bag. It’s just a thousand levels of  laziness and grossness.
  • Sleeping badly – this seems to be a problem experienced by many expats living here. I can honestly say that I’ve had maybe 3 seriously decent nights of sleep since moving here. My nightly routine now includes taking melatonin before bed.
  • Brown shoes – brown shoes are everywhere, it’s almost like everyone is colour blind to any colour except brown. The silver lining of getting into a busy elevator is then looking at everyones shoes and 9 out of 10 will be brown.
  • Dutch fashion – this is a wide and varied topic and something that brings me amusement every day but the Dutch most certainly have their own sense of style and fashion. I hope that I never lose my sense of non-Dutch style and fashion.
  • ‘Ah-zo’! – this is a noise that Dutch people make. Generally it takes one person to say it and then the domino effect happens and then everyone is saying it. I guess I can only describe it as what they say when they are trying to fill a silence.  It’s just so weird to me and I don’t get it but it does make me laugh.
  • Compliments – Dutch people don’t give compliments. I give loads! If you look nice, smell nice, or anything nice, I’ll let you know. Turns out that my colleagues LOVE this about me. My cleaner and I were having a discussion about compliments and she says compliments just aren’t Dutch, she never gives any and finds it awkward if she feels she needs to or if people give them to her.

 

My version of the Dutch language has most certainly improved over the year. To be fair, it really couldn’t have gotten much worse. As standard with a second language, I understand more than I speak. I know that I speak Dutchlish (mixing Dutch and English) and that I speak it with such a thick English accent that people look either confused or laugh. I had an experience in Utrecht at a museum, where the lady asked if I wanted her to speak in Dutch or English and I did my usual, ‘it doesnt mater, either is fine’ in Dutch, so she proceeded in Dutch, awesome. I responded to her questions in Dutch, she then stopped me mid-sentence with a look of seeing either a pig that had grown wings and was flying or seeing a genuine unicorn riding over a magical rainbow and said , ‘Wow, you are a real British person aren’t you?’. This made me laugh, mostly because British people arent rare (entire country of them) and proved the point that my Dutch really is Dutchlish!

Screen Shot 2018-08-14 at 20.06.16

This year I’ve experienced more snow than Ive seen in 25 years (the blizzard of 1993!), Ive become more social than Ive ever been and Ive laughed so much. I wont lie, it has also been tough, Ive come across challenges I didn’t expect and I still have no idea what or where my future lies. Its been a very interesting 365 days and it will be more interesting to see what the next 365 hold in store for me.

8 months in…

… and I’m still not entirely convinced. Every week my mother asks me vaguely the same four questions: Am I settled? Do I miss the UK? Do I consider the Netherlands home? and lastly, am I dating anyone? – for the purpose of this blog and much like every time she asks this question, I’ll avoid giving any response and change the subject.

Am I settled? I think so? I’ve most certainly created a life here, have met great people and created a incredibly varied social circle. I’ve had experiences here that I wouldn’t have otherwise had.  I was quite anti-social in the UK, as I already had the social circle, a routine and I never needed break outside of that. Where as here, its starting from scratch and being more social in the last 6 months than I had been in the last 10 years. I host local social gatherings, dinner parties, coffee and chat, give baking lessons, and everything in between that means I’m now very approachable (I’m not always sure about this) and social. It’s very different for me and some days I do feel like I spend half my day on Whatsapp but its fine and its nice to be needed. I purchased a museum card which gives me access to over 400 museums across the Netherlands and I’m enjoying it, seeing all the culture that the Netherlands has. I guess one of my quirks is that I have 4 boxes in my bedroom that I refuse to unpack, yes, over 8 months in and I still have boxes unpacked. I refuse to unpack them on the basis that once its done, theres no going back and its official that I’m here, making it a done deal. Theres just something monumental about these last four boxes and I refuse to cave in. It probably helps that I don’t need/use anything that’s in the boxes.

Do I miss the UK? No. There are elements of the life that I had in England that I miss but they could easily be replicated anywhere. Honestly I’m surprised that I don’t miss it more, having spent the last 16 years there, I was expecting more attachment to it. For me Brexit changed everything and I now see a country that I dont recognise. It has changed as a whole and not for the better and it’s not a country I want to live in. The irony is that Im in the Netherlands on a British passport and based on current discussions I would have to return to the UK, as my EU residential status would no longer exist. This is something that absolutely concerns me on many levels but worrying about it wont change it (quite the bold statement for me) and its something that totally outside of my control. Provisionally in my head, I’ve decided that if the worst happens and I go back, that I would relocate to Scotland. Plan B sorted.

Do I consider the Netherlands home? No. It’s absolutely where I live, work, socialise and have my life but it absolutely misses the ‘home’ feel factor for me. I will most likely always be a foreigner here, that’s not a problem. It’s a feeling that I’m familiar with and have no matter what country Im in, even the ones that I hold passports for. The Dutch are also not keen on their citizens holding multiple citizenships, if I wanted to eventually apply for Dutch citizenship, I would have to renounce of my other citizenships and thats not something Im ok with or agree to. So for me, the question is can a country be considered home that I could never be a citizen of? Im going to say no. Watch this space, lets see how I feel about this in another 6 to 18 months time.

Whilst I have many complaints in my daily Dutch life, I also know that I’m incredibly privileged within my life and I don’t have to worry about female rights, religion limiting  what individuals are allowed to do, or famine and war. I live in a country that is safe, considered to be incredibly weathly (I wont comment on my 54% tax rate) and where people are happy.

20180407_100826

When the sun is out, its a truly stunning country.

20171015_123723

 

 

2 Months in the Netherlands

If I had a Dutch Indian name it would be ‘Girl who buys too much without thinking of how to fit it on bike’. I have this experience at least two times a week! Ive pimped my bike, to try to accommodate all the stuff I buy. Large basket on the back, saddle bags and a ‘luggage carrier’ on the front. Seriously trying to get an entire weeks worth of grocery on a bike takes balance (which I rarely have) and creative packing/shoving! 20171016_125153

I cant believe its already been two months from crossing the small pond and attempting to make a new Dutch life! There have been a lot of adjustments, more than expected or  initially planned for.

Pros:

  • As per the above Im more active and healthier than Ive ever been! Ive gone from driving everywhere and parking as close to the door as I get to riding everywhere and parking literally next to the door. I also take weekend rides around the area and am constantly in awe of how truly beautiful Noord Holland is!
  • The food is fresh, you can taste the difference and there is such variety! Weekly shops aren’t really done, you go and buy as you need it, so that you always have fresh ingredients.
  • Ive found a lot of other expats who live in the area and want to do stuff  but there wasn’t a social, so yours truly (who is clearly a glutton for punishment) started a small social group.
  • Cyclists are beyond prioritised and catered for, every area, town and city has cycle lanes. Cyclists do get priority and in a collision between a car and a bicycle, the car driver will be held responsible.
  • 90% of people speak English, in fact better English than most native speakers
  • Amazing public transport that shows up when it says its going to show up! The buses and trams are on time and all very affordable prices. Use 9292.nl for transport information.
  • Four seasons, YES FOUR ACTUAL SEASONS. Coming from the UK of just rain or cold and rain, this is great!
  • Weekly market, every Friday our local shopping centre is taken over by a market, a lovely amazingly wonder massive market with well over 60 stalls. There is massive choice, freshness and variety! Every town has a market on a specific day.
  • Tipping is less in the NLs, hooray! So Ive traditionally tipped 10% in the UK and more in the US. However thanks to the Dutch being tight (and poor service, see below) most people tend to tip only €1-2 Euros when eating out.
  • Dutch people are nice and open but this can be on a superficial level (see below about making Dutch friends).
  • Education is great here! Public schools offer a great education but aren’t always free. Having attended school here years ago, I personally experienced this.

Cons:

  • Rain, rain, rain! After having lived in the UK for the last 17 years, Ive honestly never seen as much rain as I have here! Dutch weather is unpredictable and changes on a whim, make sure you have waterproofs!
  • The Dutch make and keep friends from childhood, so it can be difficult to make Dutchie friends or integrate into Dutch circles.
  • Cyclists! Previous to moving to the NLs I was not what you’d call cyclist friendly and now I am one of those proper dodgy cyclists I use to complain about. You can tell a Dutch person from a expat, no safety helmets and riding through red lights.
  • The cost of living is more expensive than the UK, I wouldn’t say massively more expensive but most certainly more expensive.
  • Born free and taxed to death! Dutch taxes are high, be prepared!
  • NO €1 stores!!! Having gone from The Dollar Tree to Poundland having no €1 stores seems more than a insult but it is just the Dutch way.
  • University degree required (in my experience and clearly this does not apply to all but in my experience…) a degree is a must! The Dutch and most of Europe offer relatively cheap if not free university to their students, which means that the majority of people have degrees and its the first thing they ask for in job adverts, Ive gone over 100s of job roles and only 2 have so far not asked for a degree!
  • Dutch are a direct people who dont sugar coat things. It takes a while to adjust to this directness and not take it personally (easier said than done).
  • Healthcare, you pay for insurance and then have a annual excess to pay before the insurance will kick in, expats can find this expensive. Ive so far not had experience of the healthcare but understand that it takes adjusting to shall we say.
  • Slow service, when you go to a restaurant, dont expect good, quick, or efficient service. A typical example, today we sat at a table with the previous occupants used and dirty plates for over 10 minutes before I waved down the waitress to remove the plates and get a menu, then another 10 minutes to get drinks and order the food.
  • Rules, rules, rules. The Dutch are governed by rules and having a specific way of doing everything. If you make an appointment be ON TIME, it deeply offends the Dutch if you are late, no matter by how much time.  Spontaneity is not a trait of the Dutch and dropping by someones house unannounced is certainly out of the question.
  • Cars are expensive to have, not just to buy. You will have a monthly road tax to pay (regardless of how much or little you use your car) in addition to insurance, annual checks and usual car costs.
  • Im really into my crafting and creating but the price of buying essential oils and ingredients here is ridiculous! Often its substantially cheaper to buy them from abroad and pay for shipping to get them here.
  • Dutch post! Some days I wonder if its run by drug lords who are waiting for their ransom to be paid before you are allowed your post, Im not even kidding when I say this. Ive had items go missing and the cost, it costs double what I was paying in the UK to send anything out of the NLs.

Whilst I do have a number of CONs of my life, I did also giggle at a lot and when things dont go how I expected them to, I tend to revert to this tried and tested phrase, ‘Welcome to the Netherlands’. Its a bit of a band-aid that covers a lot of situations. My first two months have felt like more of  vacation than reality and thats ok too. It will take time to adjust and feel like a Nederlander.

I have however come across The Amsterdam confessions of a shallow man who is able to convey his and other expat frustrations in a dry sarcastic way.  I agreed with a number of his posts, particularly on Dutch Post.

If you have any questions about living in the NLs, I will happily answer your questions based on my experiences. Please leave a comment below and Ill do my best to give you a honest answer based on experience. 🙂

First two weeks in my dutch life

Day of moving

7am flights are so cruel, as it means you really need to be at the airport by 5am, as there is always some new security alert which means security really clamp down on how many travel sized items and contact lenses you take in your carry on. Thus you end up leaving your house at 4am just to make sure you get through it all in time for your flight. I had a terrible breakfast with even worse coffee, so decided like everyone else at 6am, I was absolutely desperate for a Starbucks, so I got in the exceptionally long line and then showed up very late at a almost closed gate.

Arrival was smooth in to Schiphol and Amstelveen is a 12 minute bus ride away from the airport, which is awesome. I could have walked it to the house but I had an exact 20 KG suitcase that I didnt fancy it, so thought Id take the 2 minute bus. Really I should have walked it, I got on the right bus, just in the wrong direction. I realised 2 stops in and was able to get off but yes. That was the first of two buses on the day that I got on that was wrong. I did think to myself, if this is the worst thing that happens to me on my day or week, then Im doing ok.

I then had a bank appointment, there are less than 10 banks to choose from but ABNA Amro offer English banking (cash points, online banking, etc), the alternative is to learn dutch VERY quickly to do business banking and given how many issues I already have with online banking (in English), I thought it would be better to be safe and go with the bank who offers English. No more free banking, in the UK, the majority of banking is free, hooray for free.  Sadly, free banking does not exist in the Netherlands, the prices seem to range from €1.60 to €5 per month.

Kitties, no move is complete without my pampered pedigree pussies! It was decided that a pet courier would be used as opposed to flying them, as this isnt considered the safest or kindest form of transport. I picked Tranzpet to transport the cats and it was a success, they were collected at 8am and arrived in Amstelveen at 8pm the same day.  I asked that the Maine Coons were together and that Elka got her own side, she seemed impressed with her own side. A great service!  Kitties are now adapating to their new dutch life.  Elkas dutch diet has most certainly started and Im waiting for Callies to kick in.

Cats

The garden is like a silk route through China and we have at least 6 cats that regularly make their way through the garden. This upsets and amuses the kittens, who insist on sitting in the windows for hours at a time every day on the look out for other cats.  Whilst the garden is completely fenced off, it does have more holes that swiss cheese (hence all the cats using it as a walk through), so it needs to have serious work done to it before any cats will be allowed out.

20170819_113316

In the days since moving

Amazon does not exist in the Netherlands, boo hiss! You can order things from .de or co.uk but Prime no longer exists AT ALL and the shipping times are all over the place, ranging from 2 weeks to 6 weeks.

Free shipping for online shopping is a luxury that few sites offer. (Ive been ruined by Amazon!)

Ikea is much more fun with power tools! There has been close to a week of allen keys, Im over it, that stuff is much heavier than it looks, dragging it up 26 steep stairs makes me wonder if I can do a good Hulk impression. Ikea also charge 10% of your order as a delivery cost, Ive paid a lot in shipping.

Ive relied on Google Translate a LOT, its not quite as magic as I thought it would be but its helped a great deal in a number of different situations.  My dutch is slowly coming back and I think the longer Im here, the better it will get (it will have to, right?).

Important lessons that Ive learnt in my first weeks:

Being on 2 wheels is completely different from being on 4 (no duh), so Ive had to learn how to ensure that my bag doesnt fall off whilst riding. Im also all about pimping my bike and making it as personalised as possible.  If Im not healthy by Christmas from all the riding, then there is something medically wrong with me! 20170818_121341

Elka follows me around the house and helped me figure out how to use the washing machine and dryer.  Not going to lie, Google Translate really didnt help in this situation but pressing a lot of different buttons at different times did make it work.20170818_144143

Not having a car limits the size of items you can purchase, in theory. Ive now learnt how to put big oversized items on the bike and my new accessory is bungee cords, lots of them.
20170818_161957

Free condiments are a thing of the past, its a very European concept to have to pay for all condiments, starting at 50-60 cent a packet. Its a very dutch thing to have ‘fritessaus’ with your fries, this is either a mayonnaise (standard) or something that is a bit like tartar sauce with them. I now carry a small tube of sauce in my bag to avoid having to pay for it every time, now thats being dutch! 20170821_122032-e1504619268654.jpg

Albert Heijn is the most popular grocery store and is the most expensive, there are other stores, however AH is the most recognised. Managed to sign up to their online shopping and get a delivery, you have leave a deposit on the crates and they collect them with the next delivery. Albert Heijn home delivery

The guest bedroom has been finished, 1 room down, it gives me hope for the other rooms and areas I need to unpack!20170827_163455.jpg

When it rains and you realise that the basement is not watertight, at all and that it actually floods. This gives me something to look forward to every time it rains, fingers crossed the management company will make serious attempts at fixing the problem.20170830_103329

Im not going to lie, it has been a manic stressful filled few weeks but Ive survived, everyday is a new adventure and seems to offer up a new dutch problem, which makes it all the more fun.