Moving house and adulting

This year,  has been crazy busy… thats my excuse for not blogging. I have had a few messages of disappointment at my distinct lack of blogging. I can always trust my friends to harass me and put me back on the right path!  Having said that, so much has happened in the last 5 months that my head is still spinning. I cant say it enough, I knew it was going to be a crazy year but it seems to be the year that just keeps giving.

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I was dating a nice Dutch guy but unfortunately neither of us was prepared to compromise on what we both considered a deal breaker and it truly turned out to be the deal breaker (it was, of course, more complicated than this, as these things are but thats the shortest version of the break up). However, I discovered the best way to get over a break up is to buy a house. It meant that I simply didn’t have time to wallow or self indulge and my priority really hasn’t been to date. As with most things in life, I think if something is meant to be, it will and never say never.

I found a house that I fell in love with in the suburbs Amsterdam (I’m an Amsterdamer now!), that ticked the boxes for my cats and everything fell into place and I’m now a home-owner. It felt bitter sweet, as I thought it would be a home I would create with my partner but that was just not meant to be. However, I still truly love the house (for the most part). However, I wont lie, it has been incredibly stressful and reiterated that the only way I’m leaving this house will be in a coffin. I really dont do moving well at all, Im too autistic, routine oriented and dont deal with chaos at all. The house has been series of unfortunate events and literally everything that could go wrong, has gone wrong. I bought the house thinking that it needed nothing at all and planned to redecorate one room. Every room has now been painted from floor to ceiling, along a new fridge and a variety of other things. I’ve had a number of sense of humour failures with it and even suggested that burning it down and starting from scratch might be an easier. I’m still surrounded by boxes in every room (over a month in), have a list of things to do that is a long as I am but it’s slowly getting there. The best part for me is that I’m now actually closer to work. My previous commute to work at 35 minutes door to door and now if everything goes smoothly its like 15, it tends to be more like 20 but at least my alarm clock is no longer set for 04:50 each morning!

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I’m incredibly lucky in as much as I managed to get truly fantastically amazing neighbours. The sellers did tell me that I would be getting great neighbours but I wasn’t sure if this was sarcasm or honesty. Turned out it was true honesty.  They have two very large dogs, which my cats take great pleasure in antagonising and the neighbours were beyond kind enough to cat-proof both sides of the fence to stop my cats going into their garden, without me asking! My first meeting with them did make me laugh as it was like they had google searched me or something similiar. ‘We’ve heard about you, you’re a brit but not a brit, on your own with two maine coons, which we’ve already googled to understand what they are and you’ve lived in the NLs for 2 years, welcome to the street!’. It was quite sweet. My neighbour thinks its great that I do everything myself and occasionally ask to borrow his power tools, something about women normally preferring the men to do ‘such jobs’. I always just laugh and say if I dont do it, then no one will. They are also new members of my weekly cake club and we’ve swapped grape recipes.

Just a brief overview of several very crazy months. I do look forward to going back to the quiet boring life and having time and the energy to blog again!

 

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.

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

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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.jpeg

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.
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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.
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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.