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.

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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.

Going Dutch

In June last year, Britain voted to leave the EU, this is officially known as Brexit.  I am what is officially known as a ‘remoaner’, this is a person who voted remain (in the EU) and now moans constantly about Brexit (and about all the people who voted to leave).

After the Brexit vote last year, the decision was made to leave to remain.  I am leaving England to move to the Netherlands. ie to remain in the EU. This has been in the planning stage for roughly a year, which really talking about it for about ten months and slow action starting in the 11th month and the 12th month and moving date is close and now panic is on the horizon.

I did a 24 hour jaunt in Amsterdam this week to look at houses.  I have an adorable estate broker who is managing it all, which makes a massive difference and equally means I could just show up for 24 hours and look at 12 houses and make a decision on the day. A house was found on the outskirts of Amsterdam, which to say Im in love with it is a complete understatement. Negotiations have now begun with the landlord to sort out all the details. In a ideal world, the keys will be handed over on or around the 1st of August.

Moving really upsets my inner hoarder, Im getting rid of a LOT. Why have 1 of anything when I can have 12?!?! Its my inner American really but it still makes getting rid of anything a real inner battle.

Why the Netherlands? Ive lived there as an exchange student 1999-2000 and now speak the language very badly, I kid you not but apparently being able to do it with confidence makes the difference.

I often have the itch to move, every five or so years Im determined its time to get up and go, so I think this move is what I need. Given that Ive been in England for over 15 years and have a visa to Australia that has long expired and never used. Am I excited? No, actually Im (not so) silently mortified. I worry about the basics, like finding a job similar to the one I do now and having a similar income.

I recently read Dutched Up!: Rocking the Clogs Expat Style as a primer for moving.  Whilst it made it giggle on several levels, it also worked as a reminder of the issues I am very likely to have as a expat. I am looking forward to it, once I am settled in my ideal dream rental with a job that suits me on a bike doing it all dutch style.  

T minus 1 month to the move. The idea is to be completely moved and settled in the Netherlands by the end of August 2017.