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.

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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!

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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.

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.