‘The Dutch underestimate their impact on the world’

Claire TaylorAmerican Claire Taylor came to Amsterdam almost 30 years ago and now has dual Dutch nationality. A fan of smoked eel sandwiches, she is most proud of her allotment where she grows vegetables.

How did you end up in the Netherlands?
Love. We met in Queens, New York, and it was pretty much love at first hug. I’d already lived in Sweden and Italy, and I wondered about Amsterdam… so when I visited him, I also went to see if I loved his city, too. If I hadn’t liked Amsterdam, it would have never worked out between us! And we’re still together, after all these years.

How do you describe yourself – an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international, etc – and why?
I am an Amsterdammer because I love this city, warts and all. And I’m also an ‘American living abroad’ – a term we used when I was working with Democrats Abroad to describe us expats, because so many Americans living abroad do not like the expat label. To them, it means ‘rich business person who does not assimilate’. Personally, I don’t mind being called an expatriate, because that is what I am – a person who has withdrawn from living in her home country. Though by now, Holland is my home country.

How long do you plan to stay and why?
I have no plans to return to the USA, though I never had any plans to move here, so who knows. By now, I have lived here more than half my life. My business is here, my apartment is here, my cats are here, my volkstuin (garden allotment) is here.

Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn?
I speak fluent Dutch. After so many years, people still say, ‘Wow, you speak Dutch. How did you do it? It’s the hardest language in the world.’ Well, it’s not, and it can be learned. Before I moved here, when I lived in Italy and Sweden, I didn’t do my best to learn the language. So I made it my job to learn Dutch. I took three years of lessons and did all my homework – at first at the UvA Talenpracticum and later at the Volksuniversiteit.

It helped that I lived in an immigrant neighbourhood where the old Amsterdammers didn’t tolerate people speaking English. There was nothing worse than working up your courage to speak Dutch only to have people respond with ‘shall I speak English?’.

What’s your favourite Dutch food and why?
Smoked eel makes a wonderful sandwich, as does smoked mackerel (with Amsterdam pickles). Washed down with a couple of shots of very old jenever – preferably a Loyaal from van Wees.

What do you miss about back home and why?
I miss the chance to help my parents, now they are very elderly. My mother has dementia, and we can’t speak on the phone anymore. So I visit more often, and spend as much time with them as possible.

How Dutch have you become and why?
I make appointments for everything, and hate to over-schedule my weekends. And I have a volkstuin (garden allotment), which tested my Dutch wait-list skills. I love the volkstuin community, and being the ‘youngster’ among all those old-time Amsterdammers. I even made a short video about volkstuinen to explain to the folks back home.

What’s your top tourist tip?
Go biking! Take the ferry across to Amsterdam Noord and bike down the Nieuwedammerdijk. Stop half way for a beer and a tosti. Or bike to Flevopark and spend a few hours sipping the jenever at Distilleerderij ‘t Nieuwe Diep.

Tell us something surprising you’ve found out about the Netherlands.
Holland has a lot of leading companies that no one in the country even knows about. I have written for Raptim, the world’s first humanitarian travel organisation; Vlisco, which makes Africa’s most loved and colourful fabrics; VMI, the world’s leading supplier of tire building machinery; Bugaboo, the company that made baby carriages hip; Zonnatura, whose founder helped initiate Europe’s natural healing movement. And on and on.

These are Dutch companies that make an impact, and the Dutch don’t even really know about them. That’s Dutch modesty for you – they are always underestimating their impact on the world.

If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do?
I’d cry, then bike to a café to drown my sorrows.

Claire Taylor is a creative copywriter and branding specialist. Contact her at Claire Taylor Copy & Creativity and Brandframe Investigative Branding. Photo of Claire: Lieor van Os