‘I think the spirit of engineering is ingrained in the Dutch psyche’

Finnish-Canadian Timo Mashiyi-Veikkola (47) came to the Netherlands with his South African husband Ossie four years ago. The couple have been running a pop-up restaurant – Bulelani BBQ – for the last 18 months and are now looking to crowdfund a permanent location in Amsterdam. A fan of Dutch design and Dutch haring, Timo feels at home and comfortable here.

How did you end up in the Netherlands?
In 2011 Ossie and I had just gotten married in South Africa. I was working successfully as a consultant in London, but we wanted a change of scenery and an opportunity to relocate. When I was offered a job here we took that opportunity and moved. Ossie looked for work in hospitality but wanted his own business, and the Netherlands has always provided entrepreneurs with a good platform to succeed.

How do you describe yourself – an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international, etc?
Identity is always a good question, and it’s something I come across frequently as an anthropologist. I don’t mind being referred to as an immigrant. My parents were immigrants to Canada and were proud of it.

However, as a Canadian-Finnish man who’s married to a South African and came here from the UK, I’d consider myself in today’s terminology to be a global citizen. I feel rich to have so many different places to call home.

How long do you plan to stay and why?
We love the Netherlands and feel comfortable here. We’re planning to open a restaurant and I do my consultancy work from here, so we’re really putting down roots in Amsterdam. The culture and relaxed lifestyle suits us.

Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn?
We took courses offered to us by the local council and had some really great teachers. My husband is good with languages and took to it straight away, but I’ve been a little more apprehensive. You want to practise Dutch but people in Amsterdam switch to English when they hear a foreigner speak, so I’ve found myself leaning on my English here.

What’s your favourite Dutch food and why?
I’ve tried all the borrelhapjes in the brown cafes, and plenty of fish and meat dishes, but my favourite is zuurvlees, a speciality from Limburg. My friend makes the best zuurvlees in the Netherlands. And of course, being Finnish, I love the haring and smoked eel.

How Dutch have you become?
It’s difficult to say. Lots of typical Dutch behaviour and attitudes are similar to Finnish ones. We share the directness, entrepreneurship, and the full-spirited approach to life. I think you become a mix of your own culture and the one you live in. You take on certain traits, hopefully the good ones!

Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet?
Aside from the obvious ones (Anne Frank, Van Gogh, Vermeer), one person I’d love to meet would be Mathilde Willink. She was a model and a big personality around Amsterdam in the 1970s. She was married to an artist and had the most amazing life.

As a futurist involved with design, I’d like to meet the architect Rem Koolhaas and talk about designing the society of the future. And thirdly, I’d love to meet Mata Hari, the dancer and spy. I bet she would have so many interesting stories to tell.

What’s your top tourist tip?
Do what we do some Sundays. Pick a town or village, go there by train, rent a bike, and just explore. The Netherlands has some amazing and varied cultural experiences to offer outside Amsterdam. Within the city, get out of the centre! There’s so many up-and-coming areas that can give you a taste of all the different cultures that make Amsterdam what it is.

Tell us something surprising you’ve found out about the Netherlands.
Learning about the engineering that has shaped this country and maintains it every day never stops surprising me. From the land reclamation to the intricate network of dykes and waterways, it’s all fascinating. The Dutch utilise every space, every technique, and every idea. I think the spirit of engineering is ingrained in the Dutch psyche.

On a smaller scale, the scooters on the bike paths just bewilder me every day.

If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do?
I would have some Bulelani BBQ ribs, invite over all the lovely people who’ve embraced us here, and just enjoy their company for the day.

Timo and Ossie Mashiyi-Veikkola are running a crowdfunding campaign to help pay for a permanent location for their restaurant.