‘As soon as I arrived in the Netherlands I needed to go to the Van Gogh museum’

DeniseDenisse Gaudin (46) is a marketing specialist who came to the Netherlands 18 years ago. In those years she has developed a taste for raw herring, and has learned to savour every ray of sun she can. She now lives near Delft in the small town of Den Hoorn where she and her family are ‘the only foreigners on the street.’

How did you end up in the Netherlands?
Well, I met my husband in Brazil, and when he wanted to do a Phd. Delft was an option. I thought I might enjoy it here, so I said ‘let’s go.’ I really like it here, and feel really integrated, so we stayed for quite some time.

How do you describe yourself – an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international?
I’m international, definitely. I was born in Chile, grew up in Brazil, married a Frenchman and now I’m here in the Netherlands. Although, I must say, I still feel Latina. I’m short, and culturally I think I’m relaxed, open and smile easily. Although Dutch people are not closed, I feel more informal than them.

How long do you plan to stay?
No idea! When we came here, we thought it was just for three years. But we’ve lived here for 18 years now and have two children. From time to time, there’s the question of whether my husband might have to go abroad but we enjoy it here.

To be honest, both of us love to travel, and we miss the sun. We might retire to a sunny place but we have no plans.

Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn?
Yes, I am fluent in Dutch. In the beginning I went everywhere with a pocket dictionary, and I asked everybody to speak Dutch with me, even if I couldn’t understand. At shops I’d ask the clerks how to pronounce things, and I’d say ‘please, no English.’ I got my NT2 Dutch exam in 2002, and between working with Dutch colleagues and my children going to a Dutch school, it got easier.

What’s your favourite Dutch food?
I love a lot of food and don’t have one real favourite, but I’d choose Nieuwe Haring. I love raw fish! However, I think sate sauce is more special. I always take it to family and friends abroad, and they love it. It’s not typically Dutch though, it’s Indonesian.

How Dutch have you become?
I like living here, and I have started to plan things in advance, which is very Dutch. Not only activities, but also my free time. Now I also dare to say what I think, which for Latin Americans is a no-go. I also enjoy every ray of sun. As soon as the sun is out, I’m outside. This is for me typically Dutch. But at home, I’m the only one who prefers to use my car instead of my bike. Shame on me!

Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet?
Vincent van Gogh, because I was always fascinated by the emotions he captured in his paintings. As soon as I arrived in the Netherlands I needed to go to the Van Gogh museum. Every time I have visitors we go to the museum, and I really get emotional there. I don’t think I’d like to talk to him. I’d just like to watch him paint.

Second, would be the writer Heleen van Royen. She’s around my age, and I enjoy reading her columns. I like how she talks openly about her life and she’s not afraid to be herself. She’s quite controversial but I like how she speaks her mind freely.

The third one is not a person, but a band. Within Temptation are a Dutch band who live around Amersfoort. I’m a huge fan and go as often as I can to their concerts. I’d like to talk to them about their music and their influences, and just have a good time.

What’s your top tourist tip?
I love Delft! I’d say walk along the canals in Delft, enjoy the small white bridges, and taste Nieuwe Haring at the market. If you come to the Netherlands, this is something you need to do.

Tell us something surprising you’ve found out about the Netherlands.
The open windows everywhere really surprised me. You can see inside everyone’s house and admire it without any shame. Also, in the big cities people put mirrors on the upper floors of the houses, so people inside can watch people passing by outside. It’s a little voyeuristic, and made me a little uncomfortable in the beginning, but now I’m used to it.

If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do?
I would ride my bike to the polder, among the grazing cows. I’d rent a kayak for an hour, then go back to the centre of Delft and walk along the canals. I’d finish the day drinking at a bar with friends, and I’d say ‘thank you, and see you some day, somewhere.’