‘I appreciate how individualism works here, I find it very productive’

Theatre designer Vasilis Apostolatos (44) came to The Hague from Athens for love, and found an outlet for his creativity here. Vasilis teaches at a theatre academy in Maastricht and works with STET, an English language theatre in The Hague. He took time out of his schedule to talk about expat life, love, and oliebollen.

How did you end up in the Netherlands?
Love. This is the only thing that can move me. It’s quite simple, I met a wonderful Dutch guy online, and we met in Athens and fell in love. We met right after I finished with eight months of chemotherapy, and after something like that you’re more open to try new things. You value life in a different way. It was the right moment to move.

How do you describe yourself – an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international?
All of those. There are moments when you feel like an expat, and a lot of moments when you feel like an immigrant, especially in northern Europe. After I left Greece, hundreds of Greek friends of mine were desperate to find a future in northern Europe. I am one of the lucky ones, in that I chose to be here.

How long do you plan to stay and why?
As long as I am productive, creative and in love, I will stay!

Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn?
I do speak a little bit, but it’s a language that’s not made for my mouth. I feel ridiculous when I’m doing it. So I’m trying to convince people to speak Dutch to me because I do understand 80 to 90% of what they say, and then I reply in English. It works sometimes, and the rest of the time I mime my answers or something. I have a few tricks to cover my inability!

What’s your favourite Dutch food?
I love haring, but to be honest there’s nothing that can beat oliebollen. I go nuts for them. Here in The Hague there’s a guy who starts selling them in October so I start then and finish in the middle of January. That’s my oliebollen season.

How Dutch have you become?
I do appreciate how individualism works here, and I find it very productive. It also balances how I am as a Greek person because we live together and affect each other in bizarre ways in Greek society. Here you can stand by yourself, and I do a bit more of that than I used to.

Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet?
Ivo van Hove is a theatre director working in Amsterdam. I admire his work and the way he approaches theatre and communicates. I’d love to work with him.

I’d like to meet Spinoza for his openness towards religion in very dark times. Holland isn’t a very spiritual place and when you see how much a figure like Spinoza contributed to philosophy and the way we deal with religion, I think he’s very important.

I’d say Berlage for his architecture. But then again I could also say painters like Mondrian and the whole Flemish school of painting. They were great teachers and way they used light was unique.

What’s your top tourist tip?
I’d take visitors on a long walk on the beach near where I live with a patat met mayo. It’s wonderful here when the weather is good. I strongly believe that if this country had the weather we have in Greece, they’d have to put up fences around it. Everyone would want to be here.

Tell us something surprising you’ve found out about the Netherlands
That it’s not as open-minded a place as I thought. As a gay man, you notice that people do judge your sexual orientation or your lifestyle. But because Dutch society is a society of traders, it’s much easier for them to accept everything and say ‘let’s make money together.’ At the same time, behind closed doors they do have opinions about gays, immigrants, refugees, and not always nice ones.

I’m having a great time here, and I love the Dutch. It’s just something I’ve noticed with them.

If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do?
Oh my God! Just one day left here. I’d spend a day seeing Vermeer and Van Gogh, have a nice haring, and probably make love. Why would I skip that if I only had 24 hours?

Vasilis Apostolatos was talking to Graham Dockery