‘You could make me happy with a local ingredient stamppot’

Sharyn van Ees-Cooper has been in the Netherlands for 10 years and would like to take a balloon trip over the Betuwe region. We ask her 10 questions about her life in the Netherlands.

How did you end up in the Netherlands?
I married a Dutchman whom I met in Vienna. His work at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs continuously takes us back to The Hague, which of course is the country’s seat of government.

How do you describe yourself – an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international etc – and why?
None of the above. I’m not really a fan of labels. I’m an American with Dutch citizenship who has lived outside of the United States since 1990.

If you do the math, you’ll see that I spent my first 23 years in the US (I grew up in the Washington, DC, area and I studied in Boston) and an equal amount of time ‘abroad’ (including two stints in Vienna and three years in Almaty, Kazakhstan).

How long do you plan to stay?
Who can plan anything anymore? We’re kind of at the mercy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, aren’t we? Happily the MFA has been generous enough to grant us a long, uninterrupted period in The Hague, affording our three children excellent Dutch schooling and a grounded childhood and me a career in my field of journalism. And my husband was just named Director of Protocol, which means that we’ll be staying put in The Hague another four years.

Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn?
I speak Dutch fluently although it’ll never be quite as good as my English. I started taking lessons when my husband and I were still dating, during my lunch breaks at the Belgian Embassy in Vienna. It was already important to speak and understand the language back then as we were invited to many social functions where Dutch was being spoken.

When I moved to The Hague the first time in 1994, I enrolled in an intensive language course three mornings a week. I was placed at a high level as I suspect my German language skills had already given me an excellent foundation. I never did finish the course or take the NT2 proficiency exam, because I quickly found a job working as an English editor at a joint venture between the Rabobank and Robeco (IRIS bv). There I was immersed in a Dutch-language environment, which is probably the best way to learn a language.

What’s your favourite Dutch food?
Hmm. I follow a pretty strict diet nowadays so I’m not allowed to eat too many typical Dutch dishes. In the past I probably would have said aged Gouda cheese but now I don’t eat dairy products. I guess you could make me happy with a stamppot made from fresh, locally produced ingredients (for example: curly endive, kale, spinach, parsnip and rutabaga), but no pork! Oh and I just adore the Calvé peanut butter – it contains no sugar.

What do you miss about back home?
My family and my relatives, especially celebrating the Jewish holidays and simchas together.

How Dutch have you become?
Dare I say ‘too Dutch’? Environmentally aware, politically active, inseparable from my bike, fixated on holidays, coffee loving, pennywise, sun worshipping, overscheduled. Nonetheless, I still like to think of myself as spontaneous and am always ready to drop everything to meet up with a friend for a chat.

What’s your top tourist tip?
I think The Hague is often overlooked as a tourist destination and many tourists are pleasantly surprised when they decide to spend time here. We’ve got great museums (Mauritshuis, Gemeentemuseum and Escher Museum), a historic city centre with beautiful shops and restaurants, many stunning parks (including the Japanese Garden in Clingendael) and, of course, 11 km of coastline. You can’t visit The Hague without taking a walk or bike ride through the dunes.

Tell us something surprising you’ve found out about NL
I’m continuously surprised and saddened by the rich amount of Jewish history in the Netherlands (dating back to the 14th century), including all of the former synagogues now serving other purposes.

If you had just 24 hours left in NL, what would you do?
Take a hot air balloon ride above the Betuwe area or a ride in an open boat through the canals of Amsterdam.

Sharyn van Ees-Cooper, 46, is editor of official city council website thehague.com and has lots of volunteer positions. She is a board member of STET The English Theatre, co-presenter on DutchbuzZ radio and chairman of the Cultural Committee of LJG Den Haag.

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