“There’s little time to spontaneously interact with neighbours”

Originally from Pune, India, Shaheen Sayed moved with her family to Hoofddorp some three years ago. She now runs her own business helping expats with home renovations, would like to meet queen Màxima, and enjoys trying different types of Dutch fry sauces.

How did you end up in the Netherlands
I come from India, but my family and I have moved quite a bit. We were based in Dubai for a while and then we moved to Singapore. We were basically looking at naturalisation since we had been outside of India for a very long time. That did not materialise in Singapore, so we started looking at the next logical step about three years ago.

We researched and explored various places and came to the conclusion the Netherlands was the best place for us. We came here basically for my husband’s work, but we also spoke with friends and family who live here and elsewhere in Europe to get their advice. We have two children so we also took into consideration our family and personal interests. One of the advantages of the Netherlands was the level of communication in English, which makes things easier. There’s less of a language barrier than you would find in other European countries.

How do you describe yourself – an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international?
I’d call myself an international because we, as a family, have moved to all these places. We’ve lived in a few cities around the world and have experienced their cultures firsthand as residents and I enjoy that.

I like to be spontaneous if I can and decide things at the last moment and that helps me have the advantage of an open mind and kind of a blank canvas. So when we’ve moved to a new place like the Netherlands, that has helped me start fresh.

How long do you plan to stay?
Moving here was a very conscious decision for me and my family. We plan to stay here as long as possible or until something interrupts this plan. We don’t want to disrupt our kids. They’re growing up here and my daughter will be out and heading to a university in a few years, so we’re looking to stay in the country long term.

Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn?
I do speak a bit of Dutch and it was important because I did not come here with a job. I come from the design industry and I’m an architect. To pursue this profession in a new country, it’s important to speak the language. I’m not fluent. I started off with an intensive six week course, but it was too intense for me. I couldn’t cope. I did clear the exam, though. You can’t learn a language unless you practise every day. It needs to become part of your routine.

I later registered with my local gemeente, which offered me language courses. It was a slow process because everything moves a little bit slower in the Netherlands. In six months time I finally started the course, but it’s what helped me get up to A2. I also intend to take the inburgering exams in probably two years time, another reason why it’s important for me to learn Dutch.

What’s your favourite Dutch thing?
Food is what comes to mind, although the Dutch don’t have a good spread of menus, but I like the friets and the poffertjes because I have a sweet tooth. Friets are great to have any time while we’re out as a family or with friends, and between meals. We like to experiment with all the different types of sauces. We find the one with onions quite interesting. The Indian palate is used to a lot of spices and a lot of flavour, so we enjoy that one.

How Dutch have you become?
I would say that I like the straightforwardness and the frankness of the Dutch people, but sometimes it sounds a little rude. It’s just their way of communicating. They like to just be honest. When they’re speaking with someone, they don’t want the other person to assume there’s two version of what they’re saying. I can relate to that, so I feel at least partly Dutch in this sense. That’s part of me now, which helps me feel quite at home here.

Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet?
Johannes Vermeer
. I come from a design background and his work is absolutely beautiful. Most of his subjects were based in his house and the environment stayed the same, more or less. They’re very simple, but what he achieved with light and shadows is extremely admirable. He’s one of my favourite artists.

Queen Màxima. She’s a commoner who came from outside the Netherlands, joined the royal family, and she’s fit into that role well. Given the opportunity, I would like to listen to her experiences. I think there’s a lot to learn from them and I like to chat with people about their life experiences.

Virgil van Dijk. I’m not a big football fan, but football fever is big here. I’ve caught on to that and we absolutely enjoyed watching the last World Cup. The Dutch made it into the quarter finals and it was an emotionally packed match. Van Dijk is a remarkable football player and meeting him would be a highlight.

What’s your top tourist tip?
We’ve had family visit from overseas and we once went on one of the canal cruises in Amsterdam. It lasted a few hours and they didn’t have the regular commentary running in the background. Instead, the driver of the boat was the one commentating and he offered very light and humorous explanations for the buildings and other things we passed.

But I would also recommend the Giethoorn boat ride. It’s sublime. I hadn’t experienced anything like this or had seen boat houses. You’re just cruising through narrow canals and seeing people lounging on their lawns. It depicts life in the Netherlands. It’s a place where you can have a good work/life balance.

Tell us something surprising you’ve found out about the Netherlands
The canals. You see them everywhere you go and they are so full of history. Then there’s the cyclists, especially in the centre of Amsterdam. They go about their business and you go about yours. If you stop, there’s bound to be an accident, especially if you’re a pedestrian and you cross paths with them.

If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do?
If it happened, I would hope it would be during the summer or spring at least. I would want to throw a big party, a barbecue with all of my neighbours, maybe in our garden or at the very beautiful lake near where we live. It’s only a two minute walk away and there’s multiple barbecuing places there.

I would love to have the opportunity to get to know them a bit more and make fond memories before we left the country. Everybody around here seems quite busy, so there’s not much time to spontaneously interact with neighbours. Because of that, you always think there will time for it in the future. So, if I had 24 hours left, that’s what I would do. I would throw a big party for them.

You can learn more about Expat Renovation Consultancy via the company’s website. 

Shaheen was talking to Brandon Hartley

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