David Allen is the author of Getting Things Done, a time management system, and moved to the Netherlands in 2014 with his wife Kathryn. He’s a big fan of Dutch consensus strategy, likes the weather and cycles with his dog on the bike at the age of 78.
How did you end up in the Netherlands?
We had a great life in southern California but at some point we said “it’s time for change”. Our work was becoming more virtual and global, we don’t have kids and we saw people a little older than us becoming more sedentary than we wanted to be… and also we just wanted to be out of the US.
It could have been Kyoto but ultimately it came down to Europe. London is not a real adventure so we thought what is foreign enough and safe enough? We’d been to Amsterdam a few times. We loved it. It is an eye candy city and Schiphol is the best airport if you want to get anywhere.
Amsterdam had all the elements we love, including the wisselvalig weer so we made that choice. Once you get the itch, you’ve got to scratch it. It was time for the next thing.
We started out living opposite Paradiso which was the intersection of about six trams at the time. It was kind of sleazy and dirty and whatever… but we knew Amsterdam was the place. It took about a year to get residency and smooth out all the bureaucracy. And once we were here, we started falling in love in Amsterdam more and more.
How do you describe yourself – an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international?
I don’t use any of those labels. I am a global guy and this is the place the live. Our friends are mainly Dutch. I don’t consider myself an expat.
How long do you plan to stay?
I have no compunction to go anywhere else. This is the centre of our world now.
Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn?
I speak a bit.. its so easy in Amsterdam not to. We would be ahead if we both got divorced and married Dutch people. I can’t understand a conversation but I am starting to be able to read it because of all the stuff I get in connection with my companies. But me and Google Translate are good friends.
I have a Dutch teacher and once a month we spend an hour talking Dutch which keeps the flame alive. We should get there though, so we can do the inburgering exam. I’d just prefer an EU passport at the moment.
What’s your favourite Dutch thing?
What would I miss if I left here? The globality. Walk down the street and hear six languages and see nobody caring about that. And things worth here. I’m buying a car next month. We haven’t had one for nine years. We walk, we bike. This did not automatically become a bike city. It had to be dealt with. The Dutch are very good at working things out together and compromising. That is starting to polarise a little but it is still here.
How Dutch have you become?
Hmmm. We have big heavy city bikes that we can take the dogs on and we don’t wear helmets. I love not wearing a helmet.
Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet?
Obviously Rembrandt van Rijn. I’m a beginning artist myself and the sensitivity and awareness which Rembrandt depicted in his drawings and paintings was so core to the aesthetics I appreciate it.
King Willem-Alexander. I’d be curious to ask him about how it is to be in this ambiguous place with the power he has.
And then obviously Van Gogh, just to engage with someone who has that intensity.
What’s your top tourist tip?
An eye candy walk around the canals and I would also suggest doing something with a boat because that is how the city started and you get a whole different point of view from the water. Obviously you have to visit the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh if you are interested in art because they are premier. Eat a bitterbal. Dutch food is not that much to write home about but we have favourite restaurants. Amsterdam has really become a foodie city.
Tell us something surprising you’ve found out about the Netherlands
How relatively easy and elegantly you can get things done. People work things out here. It’s the polder consciousness. But it was not a surprise, it was a validation. When I read Russell Shorto’s book [Island at the centre of the World, about the Dutch in Manhattan] and I realised “wait a minute, a whole lot of the community cooperation for individual economic gain is part of the DNA of this culture”.
If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do?
Pack up. I don’t know that I would do anything other than enjoy the environment we’ve created here with our two lovely dogs. I’m 78, how much more is there to do?
Find out more about David and his work/life management system here.
David Allen was talking to Robin Pascoe.
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