How did you end up in the Netherlands?
Actually, I didn’t plan on moving to the Netherlands. I thought I would move to Germany where my then-boyfriend, now-husband lived. But then we got engaged, I got pregnant and my husband found a job in the Netherlands. So that’s where I moved – with a six-week-old baby, no less.
How do you describe yourself – an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international, etc ?
Good question. I am probably all of these things: expat (understood as someone who lives abroad), lovepat (I didn’t even know this term existed, but yes, I moved to Germany, and Canada, and the Netherlands for love), immigrant (because I came here to stay), and, as someone who has lived abroad several times and speaks many languages, I am definitely an international.
I would only add one thing: European. I’ve moved around a little, but mostly around Europe (except for a 4-month stay in Canada). So I haven’t lived in one place my whole life like some people have, but I am not really global either. European is how I identify and my whole experience has been shaped by living in Europe.
How long do you plan to stay?
When I was moving to Germany I thought we’d stay there long-term, possibly forever. But then we moved to the Netherlands. We’re planning to stay here long-term.
Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn?
Yes, I speak Dutch. I managed to learn it through classes at the university and then at my husband’s workplace. And I am getting plenty of practice while running errands, shopping, etc. It’s important to me to speak Dutch – not only because it helps me get more integrated but also because my kids speak it.
What’s your favourite Dutch food?
Well, I like poffertjes and stroopwaffels. But erwtensoep is also nice – I’ve even managed to learn to make it myself. Also, I’ve discovered my own version of stamppot – with sweet potatoes and chorizo! Oh and speculaas spread. Beware of that stuff, it’s addictive. Luckily, I can grow some of the fruit I miss and buy many things at the Polish supermarket near us. But that’s not the same as back home, obviously.
Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet?
MC Escher, definitely – he’s my favourite artist! My parents are professors and they love him. We used to have postcards. Then I’d like to meet the king and queen, especially Máxima, she seems so nice. And if I can have one more, Van Gogh. I love his paintings, but let’s face it, who doesn’t?
How Dutch have you become?
Probably not very Dutch, I must admit. I think I’m more of a person who likes adding cultures and languages to her repertoire rather than going local. We’ve adopted some Dutch customs – like going outside whenever there’s no rain – but otherwise we’re not very Dutch. We create our own family culture and it tends to change all the time. Besides, I don’t cycle, I’m very short and I didn’t have a home birth, hahaha.
What’s your top tourist tip?
Delft, for sure! I used to live there and it’s my favourite city in the Netherlands.
Tell us something surprising you’ve found out about the Netherlands.
I was very surprised that so many women give birth at home – and many go to see a midwife for their pregnancy check-ups. The whole healthcare system is so weird – and I don’t even know how often I was told by my Dutch doctor to stay at home and take paracetamol. Sometimes they would miss bigger problems because of this approach and they didn’t even notice that my daughter needed her adenoids removed.
If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do?
I don’t know. It would depend on whether I was be alone or with my family. Alone, I’d go to Rotterdam, shopping (mostly for kitchen gadgets) and visit some museums. With the family, it’d probably be the usual: a playground, a park or maybe a kid-friendly museum or event.
Olga Mecking writes the blog The European Mama. Her articles have been published on various websites including The Huffington Post, Babble and the Wall Street Journal.