How did you end up in the Netherlands?
My husband and I were both born in Australia, me into an Aussie-British family and him into an Aussie-Dutch family. In 2009 we left Australia to live in Andorra, which is a tiny little country in the Pyrenees mountains. It was during our time living there that I first travelled to Amsterdam, and returned home declaring that I wanted to move there! We visited a couple of times a year and fell in love with Haarlem, as a less touristy version of Amsterdam. So when it was time to leave Andorra there was no question as to where we would come!
How do you describe yourself – an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international, etc – and why?
I think others would see us as expats but I don’t really feel like one. International would probably describe us best.
How long do you plan to stay?
The intention is to stay long term, at least until all of our children have finished their schooling. I love the Netherlands; in some ways it feels more like ‘home’ than Australia. I could definitely see myself growing old and spending the rest of my life here, but I have learnt to never think in absolutes. Who knows where we will end up, but for now I am very happy here.
Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn?
Not yet. After four years of learning Spanish I was a little burnt out when it came to language studies by the time I moved here. But I am picking it up slowly through the environment. I understand quite a bit and can read Dutch easily enough, particularly if it’s related to work. I really need to enrol in a course but finding the time whilst running a business is difficult.
My children are all trilingual – which is both a blessing and a curse as it throws up some unique challenges, especially as my four-year-old has switched to Dutch as his primary language. It makes for some interesting conversations as they switch between English, Dutch and Spanish depending on who they are talking to. My seven-year-old has decided she is going to teach me Dutch and regularly takes me through her school work, getting me to practise my pronunciation of ‘ei’ and ‘ij’. It gives them all a good laugh when I try.
What’s your favourite Dutch food?
Dutch food to me is comfort food, and unlike a lot of expats, I really love it! I also love how accessible various cuisines are here; you really can have anything you fancy! The first time I tried bitterballen I wasn’t impressed, but now I get a craving for them every three months or so and nothing will satisfy it until I have a piping hot tray of them from my local takeaway shop – with mustard of course.
Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you like to meet ?
The Dutch have a rich history as leaders and innovators in the sciences and as a medical professional I would love the opportunity to meet some of the historically significant individuals who shaped our modern understanding of medicine, such as geneticist Hugo de Vries, anatomist Reinier de Graaf and physician Herman Boerhaave. Or alternatively I’d love to meet the royal family, because I’m a bit of a sucker for a good monarchy.
How Dutch have you become and why?
Pretty Dutch I think. We currently have ten bicycles of various qualities and sizes at our house, for a family of five, including a bakfiets. I am used to my children scattering all over the suburb for playdates after school or ending up with six kids in my house most days of the week. I know to never go to the bank without my passport. My kids leave their shoes out for Sinterklaas and I get excited when the oliebollen trucks spring up during the festive season.
In other ways we are still quite Australian. I’m a fair weather cyclist – if it’s raining we take the car. Christmas remains our biggest celebration and I still can’t get used to inviting only a small selection of my children’s classmates to their birthday parties. I have to invite everyone or else I feel awful. The biggest sign that I’m still very Aussie is that I get around in flip-flops whenever possible, sometimes even in winter! I get some odd looks for that one.
What’s your top tourist tip?
When Dutch cyclists yell ‘Hallo!’ at you they aren’t being friendly. It probably just means you’ve mistaken the bike path for a sidewalk. But waving back enthusiastically can be fun.
Tell us something surprising you’ve found out about the Netherlands.
We spend a lot of time at the beach, which is something I didn’t expect would be a part of life when we moved here. As an Aussie who grew up on the beaches of Fremantle and Cottesloe my standards when it comes to beaches are pretty high, and whilst Dutch beaches are very different to those I grew up with, they have a certain charm about them. I love the beach clubs and the social side of meeting friends for lunch or afternoon drinks during the summer. And there is something pleasantly calming and exhilarating about taking a walk along the sand on a wild, windy, winter’s day.
If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do?
I would probably go and meet up with all my old clients for a cup of tea and to see how their babies are growing and changing. I love my job so much and you grow close in one way or another to every single family you work with. I know I learn something new about myself, my job or life in general with every single one. The only downside is I have to leave them when their babies are still newborns and I often wonder how they are doing in the months following. I love seeing those tiny little newborns turn into chubby, grinning babies and seeing how well their families are adjusting to life with their new addition. That is the ultimate satisfaction.
Rebecca Overmars is owner of Cherry Tree Lane Kraamzorg