Monday 10 August 2020

‘I would go for a beer and talk to the three Dutch guys sitting next to me’

Greek national Charalampos Sergios came to the Netherlands to continue his academic career but ended up co-founding the website IamExpat instead. He’s a huge fan of the Dutch agenda, likes to drink local beer in local bars, and says rainy days make him productive.

How did you end up in the Netherlands?
I was studying for a master’s degree in marketing in Stirling in Scotland and then went on to do an MPhil in what was basically econometrics and marketing at Tilburg University. While I was there I got to know some other Greek guys and one year later we started IamExpat. That was 10 years ago.

How do you describe yourself – an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international etc?
I don’t like to put a label on people. You are what you feel. If you feel like an expat you are an expat, if you feel like you are an immigrant, that is what you are. I would like to think I am a world citizen.

How long do you plan to stay and why?
I’m not really sure to be honest. Every two years I say ‘another couple of years’ but then something happens – it could be work, meeting the love of your life. Have I done that? No comment.

Do you speak Dutch?
Een beetje. We’ve had classes here at the office after work.  I’ve been here for about a decade and I can read it and I can sort of talk – I would order in a restaurant in Dutch or call a taxi, but discuss astrophysics? No.

What’s your favourite Dutch thing?
I love the Dutch agenda. I love planning my meetings and I would never have thought of doing that before coming here. It is actually kind of weird when I go back to Greece or to meet friends in other countries and I say, ‘what are you doing on Thursday morning?’ They tell me ‘I don’t know man, phone me on Thursday morning and see.’

How Dutch have you become?
Maybe I have become more Dutch than I think I have. There are little things, maybe they are universal, like the way everyone goes outside when the sun comes out. I don’t define that as Dutch, it is more default behaviour.

Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet?
There are no specific Dutch people I would like to meet. I would just like to go for a beer and talk to the three Dutch guys sitting next to me. I’m not very fond of idols or superstars and stuff like that. I like ordinary people, Marieke, Jochem and the other guy sitting in my local bar. Would a famous Dutch scientist want to talk to me about science? I don’t think so.

What’s your top tourist tip?
Don’t be a tourist. I’ve been here 10 years now and I have had lots of friends and friends of friends come to visit. I always make sure that whenever we meet, we meet in a neighbourhood bar and have a local beer. I tell them to do all the research they want, pick out ten things they want to do, and then decide to do just two. For the rest, take your bike and go out, start talking to people, eat bread and cheese… try to see the city from a local perspective.

Tell us something surprising you’ve found out about the Netherlands
This is more something surprising I found out about myself. I realised that these long grey rainy days that everyone hates, I kind of love them. I’m very, very productive on days like that.

If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do?
I would gather my friends, those who are still here or just happen to be in town, and go for a La Chouffe or a Zatte. Just have a beer and say goodbye.

Charalampos Sergios was talking to Robin Pascoe

The IamExpat fair takes place at the Gashouder in Amsterdam’s Westerpark on April 6. Sign up here for a free ticket.

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