Members of the international community answer 10 key questions about their lives in the Netherlands


‘I obsessively collect supermarket stickers for cheap crockery I don’t need’

‘I obsessively collect supermarket stickers for cheap crockery I don’t need’

Writer and journalist Gordon Darroch was widowed soon after moving to The Hague with his terminally ill wife, Magteld. He talks about the challenges of single parenthood, Jan Steen and the secret of a perfect uitsmijter. How did you end up in the Netherlands? My wife, Magteld, was from Drenthe and like a lot of mixed couples we’d talked idly for years about emigrating, especially once we had children. It became more urgent when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012. The treatment seemed to have been successful, so we pressed ahead with our plans, but then in 2014, a week after we’d sold our house in Glasgow and booked the removal van, she discovered she was terminally ill. By then we were too far down the road to turn back and in any case she wanted to spend her remaining time with her family. She died seven weeks after we crossed the North Sea. How do you describe yourself – an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international? I suppose I’m a lovepat in the sense that I moved for love, but almost as soon as I got here I was on my own again and having to start over. I’m wary of calling myself an immigrant because it’s an easy way to deny the privileges of being an expat – unlike many immigrants, I can easily go home if it doesn’t work out and as a native English speaker I’m under much less pressure to integrate. So maybe I’ll plump for international. How long do you plan to stay? For the first six months I really wasn’t sure if I’d stick it out, but now my two children are settled in schools and have their Dutch passports I’m more deeply embedded. Besides, since the Brexit vote the UK has been turning into a museum to all the worst things about British life, so if I ever wanted to leave I’d have to find a third country. Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn? I’ve been learning Dutch since I met Magteld 25 years ago and I still haven’t finished. I studied German at university, so that gave me a head start, and did a three-week residential course with the Nederlandse Taalunie. But mostly I learned from informal sources: daytime soaps, Suske en Wiske comics, watching the news and just talking to people at family gatherings. It’s easier in the provinces because people are less inclined to switch to English when they pick up on your accent. What’s your favourite Dutch food? You can’t beat a properly done uitsmijter – bacon, eggs and cheese on soft white bread, with cherry tomatoes and gherkins on the side. Heaven. How Dutch have you become? I go everywhere by bike, I eat drop, bitterballen and raw herring, drink milk for lunch and obsessively collect supermarket stickers for cheap crockery that I don’t need. I've even joined the ANWB. But I still can’t cope with the Top 2000 or peanut butter and hagelslag sandwiches. Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet? It’s an unoriginal answer, but Johan Cruyff revolutionised football as both a player and a manager. He made a lot of mistakes and argued with just about everyone, but he was never insincere or dull. Jan Steen was a Golden Age artist whose wit was every bit as keen as his paintbrush – his satirical domestic scenes cover every human foible and have become a byword for unruliness, even though the humour is rooted in a deep moral conviction. Quintessentially Dutch. Of today’s public figures I’d like to meet Lilianne Ploumen, one of the dwindling breed of Dutch politicians who believe the country can have a positive influence on the global stage. What’s your top tourist tip? Get out of Amsterdam and visit any of the historic smaller towns which are just as picturesque and a lot quieter – Delft, Haarlem, Leeuwarden and Den Bosch are all within easy reach. Tell us something surprising you’ve found out about the Netherlands It’s a much more authoritarian society than it seems at first. People take delight in filing their tax return on time, you can be fined for just about anything and every public space has a big list of huisregels posted by the entrance. I’m still amazed to see teenagers obediently queuing in the rain outside the supermarket at lunchtime. Subordination is instilled at an early age. If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do? As a single parent I have so little time to relax that I’d probably just take it easy. Go round the Mauritshuis one last time, stock up on books at Paagman, then head to a beach café and stay there until the border police showed up and fined me. Gordon co-hosts the DutchNews podcast every Friday. His book 'All the Time We Thought We Had' is published by Polygon and will be launched in the Netherlands book at bookstore Paagman on the Frederik Hendriklaan in The Hague on September 25. You can buy it online at the ABC or from other online booksellers.  More >


‘I really would like to meet the members of the Delta Works design team’

‘I really would like to meet the members of the Delta Works design team’

Daniel Garbowski is a computer engineer for NetApp. Bank with ING or ABN AMRO? Use Ziggo, Vodaphone, or interact with the Dutch government? Chances are that Daniel’s looking after your data. He says he is one of the 5% of Poles that work for multinationals in the Netherlands, and he has a message for EU citizens everywhere. How did you end up in the Netherlands? In 2010 I moved here from the States. If you live and work in the United States, you need to renew your working visa every one or two years. In my case, [2010] was the end of my visa, so I could have requested to stay longer, but it takes a lot of time. You need to go through this whole process, with some ridiculous questions, and I knew that in Europe you don’t need it; you can just move from one country to another. It’s a never-ending story. And if you can just go back to Europe and forget about it? Relief. How do you describe yourself - an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international etc? I felt like an immigrant in the States. Because you need to go through all that paperwork—it doesn’t feel like home. But in the Netherlands, I would say I’m more of a EU citizen. If you can just switch between countries, and you don’t need papers, it feels like home. Europe is home. Do I think Brexit is bad? That’s what the country voted for, because [the people who voted] don’t travel and they don’t live abroad. I have lots of [Polish] friends from high school who work in Britain, and they struggle now with how it’s going to be. They worry...I think they have the same feelings as my British colleagues at work [in Amsterdam]. How long do you plan to stay and why? If my company gives me an offer to go to a different country, it’s fine with me. I don’t want to say anything bad about Holland, but if I have an opportunity to go to a new place, why not? That’s how I ended up here. Do I have a problem with staying? No, I do not. My mortgage is supposed to be for 30 years! But it’s a good feeling to have, that you don’t have to stay in one place, you can always go to a different country. Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn? I did learn Dutch in 2010 and 2011, but because of my work environment I mainly speak English now. At my [ROC Mondriaan language] school, most of my classmates did not have a higher education; most of them did low-skilled work. And, well, they are limited because for any kind of work they had to learn Dutch. So I think it depends on what kind of work you do. For big international companies it’s a different story: you know you will end up in an environment where English is the main language. Holland is attracting big companies because they have no problem to hire staff that speak English here—the main office for the EEMEA region of my company is located in Holland. Other stuff of course is a tax advantage they have, but that’s a different story. What's your favourite Dutch food? There is one food, I think they only have it in Holland: fresh herring. First, when I saw people in the street eating herring, I thought that’s weird. But then I tasted it and it became my favourite food. It’s so tasty, and so good. With onions and a piece of bread. I eat it once a week, at least. Sometimes after I come back from work I open my fridge and, 'Hey! There’s a herring!' You can buy them in packages, two in one, with onions. But a fresh one, on the street—I suppose it kind of is a ‘street food’—that’s the best. How Dutch have you become? When I arrived it was 2010, it was the middle of the [financial] crisis. Companies, instead of hiring, were firing. So for the first few months, instead of doing computer-science-related work, I worked in a hotel as a waiter. And that was a really great experience. Why? Because I worked only with Dutch people. I know lots of people coming to Holland, especially from Poland, and they struggle. [Polish people] feel they are second-class citizens. I don’t really understand that. Dutch people treated me very well. Even if they found out I was Polish, they always treated me the same. I really enjoyed that time and, after I moved back to office work, I miss that part of my life—because I felt part of a team. Polish people are always complaining. Polish people don’t smile; they have a kind of barrier which holds them from being open. And maybe that’s part of the issue: because I wouldn’t say Dutch culture is really different compared to Polish culture. I suppose instead of becoming Dutch, I’ve become more international; I’ve become European. More open. When I go back to Poland, my friends know that if they ask me how I am, I will say positive things; I won’t complain. I think that’s the best answer. Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet and why? For a still-living person, that would be the prime minister Mark Rutte. He’s been a prime minister for really long time, but every time I talk with a Dutch person and we switch to politics, it doesn’t matter which party the person supports, they will always speak with respect about the prime minister. We don’t know if he’s a good guy, but he’s doing really great PR. I would like to ask him if this is just for show. From an engineering point of view, one of the most important constructions was the Delta system in Zeeland. It was built after the great flood in 1953. I really would like to meet the members from the team [that designed it]. It’s one of the greatest constructions built by human beings. And the third one: I’d like to meet the people who built the Maasvlakte. It’s on the other side of Hoek van Holland, and it’s all man made. Everytime I visit that place I’m impressed that it was made by humans. We all know the islands in Dubai, right, but do you know who made them? It was the same people which actually first designed how to build the Maasvlakte. Most of them they are Dutch companies. What's your top tourist tip? Discover Holland by bike. If you want a really good experience, and to learn about more than just Amsterdam, then take a bike. You will be surprised how the cities are different—Rotterdam is really different to Amsterdam, but you should discover that by bike, not by car. You won’t see it from a highway. Tell us something surprising you've found out about the Netherlands The big surprise for me was that everybody speaks English. You speak with an 80-year-old lady in an elevator, and it’s the same with a 25-year-old colleague from work. The English level is brilliant. It’s amazing how well they speak English. And the accent: you go on vacation to a completely different side of the world, and you can pick up the accent right away. Like, in February, I was in Japan, and then I heard somebody speaking English and I could pick up right away that that was a Dutch person. That accent, it’s so specific. You know right away. If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do? Get a fresh herring. And then take a bike, and ride as much as I can. Cover as many places by bike. I’d go to the countryside, because it’s so well kept. The only other place [that’s similar] was Japan. Like, if you go to a forest here, you will see the trees in line. You don’t see that in the US, or in Poland. But over here you see lines; it’s so perfect. It looks so funny in the beginning, but then you start to appreciate that. How great they are with keeping their surroundings. So clean. As a taxpayer, and you know your money is spent well. You have this satisfaction. You pay all this money and then you appreciate it in these short moments of your life, like 'OK, it finally makes sense to pay so much money!' Daniel Garbowski was talking to Joshua Parfitt  More >


‘When I was ten, I already had the feeling I would move here’

‘When I was ten, I already had the feeling I would move here’

Novelist Ellen Keith’s Dutch ancestry drew her irresistibly to the Netherlands, where she settled in 2015. Today, the 29-year-old Canadian can be found whizzing across the capital, ringing her bicycle bell at tourists and dreaming of a perfectly-baked cookie. How did you end up in the Netherlands? My mother’s side of the family is Dutch. My grandparents were both born and raised in the Netherlands and they emigrated in the 50s. I still have some extended family in the east of the Netherlands and so there’s always been a family connection. The first time I was here I was ten and already then I had the feeling that I was going to move here one day. Then I started going back on my own, doing European backpacking trips when I was just out of high school. During my undergrad period, I did an exchange in Tilburg and from then on it was really, ‘OK, I’m going to finish this degree and then I’m going to move here as quickly as I can’. How do you describe yourself - an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international? I think I’d normally use the word expat, but if I really stop and think, I probably have the mindset more of an immigrant because I do want to stay here long term. I just came here and said, ‘I want to live here, I plan to stay here, and what can I do to make that happen?’ How long do you plan to stay and why? I would say indefinitely. I really feel at home here. The only thing that would shift that is if a really good career opportunity came up for me in Canada, like teaching writing or something. Or, long term, if I were to have a family here. It’s a really different experience raising kids here versus raising kids in Canada, where we have so much nature and you can go on big camping trips and there’s mountains and canoeing and kayaking. But I definitely wouldn’t leave in the next five years. Right now, I’m so in love with this city. Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn? I speak Dutch pretty fluently, I think. I didn’t grow up speaking Dutch at home but there were still the occasional Dutch words thrown into sentences. I remember my grandmother singing little Dutch songs to us when we were babies. When I was in high school in Canada, my brother and I took a basic Dutch course. After that, I took out some audio books from the library and I worked on teaching myself. Once, when I was studying abroad here, I took another course. Because I had family here and already could speak some Dutch when I arrived, I think I was in a position that not many expats are in because I had a lot of Dutch friends already. I live with Dutch roommates and we have a rule that we only speak Dutch at home. It really makes a difference. What's your favourite Dutch food? I think what the Dutch do really well is their baked goods. I’m still waiting for the day that I see a proper, soft, nicely-baked cookie, but in terms of stroopwafels... and my grandmother makes wonderful boterkoek. I think that’s one thing that I really look forward to having: a really nice home-baked boterkoek. How Dutch have you become? Because I grew up in a Dutch family, there were a lot of things that I was exposed to and didn’t really realise were Dutch until I came here, like the directness, for example. My mother and my grandmother are very direct, but that’s not something that I’ve adopted at all and I still find it a bit overwhelming. What I do think that I have become very Dutch in is the cycling habits. I’m maybe a bit aggressive and always in a hurry on a bike. I’m often barrelling across the city at top speed and ringing my bell at tourists who don’t realise they’re walking on bike paths. So maybe not the nicest habit to pick up, but it’s hard for me to go back to cycling very leisurely. Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet? The first one I think would be Vermeer. I love his art work. His work has always spoken to me a bit more than Rembrandt’s. I just love the light. You have such a sense of the city life and the personal life of the people that he’s painting. The second one - also the big cliché, but for me a bit of a necessity because of the novel I wrote - is Anne Frank. She was really the first Dutch person I ever remember hearing of. Right before the first time I came to Europe, I was ten and I had just done a really big research project on her for school. A couple of months later, we went to Europe and went to her house. That was the first time that I felt history come to life and probably secured my interest in World War II and holocaust history. The third one is Margriet Hardenbroeck. She emigrated from the Netherlands in the middle of the Dutch Golden Age and ended up in New Amsterdam under the time of Peter Stuyvesant and the rise of New Amsterdam before it became New York. She was one of the first wealthy business women in North America. It was at a time where, in the Netherlands, business rules were different from the rest of Europe. Women could actually own property and have business rights in a way that not many other countries did. What's your top tourist tip? Get outside of Amsterdam. Hop on a train and explore some of the smaller cities like the Hanzesteden in the eastern Netherlands, like Deventer, Zwolle, Kampen. They are so quiet and quaint and quintessentially Dutch. They still have such a medieval quality of walled cities with big gate houses. To me, that was my first experience in the Netherlands, my first sense of what the country was like. I’d barely spent any time in Amsterdam before I moved here; all my trips were more to the east of the Netherlands. Tell us something surprising you've found out about the Netherlands One thing that is interesting is just how strict and challenging the driver’s education and tests are here compared to Canada. In Canada you can get your learner’s licence when you’re 14 already. Here it costs so much money and the driver’s training is compulsory, whereas in Canada you’re not obliged to take formal training; you can just learn from your parents and then take the test. If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do? I would start out with some pannenkoeken for brunch and then I would go to the Rijksmuseum and wander around for a little bit. Then, if the weather was nice, I would love to go out sailing on the IJsselmeer or go boating on the canals. If there was still time in the evening then I think it would be nice to take the train or cycle out to the beach and get dinner on the beach with some friends. Ellen is also the author of The Dutch Wife. Ellen was talking to Deborah Nicholls-Lee  More >


‘What shocked me the most about the Netherlands was how beautiful it is’

‘What shocked me the most about the Netherlands was how beautiful it is’

Why would someone with a successful career in a casting agency in New York City up sticks and move to Zaandam? In Elyse O’Shaughnessey's case, she did it for love. Now artistic director of Orange Theater Company, Elyse is on a mission to promote world-class English-language theatre in the heart of Amsterdam. How did you end up in the Netherlands? I came here as an au pair about five years ago. I was working with this woman – she worked for Tommy Hilfiger – and one day she was like, 'Oh, I’m moving to Amsterdam; do you wanna come with me?' At the time I was quite young, so I said, 'Okay. Let’s go!' It was an adventure. I’d never been to Amsterdam, and I was here with an added comfort factor. I was only supposed to come for three months, but at the end of it I was still just starting to get acclimatised. I stayed for a full year and met my current [Dutch] partner in the last three months of my visa. I went back to New York, and we did long-distance for about two years. I was working for this company called Establishment Casting – they used to work for Alexander Wang, and they still work for Marc Jacobs and Miu Miu. I was the executive assistent to my boss. It was an amazing opportunity to learn about professionalism under a self-made woman. I basically learned how to run a business: invoicing, scheduling, accounting, calling the models in, talking to agents, running castings and even organising my boss’s personal life! And then I moved here in about June 2015. Yes, I came back specifically for him. I figured I might as well. How do you describe yourself - an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international? Well, I’m on the partnership visa, so I guess I would be a lovepat! That’s fine. We’re still together. To me, I think you know when you know. I just kind of knew with him. I’m somebody who does big things easily but small things … take a toll. Deciding to move 5,000 miles, I was like, 'Okay. I’m doing it.' Because it was either do that or regret it for the rest of my life. How long do you plan to stay? To be honest, I have no idea. It could be the rest of my life. I think the only time that I would consider going back is maybe after I have kids, just to be closer to family. I grew up a bit outside Boston, but my high school had 4,000 people in it. Just my high school. But I liked that. I liked the fact that there was always somebody that you could fit in with. There were so many different races, sexualities, and everything, that it didn’t really matter who you were. It was great thing. That’s not how every American city is, but I was very fortunate to grow up in this place where it was just normal to be friends with everybody – there wasn’t really any reason not to be. America gets a bad rep nowadays, understandably so. Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn? I can understand a decent amount so long as the person speaking doesn’t have a strong accent. But speaking it myself … I should be further along because I have to take a test in October! I feel like in the past couple of months it’s got much better. I pick up a lot of words from people around me—the other day my partner’s friends were like 'tik ‘m aan!' I think that’s quite funny. It means high five - literally 'tap it'. What's your favourite Dutch food? Kaasstengels. Lekker! It’s like a spring roll, with cheese inside. Shall we order one? How Dutch have you become and why? [We are refused kaastengels, since the café’s kitchen does not open until 3 pm]. In the States they would make you some … but then again, their kitchen would probably be open from the morning. Still, there’ve been times when even going to the Gemeente to do something they’re like, 'I can’t help you'. And I’m like, 'Huh? Why?' So, I don’t know if I’ve adopted many Dutch mannerisms yet, but I think that’s why Sairah [Erens, executive director of Orange Theatre Company] and I work well together. I think about things the way an American would think about things – not better, just a different perspective. For example, when I go to the theatre it should be a whole experience. You should feel great the whole time, from the way you’re greeted, to the bar service – everything. You should feel like you’re welcome, like you’re coming into somebody’s home. We value that customer service. I’ll always put a nice spin on things. I believe you get more people with honey than with vinegar. Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet? I’d like to meet Doutzen Kroes, the model. She pops up a lot more here than in the US. She used be a Victoria’s Secret Angel, hence her national fame, but I haven’t met her yet. I’d like to see what Doutzen’s personality would be like. I’ve met quite a few Dutch models, and they’re always quite personable when I’ve told them that I live in Amsterdam. And, of course, I’d like to meet Dianne Zuidema, the head of the Stadsschouwburg.  Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam and Toneelgroep Amsterdam are changing their name to Internationaal Theater Amsterdam. We want to say to her that we’re here to give a helping hand in really becoming international. Perhaps giving us a performance space? What's your top tourist tip? Meet a Dutch person who brings you to things. Sairah has taken me to some of the best American food places in Amsterdam. You know, as somebody from another country, we’re always looking for our comforts from home. Sairah has taken me to the best spots; there’s one called The Fat Pie. It’s got a rotisserie attached to it, and burgers and fries, and they’re just so good. It’s ridiculous. The Westergasfabriek is a great place to go; there are so many different things in one spot. You have the park right there, and restaurants, breweries, a phenomenal theatre, cinemas, gym … a lot of Dutch people go there as well. Tell us something surprising you've found out about the Netherlands I think what shocked me the most about the Netherlands was how beautiful it is. I had a very jaded perspective when I came here: rainy, grey, and weed everywhere. Now I’d describe it as: beautiful, international, and … changing. I think even just from when I arrived here three years ago it’s changed drastically. It surprises me just how international the city has become. I expected clogs – no, I’m kidding – but I mean just in our company there are nine nationalities: Britain, Australia, Singapore, South Africa, Ireland, America, and the Netherlands. I think the fact that English is so accessible here makes it easy for people from many different cultures. It’s such a hub for so many different businesses, which bring in people from so many places. And that’s what I mean by changing as well. The amount of people here who are not Dutch has gone up exponentially in the past three years. I get what why there’s been a backlash recently; it’s going to be overpopulated soon. But [Orange Theatre Company] is bringing people together – we see that the confrontation between the Dutch and the expats is because they don’t mingle. A lot of the Dutch also speak great English, and so there’s this whole world of fantastic theatre waiting for them on their doorstep. If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do? I think I would just sit on a terrace near a canal. And just really enjoy it. I feel like it’s something that’s very specific to this city. I mean, yeah, you can people watch in New York, but it’s a different kind of people watching – either people in suits, or often people a bit homeless, sadly. The streets here are much more accessible, and nicer to look at. Something that surprised me was how quickly they clean up after an event. Like the day after King’s Day, everything’s gone! Whereas in any place that I have ever lived they’re like, 'Ahh, we’ll get it cleaned up in a week. Somebody‘ll do it.' Here it’s done immediately. I love that. I think I would mostly miss the relaxed atmosphere of everything. It’s a catch 22: there’s a part of me that doesn’t like the relaxedness, I want to just work work work and do do do, but then there’s a part of me that’s come to enjoy that. I know people who are lawyers at ABN Amro, quite high up, and they work four days a week, which is unheard of for me. But I think it’s quite nice; they have the time off that they need. Unfortunately, I don’t do it nearly as often as I’d like. Find out more about Orange Theatre Company. The next performance is a play about Brexit in November. Elyse O’Shaughnessey was talking to Joshua Parfitt  More >


‘I was surprised how high the quality of life is, and by the work-life balance’

‘I was surprised how high the quality of life is, and by the work-life balance’

Singaporean neuroscientist Xing Chen (32) moved to Amsterdam for work in 2014. Already a die-hard FEBO fan with a convincing Dutch accent, she has quickly made the Netherlands her home. How did you end up in the Netherlands? I was studying for my PhD in the UK and in 2014 I was looking to continue my career. I had a lot of experience working in the lab and studying the visual cortex and how the brain works and I found my dream job in Amsterdam, so that’s why I came over. How do you describe yourself - an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international etc? I would say ‘a global citizen based in Amsterdam’. I grew up in Singapore until I was 18 and it’s a very small country – only 60km x 40km – and it has a very international perspective and is very outward-looking. I’ve always felt that international boundaries are not really that important; they shouldn’t determine the trajectory of your life. How long do you plan to stay and why? As long as possible. As soon as I reach the five-year point, and I’m allowed to apply for permanent residency, I’m going to do that. I feel really at home in the Netherlands and, out of all the places I’ve lived in, it’s by far the best; it has the highest quality of life. Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn? Yeah, I do. I’m very proud of that because I think it’s so important to be able to communicate. My colleagues sometimes tell me that my accent is very good, … so that’s something I’m very happy about. My vocab. is not good and my grammar’s pretty bad, but the funny thing is, if your accent is good and your first few sentences sound good, people get conned! I used a bunch of books [to learn Dutch] and some online tools like Rosetta Stone - and then I took a very intensive course for a couple of months with the UvA.  What's your favourite Dutch food and why? I’m a huge fan of the fried stuff. I love croquettes, kipstick and my favourite food establishments are Smullers and FEBO. The food in Singapore is very eclectic; it’s a fusion of lots of different cuisines, so it’s very sophisticated. Dutch food is a bit the opposite.  How Dutch have you become? At the beginning, my motto was to be more Dutch than the Dutch because I wanted to push myself to really integrate and enjoy life like a local. But I think that, ultimately, it’s more that the lifestyle here and the culture really resonate with a lot of aspects of my personality. I really like how open-minded people are in Amsterdam and how accepting of a lot of different cultures and belief systems [they are]. And I really like how direct people are. I find it refreshing. Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet? Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She’s originally from Somalia. She came to the Netherlands as a refugee and she wrote a book about her experiences growing up in a very repressive religious regime. I read her autobiography and I really admire her because she now works on raising awareness about women and children who are being oppressed by religion and has a foundation to support them. Astrid Holleeder. Again, I read her autobiography. She is the author of Judas, which is about her extremely notorious criminal brother, Willem Holleeder. I really admire her because she went through a really difficult childhood and had a brutal time with her psychopathic brother and she was under a lot of personal danger when she stepped up and decided to testify against him. She spoke up for herself, the people she says are his murder victims, and her own family members. M.C.Escher. I grew up in an artistic family; my parents are both artists. The fine quality of Escher’s work, sometimes it reminds me of my dad’s work. It’s really fine, really detailed – kind of obsessively so. What's your top tourist tip? To get around Amsterdam like a local on a bike but to do it in a really safe and enjoyable way. When you first come to Amsterdam, it can be a bit challenging to deal with traffic and so it might be good to go with a friend or with a local guide – someone who can guide you through the system and make you feel comfortable and safe so you have a pleasant experience. Tell us something surprising you've found out about the Netherlands I was surprised how high the quality of life is and by the work-life balance. Having studied and worked in the US and the UK, where people are under high pressure and put in really long hours, the culture here is much more relaxed. I find it healthier because people have more perspective on other aspects of life outside of work. If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do? In the morning I would go for a jog through the Amsterdamse Bos. Then I would go to the edge of the lake, near my house, and sit by the lake on my yoga mat and have breakfast. I would rent a stand up paddle board and go SUPing on the lake and then I would go on a really long cycle ride to my favourite places, the Bos, and probably to Bloemendaal and down the coast to Den Haag and then just hang out with all my best friends. Xing is also the author of Learn to Cycle in Amsterdam. Xing was talking to Deborah Nicholls-Lee  More >


‘Moving out of Amsterdam really helped me improve my Dutch’

‘Moving out of Amsterdam really helped me improve my Dutch’

In 2005, nutrition educator Shay Klomp Bueters (43) left the mountains of Montana, USA for the Dutch lowlands, following a romance on a cruise ship with a Dutch co-worker whom she went on to marry. They live with their five-year-old son in Almere-Poort, where she been amazed at the Dutch ability to reclaim and settle new land. How did you end up in the Netherlands? I fell in love with a Dutchie while we were both working for the Holland America cruise lines, in Alaska. We travelled the world for a few more years working on cruise ships, and after seeing Antarctica decided to move to the Netherlands for one year. Thirteen years later, we are still here! How do you describe yourself - an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international etc?  Interesting, I haven’t ever heard of a lovepat before. I guess I would fit in that category, although I consider myself more an international, living in the Netherlands - albeit having my Dutch passport as well as an American one. How long do you plan to stay and why? Ah, the million-dollar question that we continue to get from family and friends. If I had a million dollars, I would have a house here and in the US. We keep on saying we will give it five years and re-evaluate. We almost moved back to the USA in 2015. I think my heart will always be where I grew up, although this has been the longest I have lived anywhere, so the Netherlands is also home for me. Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn? Yes. I learned in my first year here, taking many different Dutch courses. During the first one, I remember the teacher saying: ‘For some people such as yourself, languages aren’t your strong point’. I then went to Amsterdam University, where I had an intensive course that got me over the hump, although I found most people in Amsterdam would immediately switch to English when I was trying out my new skills. Moving outside Amsterdam, I found I really improved. Having a little one starting school meant I need to use Dutch much more. I am happy to report that I ticked giving a corporate presentation in Dutch off my bucket list this past January – although I'm not sure it was worth the stress it inflicted. What is your favourite Dutch food and why? With my focus being nutrition, this is a bit more difficult for me. Can I say fresh mint tea? I'd never seen that until I moved to the Netherlands. If I would choose a food, it would have to be ertwensoep (pea soup). Also, one of the highlights when we had visitors the first years was Dutch apple pie from the Winkel Café. How Dutch have you become and why? I seem to pick and choose my 'Dutchness'. The birthday round-the-room greetings or greeting people when you walk into a waiting room for an appointment – even after 13 years, I tend to forget it until I see someone else doing it and think, ‘whoops!’ I love the congratulations for birthdays – particularly for the parents and siblings. It takes a village to raise a child, they say, and these congratulations are well-deserved. When I go back 'home' to the US, people always say I speak a bit different – I think it is the cadence of the sentence and ending on a high note, which I have picked up a bit unconsciously. Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet? Annie M.G. Schmidt, as Jip and Janneke were the first books I started reading when learning Dutch and now I love reading them to my son. BLØF, as they were one of the first bands I started listening to and I enjoy their music. And Jaap Seidell (a health and obesity specialist at the VU), who is on a similar mission as mine, to reduce childhood obesity and create a healthier future for the next generations. What's your top tourist tip? My top tourist tip would be making a picnic and renting a boat and exploring Amsterdam by boat for the day. We have done this with family and friends who have visited and it has been one of their top memories. Or going for a bike ride down the Amstel to Oudekerk aan de Amstel – although not if you are not used to biking long distances. We took friends and they were walking a bit funny for the next few days! Tell us something surprising you've found out about the Netherlands. I think the most surprising is where I am living now, on a province that welcomed its first inhabitants a mere 40 years ago. Talk about the Dutch being innovators: they just increased the size of the country! And it continues with the area we live in, Duin, which has hills, valleys and a forest, along with being a mere seven-minute walk from the IJsselmeer. If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do? I would go for a run through our forest and by the lake, then head to Amsterdam for breakfast at Dignita. After that, I would rent a boat, taking a picnic for lunch with our closest friends, and that evening have a bonfire and barbecue at the beach with friends and family. No matter where you are, I have learned, what truly makes life so wonderful, is the amazing people you meet along the way. Shay was talking to Deborah Nicholls-Lee. You can find out more about Shay’s work and Break-Up With Sugar programme at https://www.contagiously-healthy.com/.  More >


‘I’m grateful to this place for its peaceful and relaxed, but professional, mindset’

‘I’m grateful to this place for its peaceful and relaxed, but professional, mindset’

Hungarian-born, US and-Israeli-educated David Lusztig is a growth hacker for Codemotion—a 'geek connector' that unites developers and tech communities in cutting-edge conferences. He says he escaped a life in the tech world at the mercy of some money-hungry superiors—'sharks'—where many friends ended up burnt out or worse. He has since become 'stupid proud' of what he does, and he plans to stay in the Netherlands 'until forever'. How did you end up in the Netherlands? I was working in Israel, in the summer of 2014, and I was asked by a British headhunter company if I would like to be one the six founders of a new online gambling company in Amsterdam. And I said 'sure'. I mean in my career, with the experience I had at the time, nobody gets asked to set up an online casino with that kind of [financial] backing. Anyone would have said yes. We went bankrupt a month before the launch. I then got offered a job by a Dutch company in Amsterdam, but that was more of a rough ride—very stressful. I don’t want to go back there. I personally don’t think that a marketeer has to cherish or even like the product he/she markets, but maybe I’m getting old. I think I just came to that phase when I say, 'I want to show something that I can be proud of'. With Codemotion, we are creating these intellectually-sparking conversations with ridiculously smart developers. And I’m stupid proud. A thousand people came to our Amsterdam conference, and these people have an impact directly on your life. Honestly, anything. I can tell you that within five years your world is going to be completely upside down because of blockchain technology. Let me give you an example: I have childhood friends working at [a multinational bank] and they get hacked on a daily basis. That’s what happens when data is centralised. But imagine that all the banks decide to switch from their current encryption system to blockchain, a decentralised ledger. Hackers will have to decode millions of data points at the same time. Impossible. Blockchain is super cheap, instantaneous, and super secure; it’s the gold standard of trust. As I said, I don’t have to like it, but I do. I’m using the same tools, but for a different purpose, and I’m so, so happy. And it’s why I’m going to stick around until forever. How do you describe yourself - an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international etc - and why? I’m going to try to be creative and say: I’m one of the great friends of Holland. I don’t have to say this; as an EU citizen, I can go wherever I want. But I’m saying this because I feel committed and very grateful to this place for allowing me [to discover] this peaceful and relaxed, but professional, mindset. I’m very loyal to this place; I want to integrate. I’ve bought a house, and I’m doing a Dutch [language] course. How long do you plan to stay and why? I’m settled. I was afraid I was going to regret [buying a house] but just the opposite has happened. My heart kind of gave me the okay to settle down, and it’s worked. As things stand, I think I would only leave if some kind of dramatic, falling-in-love situation happens. I’m not worried about a disaster—I live on the fifth floor, so if a tsunami comes I can just put a boat outside. But I am hoping for an until-death-do-us-part kind of love; I’m kind of romantic that way. I’m almost 37, so... Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn? Ja, een beetje. 2017 was a really critical year for me. It was very busy, highly successful, but very problematic also. My dad passed away, and then maybe as fallout of all the things that had happened—the good things and the lesser good—I decided to settle here physically. I bought my house but I didn’t speak Dutch, and that that just couldn’t be. So I signed up for courses, and it took up until March to get a class with the gemeente. I’m B1 already. So the plan is that until the end of 2018 I’m going be reading books. I do six hours a week in class, and then homework. Right now my teacher would probably say: 'No, David does not do huiswerk'. It’s true. I’m against the concept. I think it’s a trap. Instead, I just like to make up new sentences whenever she asks me 'Where’s your homework?', and now I can say stuff like de hond at mijn huiswerk, or mijn huiswerk heeft de hond gegeten. See! That’s already two sentences!  What's your favourite Dutch food and why? I was thinking about this, and I’ve decided to go head-on collision with Dutch society on this one. I’m going to ask back to you: can you define Dutch cuisine? I come from a family of award-winning chefs, so let’s just not get into this. How Dutch have you become and why? Ok, this is how Dutch I have become: I’m open to suggestions in the cuisine department. If anybody wants to contact me to prove that Dutch cuisine is a thing, then I am happy go and explore in their kitchen. To be open to ideas and to be, in a way, polite, I think it’s a Dutch thing. It was super annoying when I arrived, because I was not used to that, but now I value it on a completely different level. It’s about not hurting somebody’s feelings when they made an effort. The Dutch say that they’re direct but, to be honest, if you compare them with Israelis it’s just not true. Sometimes it’s good not to tell to other people’s faces how it really is. An Israeli would say: 'I just don’t like that'. But I will give it a go if somebody would like to prove otherwise. Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet and why? Number one: I know it sounds easy, but King Willem Alexander. I wouldn’t have picked him if last year they didn’t publish that for over a decade he’s been a pilot in secret. I don’t know if you know, but pilots are not making great money. It’s a very, very tough job, and he flies a city hopper! It’s not even international flights; it’s inside Europe! It takes him longer to get to Schiphol than to fly to Berlin; it’s the crappiest thing you can imagine. But it’s the mentality that I really appreciate. A lot of people I know have penthouses and villas, but you don’t see them in Mercedes, Jeeps and stuff like that—they bike to work. They don’t put it in the window. And of all people, the Dutch king not only [is a pilot], but in secret, so people do not say a thing about it. In my eyes that was wow. That was truly wow. Number two: Willem Arondeus. A Dutch resistance fighter. Openly gay. He was fighting the Nazis and he got caught, and then to the Gestapo he basically said 'I’m gay, and **** you guys, because gays are not cowards.' And he got shot. He impressed me, even though I’m not gay. Third person I would go for: Anne Frank. See, I live in the Bijlmer, right next to Raoul Wallenbergstraat; my mother lives in Budapest in Raoul Wallenbergstraat. Our family was saved by Raoul Wallenberg. I know a great deal about Anne Frank, because these stories are very common in the Jewish community everywhere in the world. I’ve never been to the house; it’s too painful. I’ve heard enough family stories, and I don’t need to see another one. All I can do is maybe inspire other people to do the right thing in their lives. Before you, so many people didn’t do good to others. So maybe just chill out and try to build a future, which is what the whole EU was about, I think. What's your top tourist tip? Be nice. 800,000 people live in this city, and you have over 13 million tourists that come to this village each year. That is no joke. Generally speaking this city is very fragile. Amsterdam is what, 16th century? The houses are all built on water and swamps. Cherish it while it lasts. The fact that you can smoke marijuana here and do this and do that does not mean you have to behave in a way that embarrasses you the day after. I don’t go to the centre anymore. But I wish great health to everybody, enjoy. Tell us something surprising you've found out about the Netherlands Once I was befriended, really befriended, then I realised that the concept of becoming a good friend here is a bit like becoming a friend of an Israeli. In Israel we call ourselves sabra, which is the fruit [of a prickly pear]. It’s really spiky and unpleasant on the outside, but once you get to the inside it’s nice, sweet, and gooey. It’s a good comparison with the Dutch because it’s also like that here: I have neighbours, and it took them about 8 months to invite me for a coffee. I’m super social, open, and super nice, but I’m not pushy. I never said anything. So one day the lady knocks on my door, and I’m literally in my onezie writing an article for Codemotion. She said: 'Ok. Coffee. Now'. And I spent the better half of the afternoon there. It takes time, but once you’re in, then you’re really in. If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do? That happened to me once. I was relocated to Malaysia in one of my previous jobs, and I really didn’t want to go. I had a very short time to prepare, and I really hated the idea. I went to Zandvoort, and saw the sunset, and I was crying. I really hated the frickin’ idea of leaving Holland. And that’s when I knew I was going to stay. I quit my job, came back from Malaysia, and that’s when I got the house. I’ve been in that situation before, and I know I don’t want to leave Holland. Unless it’s drama, and blah blah blah, that will not happen. David Lusztig was talking to Joshua Parfitt  More >


‘The first thing I did was buy an OV card and go to a different city every weekend’

‘The first thing I did was buy an OV card and go to a different city every weekend’

Lithuanian Evelina Kvartŭnaitė is an events manager who moved to Amsterdam in 2008. She is averse to tourists on bikes, but loves herring as it reminds her of home. How did you end up in the Netherlands? By plane! I was just looking for another challenge, I think. I was looking for a change. I lived in Denmark for a while and I travelled here not knowing anybody. I had one suitcase and I came here for half a year’s internship after quitting a job where I was the lead in a company for logistics and marketing. How do you describe yourself- an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international etc? I think I’m a migrant. It sounds very cheesy when I say ‘a citizen of the world’ or ‘European’ or whatever. I travel a lot for my activities and for projects that I run and I work a lot with conflict areas. For me, Amsterdam is my home but it’s also like my ‘washing machine’, where I’m [constantly] repacking things. I do have a lot of the stigma which comes with an Eastern European background. People don’t know Lithuania and they say, ‘Oh, you’re Russian!’ How long do you plan to stay? I don’t know. God laughs when you’re making plans, right? I [only] came here for half a year, so I imagine my planning skills are not so good! I don’t think I want to plan; I want to see how it is and where life brings me, but so far so good. I really enjoy Amsterdam. Do you speak Dutch? I understand, but it hurts my throat! When I came here, I spoke Danish and I studied German in school so altogether it was very easy for me somehow. I didn’t have any issues with Dutch, so I think that’s why I never went to [a language] school, because I was like, ‘I can read it, I can get by’ and in Amsterdam nobody really cares so much. What’s your favourite Dutch food? Herring - cut on a plate! - as it’s something I also used to quite like back home and when I lived in Denmark. And, of course, cheese - in any shape or form! How Dutch have you become? I think I did not become Dutch per se, but I think I embraced my natural directness being here because the space allowed me to be as direct and clear with people as I normally like to be. But I still don’t eat at 6pm! Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet? Mata Hari. The stories she would have to tell, the experience of being a spy, is quite fascinating to me. Audrey Hepburn. She was born in Belgium actually, but she grew up in Arnhem during the war. She is a really interesting figure to me – from style icon to humanitarian – and someone with a fascinating life story and not just a beautiful face but an amazing talent, in my opinion. Abraham van Helsing (from Bram Stoker’s Dracula). I was always fascinated by dark stories and folklore and I found it interesting to learn that one of the characters was Dutch. What’s your top tourist tip? Don’t rent a bike if the last time you biked you were five! I like to wander around. I always like to take maps away from people and just send them off to walk around the least expected places. Normally what I do with people who’ve never been here is a small boat tour and then I take them to a sky lounge or something so you see both perspectives. Tell us something surprising you’ve found out about the Netherlands I have to think back because now I’m kind of used to everything, but I guess how tall the women are [surprised me] and seeing high heels in size 43. I was like, ‘that’s a boat!’ Also, how much make up they put on in the trains - because where I come from you do your business at home and you maybe fix it up in the bathroom or something. For me it was like, ‘how do you not poke your eye out?’ Also, how easy it was for me to travel inside the country – that was really nice. When I arrived here I didn’t know anybody so the first thing I did was buy an OV card and go to a different city every weekend just to explore by myself. It was so easy because the country’s so well connected and I felt safe. If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do? I would really rush to close all my bank accounts because [otherwise] all the Belastingdienst would come running after me if I’d done something wrong! I would do a nice Sunday brunch and meet my friends. I have a few places that I really like but let’s not advertise! Evelina is the founder of Word Up, a forum for spoken-word poetry and performance. Evelina was talking to Deborah Nicholls-Lee  More >


‘An expat feels like an outsider and I don’t feel like one. I feel like I’m home’

‘An expat feels like an outsider and I don’t feel like one. I feel like I’m home’

American national Jessica Taylor Piotrowski is an associate professor at the University of Amsterdam. Happily settled here for six years with her husband John, she’s had little sleep in recent days. As spokeswoman for the United Expats of the Netherlands movement, she is busy campaigning against plans stop the 30% ruling tax break for current beneficiaries and hopes their petition will hit 25,000 by the time they present it to MPs later this month. How did you end up in the Netherlands? I moved here for work, of course. There was a position that opened at the University of Amsterdam focusing on children and the media; I did my PhD studies in communication science, with a focus on children and media. And the funny part was that, when that position came out, I must’ve had 10 different people send it to me. And I kept saying: ‘I’m not going to move to Europe, I live in Philadelphia!’ Eventually I applied and next thing you know we accepted a position here. It was definitely fate. I remember the starting over again. We had nothing. Nothing. I remember it was January when we landed – the coldest, darkest time of the year. I remember I said to John: ‘All I wanna do is get a bottle of wine, just sit here on the floor, and we’ll deal with everything tomorrow.’ So we go to the store, figure out how to pay for wine – we didn’t have a pin card yet – come home with a little bottle of wine into our temporary apartment. John goes to open the bottle, and he looks at me…’We don’t have a corkscrew.’ So he grabs his American phone, and finds a YouTube video that tells you how to open a bottle of wine with a wall and a shoe. It worked! That’s my very first memory. How do you describe yourself – an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international etc? I describe myself externally to people as an expat. But ‘expat’ always feels like an outsider, and I don’t feel like an outsider anymore. I just feel like I’m at home. How long do you plan to stay? Well that’s a dicey question. I mean, this is where the 30% ruling comes in. My department and I had an understanding that I was planning to stay on at least as long as I could financially afford to – which would’ve gone through to 2021. But, with the current proposal for the changes to the 30% ruling, I will no longer be able to afford to stay. If you hear how happy I am living here, you’d probably understand how I feel…broken-hearted. I do feel like this is my home and my community. And to be getting this message that ‘We’re going to affect your financial well-being’… you know I have to pay into an American pension plan while I live here. People don’t realise that. So my short answer to everybody is: I will stay for as long as I am happy. But the long answer is: happiness also means being financially smart. Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn? I can speak bar Dutch. I also speak very good conductor Dutch, which is a particular skill. It’s usually in that moment where they say: ‘…and the next stop will be Den Haag,’ and you’re thinking I didn’t think this train was going to The Hague? Early on I was as confused as everyone else … at least now I know what they saying! My favourite word is lekker. Why would you not love that word? You can use it to describe food; you can use it to describe a soft sweater; you can use it to describe a good-looking man. It’s brilliant! I don’t know an equivalent word – it’s not ‘nice’... And you can use lekker for verbs, like lekker zitten. It’s the most useful word I know! I always tell visitors when they come here: ‘Lekker. Just fall back on that; you’ll be good.’ What’s your favourite Dutch food? It is a tie, but I’m going to have to give it to pepernoten. Just delicious! In Amsterdam there’s a whole Pepernotenfabriek, and you can go and there’s so many different versions of this deliciousness – dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white-chocolate. I mean, the basic pepernoten are still my favourite, I’m a purist, but I’d say I’m well versed in options now. I also love the tradition of the chocolate letters. There’s a whole debate because, apparently, there is one letter that weighs more than other letters – I think it might be the letter ‘M’. So all the kids always want to have the letter M. What I love about it the most though, it’s not necessarily the tradition per se, but when it’s Sinterklaas and you give someone a chocolate letter, they immediately have this nostalgia for their youth. And they talk about what Sinterklaas was for them, and you get all these stories. And they’re authentic. How Dutch have you become? Well, I practically live outside now. I think you are encouraged to when you live here – it’s such a beautiful city. I’m a runner. And I became a runner living here. You run down the Amstel river, at 7 o’clock in the morning and no one is there and the water is still, and the sun is reflecting off the water, and you just think: is there a place more beautiful than this? It’s interesting here, because the weather is so notoriously bad that, when it’s beautiful, everyone goes outside. I’m Dutch in that now…I remember when I moved here and there was a nice day and I’d say to my husband: ‘Everybody kind of has their faces up to the sky…?’. And I do it too now – I’m like ‘Oh! It’s here! Face up!’ And I really enjoy it. Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet? Well there’s one who comes to mind: Anne Frank. Without question. She’s the one that stands out to me so much. I read the diary as a schoolgirl, like many of us have done, but I didn’t understand it – not really. During my first visit to Amsterdam (my job interview), I went to the Anne Frank house. It happened to be a day when it wasn’t that crowded – very rare. I remember reading her writing on the wall, which they had preserved. In the US they’d have turned it into something you could see but not be near, whereas here they’d left everything as it was. And it hit me so hard. I tear up thinking about it right now – how she still tried to find happy in awful. I just want to know how you do that. When you read her notes and stories you still see a little girl who’s trying to be a little girl. I was in that room alone, just alone, and I don’t know how long I stood there for. What’s your top tourist tip? When you’re at local places, ask the locals where they go. That’s where I got all my tips from. My husband and I will be at a local bar and if anybody comes in who’s visiting I’m always saying: ‘Here’s my list of top 25 things to do, and none of these are in your guide books!’ I really try to point people to places they might not have thought of, and see things differently. Tell us something surprising you’ve found out about the Netherlands I was surprised to see how quickly a community can care for you. It wasn’t very long after I moved here that my husband became sick – he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. And I remember thinking: ‘Oh my gosh. I have so much to do at work, I have students to teach, I have a presentation to give, and my husband is in the hospital for brain lesions.’ I remember sending an email [to colleagues] and saying: ‘Guys, I have to take a temporary leave while my husband’s in hospital.’ Not a single person asked me about my work tasks. The responses were: ‘Are you OK? What can we do for you? How is John? We send our love. We’ll be here for you.’ Unbelievable support. I remember saying to John at that moment: ‘This is why I love being here; this is the temperament of this country.’ I received love and support and flowers, and I will never forget that. Which is why this 30% ruling feels so opposite to what I know. This proposal makes me feel I’m unwelcome. It makes me feel they want me to leave. I would love for people to know about us expats, to know how we love it here and are contributing – I’m a university professor teaching, researching, and supporting scientific discovery. But this policy will hurt people like me and our families. If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do? My day would start out with a run along the Amstel. A very long run. Super early morning, so I get to smell bakeries making their croissants, I get to see the Albert Cuyp market being set up with its fresh flowers. I come home, and the husband and I go out for brunch at one of our favourite restaurants. After brunch, we head to the market and we see all our favourite market vendors – favourite cheese, favourite flowers, and the guy who knows how to make my Belgian waffles just right. We’ll head to the park, do a long walk, probably in the Vondelpark. We’ll be outside all day – my favourite hashtag here is #naturegirl, isn’t it amazing you can do that in Amsterdam? And then we will probably head to our favourite wine bar where all of our friends are, and spend the evening laughing with friends. That’s my perfect day. And I’m not yet ready for that final day. Jessica Taylor Piotrowski was talking to Joshua Parfitt. You can find out more about the United Expats of the Netherlands here.  More >


‘I wish, I really wish, my Dutch friends would be more proud of their food’

‘I wish, I really wish, my Dutch friends would be more proud of their food’

Ebere Akadiri rebels against the stereotypes of being a ‘trailing spouse’. Before she moved to the Netherlands from Nigeria, with five children in tow, she was running a successful catering business. The boredom she felt after selling her company spurred her on to open up Ataro Food and Spices in The Hague and release a cookbook to raise money for her charity. Oh, and she’s about to complete a Masters degree.  How did you end up in the Netherlands? I followed my husband. He works for Shell... at the time he was working in Port Harcourt, and then they transferred him to The Hague. That was in 2013. So I had to follow him with the children—all five of them. We had to literally pack the whole household and come to the Netherlands. Initially my restaurant business continued for another two years, but when it wasn’t going the way it should I had to let it go. We had two restaurants, and we did catering on the side. We cooked a lot of different foods - did curries and French snacks, as well as key Nigerian foods: jollof rice, egusi soup, pounded yam fufu—they’re all in the book! How do you describe yourself - an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international etc ? I always describe myself as a ‘local expat’. When I came to the Netherlands I was told that I am an ‘expat’ on ‘expat status’, but I chose to be a ‘local expat’. The only way I knew to learn a new culture was to stay close to the people, and so I told the makelaar that I didn’t want to live in areas with just other expats. You can’t ever understand people fully until you are close to them. This has also helped me to position my business... When I first came to the Netherlands I became terribly bored after one year. All my life I have worked. Ever since I graduated from university—even when I was at university—I have always worked. And not just in kitchens. I worked at oild companies before staring my first business. I started in retail, selling women's clothing in Nigeria, and I used to travel a lot to London and the USA. So, when I came here and had nothing to do I became a bit depressed. I felt I was losing my identity. I couldn’t find comfort. That’s when I had a conversation with my husband and he said: 'Maybe you should start up your restaurants again?' I did a market survey, and since I knew Dutch people, I knew that Dutch people didn’t understand anything about Nigerian food. So I changed my model, and began teaching people about Nigerian food. I wanted to teach people more than the food though; I wanted to teach about the culture. I could sense there was a bias about West African food, and West African people, so I decided to let the public into that world. That’s how the cooking workshops started: first with children from the British School in the Netherlands, then their parents, then I launched it outside the school by renting a friend’s kitchen in Rijswijk, and then I moved up to Ataro’s Place on Prinsestraat in The Hague. How long do you plan to stay and why? For now, I’m not sure. When you talk about ‘trailing spouses’, one issue you always hear is uncertainty—not knowing where you will move to next. But for me, because I chose to start up a business here, I’ve already decided that I have to consolidate. We need to stay here for a longer time. I started school again in 2016, a Masters in Management and Leadership at Webster University in Leiden, and I let go of my shop. I graduate next month. So, when I graduate I’m going to kick off with the Ataro’s Place again. I will make sure more people in different cities get to taste West African food. The idea is also to develop a franchise kind of thing, so that people who want to run a West African restaurant learn our system. We have also begun selling Nigerian spices online. I love visions. I believe that when you have a vision, a dream to do good, it might look very big but before you know it you can accomplish something. I have already had a shop on Prinsestraat, so who know’s what is next?  Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn? I will say that I can speak een beetje Dutch! When I came to this country, the first thing I did was to learn Dutch. I was so interested in learning that culture that I registered myself at the British School in the Netherlands to learn Dutch for three months. That wasn’t enough. So I registered with the Leiden University for six months. I was going to school four days a week. My Dutch, however, is still not perfect. I plan to go back to a Dutch-language school for a refresher course after I graduate in May. What's your favourite Dutch food and why? Oh dear, coming from a West African cuisine ambassador... You know, I wish, I really wish, my Dutch friends would be more proud of their food. I wish they could promote it. I have a lot of Dutch friends, but when I ask them what they like to cook they say Indonesian food, or Mediterranean food—so I was asking myself, what is Dutch food apart from bread and cheese? Okay, I know about stamppot but, again, people need to cook you those things. Where can you even buy stamppot? Somebody wrote a piece about my book launch, a Dutch guy, and he wrote that Dutch food also consists of potatoes, meat and vegetables. For me, those ingredients are good enough, so why not use them? Like boerenkool—I use it to make Nigerian vegetable stew. I call it boerenkool stew. I use it at my workshops, and I eat it at home all the time with my rice. It’s a Dutch-Nigerian fusion. I also use Dutch potatoes to make Nigerian yam pottage. How Dutch have you become and why? I remember travelling back to Nigeria after two years, and then my friend held a party there. The party was meant to start at 2pm, so I made sure I was there at five minutes early. Nobody was there—the party started at around 5pm. Then another friend had a party. I got there on time, and when people came two hours later I started screaming: 'Why are people coming late?!' My friend said to me: 'Excuse me, are you no longer Nigerian? This is African time.' I thought, Oh my God, I’m turning Dutch. Because, when I first came to this country, I used to attend meetings very late. I couldn’t do it. So I had to work on myself, like personal development, to change. Now it’s just part of me—and I do actually love it, I’m much more disciplined. Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet and why?Number one would be André Rieu. He’s a popular violinist and composer. Why? When I was learning Dutch at the university, I was asked to choose a Dutch celebrity, to research them, and then to present something about their life. I chose up André Rieu, and since that time I’ve fallen in love with his music! I also would love to meet queen Maxima. She’s someone that I admire, because of the work she’s doing to empower women financially -  financial inclusiveness. It’s close to what I’m also doing back home in Nigeria through my Beauty in Every Life foundation. We are trying to close the gender gap through financial planning and entrepreneurship, so that people can live in dignity and gain financial independence. I know she, the queen, also has projects in Africa—I would love to do a project with her. And the third? There are a lot of famous Dutch cooks, but I’ve already got to meet them! What's your top tourist tip? I love to be alone. I love to be in a quiet place. I live in a beautiful place in The Hague where we have trees around us. There is a wood, and the beautiful thing is that there are some chairs in the middle of the wood. I love to just sit down there and think, and reflect. Anywhere I go on holiday, when my children go to the museum with their daddy, I love to go out to nature to reflect. I also like to be by the beach. The wind helps my brain to be calm. So, in the Netherlands, they have a lot of Centerparcs. I’ve been to three of them, but I most enjoyed the one in Zeeland because of the calmness by the sea. Tell us something surprising you've found out about the Netherlands The surprise for me was how the majority of the Dutch always eat at 6pm. For me, it’s not a question of being early or late, but I believe that food has an emotional connection. You have to eat when you feel like it. When it comes to food, you can’t be robotic. It has to be about your emotional connection—how do I feel? What am I thinking about? What colours have I seen today? What do I want to eat? That was the first shock I had.  Yes, with the children we often eat at 7pm or 7.30, but for us, we eat at any time. Maybe before I go to bed I might feel like snacking. Okay, that might be wrong, but who says it’s wrong? My body tells me that I want to eat. Food for me is more about emotions, about sitting round the table with other people and having a good chat and a laugh. Maybe it’s my culture, because in Nigeria food is not just for filling your stomach: it’s a time for community. I always make this joke in my cooking class about how in Africa we have big pots because, when you cook, you never know if someone is going to visit you. Everything here in the Netherlands is measured: the child gets two pieces of bread on their plate—I’m joking. But everybody in the family has a different appetite, and what if that child gets hungry again? My kids take as much as they feel like from the big pot. It’s good to measure food, to avoid waste, but to me I don’t see it as waste because I put the leftovers in the fridge and we eat it again tomorrow. I think if I had to measure food I would hate food. Food is not mechanical; it’s an experience. If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do? First of all, I’d go to the Bijenkorf department store. I’d just visit quickly, and buy my makeup, my skincare, my tops, and my clothes. If I had more time left, I’d go to the beach. I’d take some nice photos, and listen to the wind. I get 24 hours right? Either way, I’d go to the Bijenkorf first. Ebere Akadiri was talking to Joshua Parfitt. You can buy Ebere's book here.  More >


‘Get a Museumkaart and go to as many museums as you possibly can’

‘Get a Museumkaart and go to as many museums as you possibly can’

Author, publisher, and mentor Jo Parfitt describes herself as a ‘serial expat’. She’s run the steeplechase of raising two sons while cultivating a portable career across seven countries—and still she’s eager for more. Jo lives in The Hague, where last month she launched a new book Monday Morning Emails. She runs her own company Summertime Publishing. How did you end up in the Netherlands? I moved abroad the day after I got married, in 1987. He, my husband, had already been posted to Dubai and we had to get married for me to be able to join him! We have been fortunate to have had many international postings: Dubai, Oman, Norway, the Netherlands, Brunei and Malaysia. My husband works for Shell. This is our second time in The Hague. How do you describe yourself - an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international etc - and why? I would describe myself as a ‘serial expat’. We have moved again, and again, and again, and it’s something that I don’t necessarily want to stop happening. I’ve got used to moving and it’s something that I like doing, one after the other, after the other. I don’t feel I am trailing. I felt I was trailing for the first 10 years, and then I read the book by Robin Pascoe [not the DutchNews.nl editor] called Culture Shock: A Wife’s Guide. I realised I was not mad to be feeling like I was a 2nd class citizen—like chattel. 'I realised that, actually, I was not alone, and that changed my life. From that moment I chose whether I followed or not; I chose whether I stayed in a location and made the most of it; and I chose whether to create a portable career and take it with me. I had plenty of power. How long do you plan to stay and why? We plan to stay as long as the job is here and effective—and until the next opportunity comes along. It is impossible to know how long we will ever be anywhere; the sort of life we lead means that we are permanently in limbo. My husband and I thought that the years after the children had left home would be our golden years. But we find ourselves still very much involved in our adult children’s lives and increasingly in demand as our parents age. We have one son in Germany, another boomerang child at home again, and our parents are all still alive and in England. My father is lapsing into dementia, my mother is finding it impossible to cope; much as we love living abroad, I am torn. Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn? My Dutch is terrible. When I first came here in 2004, I had a few lessons. I tried to use it, and became rather disheartened when people replied to move in English. Then we went to Malaysia for three and a half years, and now we are back again. This time I am making more of an effort, and I find that most of my learning comes from food shopping and eating in restaurants. So I do my best to at least make my Dutch right in those situations. I thoroughly enjoy speaking languages and I find that my best teachers are the people in the shop below us. It’s called De Kruidentuin. The people in there, they have become my friends—my family even. They speak to me very slowly and clearly in Dutch, and correct me, and we have a huge laugh everytime that I’m in there. They call my son the bovenbuurman, we call them the benedenbuurmannen, and I’ve been known to go down in my dressing gown! What's your favourite Dutch food and why? Oh gosh—herring. Raw herring. Down in one with the onions on it. No bread. We went to Vlaggetjesdag last year and thoroughly enjoyed it. The herring is healthy, it’s local, it’s fresh, it’s extremely tasty, and good for me! How Dutch have you become and why? Well, I’ve always been fairly blunt, so I don’t know that I can blame the Dutch for making me more forthright! I’ve always had a dry sense of humour, so I understand their sense of humour and am less offended than some people. I adore having a bicycle—that has made a huge difference to me. I adore the green spaces and am almost proud of the architecture they have here, as if it were my own. And I wear purple glasses. People accuse me of having Dutch glasses. Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet and why? Anne Frank. For being an incredible writer who was able to write openly and honestly, and show her vulnerability at a time when she must have been full of emotions. She is a wonderful example of somebody who can write vividly and compellingly about real life. I would like to go, and I would congratulate her, and nurture her. I’d like to see whatever I could do for her career. We owe an awful lot to her. I would also like to meet Jan Steen. And go round with him painting his interiors. I would love to be a fly on the wall in those scenes, and to understand the culture that lies behind so many of his paintings. And I would like to meet Helene Kröller-Müller, for creating my favourite art gallery in the most wonderful place: in the Hoge Veluwe. I would like to go round with her and meet all these new artists that she met when she was buying from them—she wanted to get them going. I think she would be a thoroughly inspiring and wonderful philanthropist to meet. What's your top tourist tip? Get a Museumkaart and go to as many museums as you possibly can. They are incredible in The Netherlands and there are many of them. It’s about €60 a year to go to all the museums you like. So, even if you come for a month, the card will pay for itself in just three galleries.  Tell us something surprising you've found out about the Netherlands My knowledge of Dutch, albeit scant, has meant that I can now understand Norwegian more than I could—which I found very interesting. I was very interested to discover that some Indonesian, and Malay, words are also Dutch. I’m surprised at the influence. How such a language, that tends to not be spoken all over the world, actually does have little pepperings here and there. If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do? I would go back to the Mauritshuis, and go catch the Keukenhof gardens before they close. I find the Mauritshuis a wonderful, manageable art gallery. I would say goodbye to my favourite paintings—my absolute favourite painting is Vermeer’s View over Delft, because I know that spot, I know that light. It resonates with me because I recognise it; it feels so real, yet it is so very old. I would go to the Keukenhof gardens because you cannot beat being surrounded by all that colour. It feeds the soul. I could sit in a kaleidoscope, but this is real. Jo Parfitt was speaking to her son, Joshua Parfitt. You can find out more about Jo and Summertime Publishing via her website. Monday Morning Emails can be ordered online.  More >


‘I plan to stay here forever, no question. My wife and everyone I love, is here’

‘I plan to stay here forever, no question. My wife and everyone I love, is here’

While he was working at NASA, Houston resident Carl Guderian decided he was ready for a change. A trip to an event for hackers in Lelystad wound up changing his life forever. He now lives in Amsterdam where he works as an engineer. How did you end up in the Netherlands? Around 1990, I was besotted with Mondo 2000 and Wired Magazine and I hung out with hackers. By 1991, I’d also gotten most of my way through a graduate study of Futures Forecasting and picked the newfangled Internet as my subject of study. In 1993, I went to a hacker camp out near Lelystad called Hacking at the End of the Universe. I’d been working for seven years at NASA and I was looking for a change. I was also tired of working for a government contractor. I visited Amsterdam and the Hague and liked both, but I had no definite plans to move here. At that camp out, though, I met someone else from Houston and we got together a year later. As luck had it, those hackers I’d hung with all went to work for an internet company in Virginia in 1996. One of them called me up out of the blue and said I should quit my job because I could easily work there. Two years later, the company opened a data-centre in Amsterdam and I managed to talk my way into that, too. The company sort of evaporated, but the remains were bought by another company, so here I am, 18 years later. How do you describe yourself – an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international? A cross between immigrant and lovepat, I guess. I’m not with the person I came here with, but who I’m with now, we’re both lifers and wouldn’t really live anywhere else. It helped that I came here when times were relatively good in the US. It was 1998, the height of the dotcom boom, and during the relatively benign Clinton years. I was also living in DC at the time, so the higher cost of living relative to that of Houston wasn’t so much of a shock. I was ready to try something different. It also helped that I had met a lot of Dutch people before I moved here, and we had common interests related to my field, which was rare at the time. How long do you plan to stay? Forever. No question. My wife is here and everyone I love is here. I certainly love the labour laws, many of which don’t exist back in the US or even the UK. I live in Amsterdam and my life is generally relaxed, even though it’s a world capital and mobbed by tourists. I can walk everywhere or ride my bike. There’s also the way that people live. When you leave work, you generally don’t take it with you and people just appreciate life. They also generally push back if there’s any attempt to make things, how shall we say, more ‘Anglo American’. Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn? I get by. I can speak it for awhile and can understand spoken Dutch most times, with some effort. I can read it very well and write it in a pinch. When I first came here, the company I worked for paid for a basic-level course. I also subscribe to De Volkskraant, and have collected a lot of old Dutch prints, especially the rude cartoons about the 1720 financial bubble. There were three bubbles, actually, and a lot of people invested in some really shady companies. The Dutch ones were fairly legitimate, like for public works projects, but there’s no way they could guarantee the returns. There were lots of satirical cartoons about them and they’re really hard to find. They’re very funny, they’re very rude, and I’ve spent a lot of time trying to make sense of them. So I practised my Dutch by studying 18th century cultural references and that sort of thing. It’s an odd way to practice Dutch but that’s what I did. I still collect old prints, optical views, and maps. What’s your favourite Dutch food? Broodje haring, no question. Erwtensoep in the winter, though I normally don’t like peas. How Dutch have you become? Hmm, hard to say. I’ve lost my Texas drawl, mostly. Maybe it’s more of a European thing than a Dutch thing, but I tend to take a longer view than I used to. I’ll be 55 in June. I try not to get too worked up about daily news. Of course, I follow it and jump on it like anybody else but I try to adopt a slower attitude, I suppose. It helps that I can have that though, with the kind of work I do and the hours I keep at my workplace. I’m not always stressed, like a lot of American or British people. Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet? Pieter Teyler van der Hulst: He was a fellow collector and I collect a lot of things myself. He collected mostly old drawings by artists from Italy and France and some Rembrandts as well. What he intended as a sort of ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ turned into a massive collection instead. Hendrik Goltzius: He’s the artist in Haarlem who influenced Peter Paul Rubens. He’d travelled down to Rome and he helped popularise Caravaggio. During the 80 Years’ War Rubens actually came to Haarlem from Antwerp to visit him. I read an article recently about how it was fairly easy to travel back then. There were even time tables for the barges along the canals. It was just like taking the train now. Slower, of course, but still as dependable. Maria Sibylla Merian: She’s the artist of nature who travelled to Suriname and was one of the remarkable women from Dutch history. Merian was interested in naturalism and her father was an engraver from Germany. She did a lot of drawings and her engravings were complied in a collection that was published shortly after she died. What’s your top tourist tip? The Kröller-Müller Museum. It’s down by Apeldoorn in the Hoge Veluwe National Park. There’s a really big sculpture park with a museum that has a large collection of Robert van 't Hoff drawings. You can walk around on one of the sculptures. It’s by Jean Dubuffet and it’s pretty impressive. Arranging a trip there requires a lot of organisation, though. If you take public transport, you need to get started really early in the morning. You’ve got to get on a train to Appeldorn and ride a bus to the park. Then you’ve got to bike to the museum since it’s pretty far into the Hoge Veluwe. It’s a lot of fun, especially if the weather cooperates. Tell us something surprising you’ve found out about the Netherlands The Palace on the Dam’s main floor has the first global map that shows part of Australia. If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do? I’d go see the Jesuit art caves in Maastricht. There’s a lot of old salt and coal mines in the area. Once they were emptied out, they left behind caves that were quite useful. A Jesuit order had an art school in one of them, I believe, and it has a lot of drawings and paintings on the walls, many of which are based on works by famous artists. Maybe I should pick something more practical but I have always wanted to see them. Carl Guderian was talking to Brandon Hartley.  More >


‘I can feel at home here without knowing the language’

‘I can feel at home here without knowing the language’

Shadi Mokhtar (29) moved to Amsterdam four years ago, after he got a job at Booking.com. The Egyptian native says he loves the simplicity and honesty he witnesses in Dutch culture, and he is surprised by the strong work-life balance here. How did you end up in the Netherlands? After working for several startups and small agencies in Egypt, I wanted to work for a bigger company. Many Egyptians move to the UAE or the Gulf countries to build their career, but I was looking for something different. In some of those countries, you get a different treatment based on where you come from. One of my father's friends lived in the Gulf area for thirty years, raised all his children there, but never got permanent residency or citizenship. After so many years he still couldn't call that place home. I was looking for a new home, not just an opportunity with an end date. So I applied for a few jobs in Europe, one of them at Booking.com in Amsterdam. They invited me for an interview, and that’s how I got to the Netherlands for the first time in my life. To my amazement they offered me the job on the very same day! How do you describe yourself - an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international etc? Good question, actually I never thought about it before. I just live here. If I have to choose from that list, expat comes closest. But the word expat puts you in a bubble. It distances you from the rest of society, and automatically prevents you from integrating. I would rather say I feel like an Egyptian living in Holland. How long do you plan to stay? I plan to stay as long as the government will allow me, haha. No, I have been here now for more than four years, and meanwhile I married a Dutch woman. We are expecting a baby this year, so I have no plans to go elsewhere. Right now, I am very happy here, and that is all that matters. Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn? A little bit. Enough to manage day to day situations, such as grocery shopping. I did two language courses and I use online apps, such as Duolingo and Memrise. What's your favourite Dutch food? Stamppot is the first thing that comes up in my mind now, but to be honest I am not a big fan of it. I do like hagelslag, but I don’t count that as food. I think my real favourites are haring, and kroketjes. How Dutch have you become? I would say 80%, that is the language and the cycling excluded. I've really come to appreciate directness. In Egypt you always have to be diplomatic, you can’t just say whatever you think. Here it is the exact opposite. I also got more frugal since I got here. I proudly buy stuff with discounts, or use the same phone for years. That would never have happened to me in the Gulf area, where excessiveness and social status play a major role. Everyone wants to have the latest phone, the biggest house. Dutch culture to me is about honesty and simplicity. That is something I appreciate about the Netherlands, you don’t have to show off. Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet? Joris Luyendijk, journalist and author of the book People Like Us. He has an interesting background, as he lived in both Cairo and the Netherlands. He almost perfectly understands the nuances of the two cultures that I am closest to. Eberhard van der Laan, the mayor of Amsterdam who passed away last year. I feel bad that I only got to know him after he died. From what I have heard and seen, he has had a big influence. Hany Abu-Assad, a Palestinian-Dutch film director. He is an amazing writer, and the way his movies explore different aspects of Palestinian culture and history are very impressive. What's your top tourist tip? My wife would say Terschelling, but I prefer the cities. Rotterdam is special because it is such a huge contrast with other cities, due to its modern buildings and architecture. But my number one is definitely Maastricht, with its rural landscapes and good food. I love to walk inside the cobblestoned town centre with its narrow alleys and winding streets. And I never leave Maastricht without visiting my favourite bookshop, Boekhandel Dominicanen. Tell us something surprising you've found out about the Netherlands Even if you don’t speak the language fluently, you can easily integrate, make local friends, and feel part of society. In many other countries, such as Italy and France, language is essential for integration. But here, you can really feel at home without knowing the language. I think people easily use their inability to speak Dutch as an excuse not to integrate. Many of my friends do it, and I even catch myself doing it sometimes. Besides that, I am impressed by the strong work-life balance here. Working hours are clearly defined, and family and social life are considered extremely important. It still amazes me to see how many people here prefer to work part time, something which is rarely an option back home. If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do? I’d take my wife and spend the day with her and her family. And hopefully I can take my cat with me as well! Shadi Mokhtar was talking to Laura Vrijsen   More >


‘The Dutch manage to make peace with water so it is not such a huge threat’

‘The Dutch manage to make peace with water so it is not such a huge threat’

Polish business consultant Daria Kanters moved to the Netherlands from Warsaw for love. Though the country now feels a lot like home, she still marvels at the Dutch ability to manage water, their future-oriented outlook, and the variety of hapjes they can make. How did you end up in the Netherlands? It was love, it was my [Dutch] husband, and it was a romantic adventure. We met skiing in France and then we met a couple of times in Amsterdam and in Warsaw. Then we decided to give our relationship a serious try. We were flying to each other almost every weekend. We met in 2009 and in 2011 we decided to start living together and I moved to the Netherlands. So, love is one reason, if you look up close. But I think - if you look from a distance - I can now say that many of us expats that come here are just adventurous. In our association [Polish Professional Women in the Netherlands], all the women have one great feature: they are courageous. There is this energy, wanting to start new things from the beginning. How do you describe yourself - an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international etc? After almost seven years here, I’m a bit of everything. It fluctuated. It started as love, because love was the main reason I came here, but then I started to work as an in-house lawyer in Amsterdam, so I became more of an expat, let’s say. I also studied migration and European law at Radboud university and that was very international, with many people from around the world coming to study here. I got very involved in the creation of the Polish Professional Women network here in the Netherlands, working with fabulous women, all of them expats - so that was a big part of my life. But, on the other hand, I live in quite a small place, Cuijk [near Nijmegen], and there are not many expats here, and I think of myself, after all this time, as a local. I am very much involved in what is going on here. I try not to think too much about ‘us and them’. I connect with people, not based on the fact that I’m not Dutch-born, but rather: What are our interests? What drives us? What do we want to give? What do we want to get? This is very much human, regardless of what labels we acquire at given moments of our lives. How long do you plan to stay? I now have my family here and I’m not done yet here. I want to improve my Dutch. I also want to develop my business [with co-founder Monika Boomgaard]. We see that we can be a great example to other people, for example from Poland, coming to the Netherlands, who want to start their own business. I think that people disappear from where they come from much faster than they appear in the new place because building [a new life] takes time. It’s like with the garden: if you let it go, it’s going to grow, and the shape which you gave it in the beginning is going to disappear very quickly. But if you want it to look like your dream garden, you really have to make an effort. I think many people who move to another country don’t know that yet. My advice would be: go and volunteer in some organisation. Don’t stay at home and don’t think too much about what you left behind. Try to build something new. Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn? Yes. I was very determined. When I moved here, I did a Dutch course for half a year and then I passed the state exam. I wanted to learn. I watched Dutch TV, I tried to read Dutch magazines. My advice for anybody who comes to another country would be to learn the language, otherwise you’re always going to lick the ice cream through the glass.  What's your favourite Dutch food? I like hapjes. For me that was something new - that you can present every food in this form of hapjes [small snacks]. They can be very useful as they are very quick to make. On the other hand, if you have more time, they can be very beautiful and sophisticated and you can make them very special. What a great invention! You don’t have to stand for hours in the kitchen. This was a revelation for me. I was brought up with parties where the food was more like a meal. Here, for the first time, there was this continuous eating during the party. How Dutch have you become? Am I Dutch? Am I Polish? Well, I feel myself – and I feel comfortable, and I like being in the Netherlands. My husband is very Dutch, I think. But I never think when I look at him ‘Oh, you are Dutch!’ No! I think, ‘You are Jos. You are my husband. And I am Daria.’ I think that I’m now more future-oriented than past-oriented. I think that this is a very Dutch thing. Now, I’m more like: OK, this was how it was in the past, but now we can all decide how we want it in the future. I don’t have this tearing feeling in me that I’m crossing some boundaries or destroying some traditional belief or monument. I also think I have become happier. I don’t know if this is very Dutch but whenever I read about happiness, I see that the Dutch are very high in the rankings, and I think that this is maybe something which I got from being here. Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet ? I would start with a sportsman, for example, Epke Zonderland. I think I should do more sport, and if I were to meet a person like him who has been doing sport all his life, I would ask him, ‘How do you become so persistent?’ This is a feature which is also so necessary in business. You have this great idea: I’m going to get a gold medal at the Olympics - but how do you transform this ultimate goal into your everyday plan and start? After breakfast, I would like you to take me to meet Linda de Mol. I see her as a business woman. I would like to meet with her and ask her, ‘How do you do this – and for so many years already?’ It seems like all her business ideas are being transformed into reality. So that would be something which I could really learn from her. If I had already been enlightened by Linda de Mol and there was time for dinner, then Frans Timmermans would be the person who I would love to talk to. I would like to talk politics with him and ask him, ‘Where are we going in the Netherlands, in Europe, in Poland...?’ What's your top tourist tip? We have a tradition in our family that we go to every province of the Netherlands, and we go to a small town or the main town of the province. We spend two days there and we eat something traditional and we try to talk to people because they have different dialects. We also go to the provinciehuis [county hall]. We have a collection of photos of provinciehuizen! We still have three or four provinces to go and these are our weekends away. There are four of us in our family, so everybody has to prepare a couple of provinces and then they are the guide. Tell us something surprising you've found out about the Netherlands What still surprises me is the water. Every country has neighbours and there are challenges with the politics. One of the neighbours of the Netherlands is water. You cannot talk to water. You cannot negotiate with water. Yet they still manage to make peace with water so that the water is not such a huge threat. It was not so long ago when they showed here on TV that in the neighbourhood of Nijmegen they’re going to let the water flood because the level is so high. How they do this is really remarkable and admirable. We could all learn from this how to deal with the things which we cannot change. If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do? If I had only 24 hours, then I would use my pragmatic side. Not to disappoint you, but I think I would start to pack. I could make something up like I would go and see the sunset, but it’s just not true! But I am also attached to people, so most probably there would be some kind of party - maybe not huge, but I would like to invite all of those people who helped me to become who I am here in the Netherlands. You can find out more about Daria’s business consultancy at condible.com. For more information about the Polish professional women's association, go to: www.polishprofessionalwomen.com. Daria Kanters was talking to Deborah Nicholls-Lee  More >


‘I’m incredibly touched by the Dutch dedication to the memories of the WWII liberators’

‘I’m incredibly touched by the Dutch dedication to the memories of the WWII liberators’

Sherry Keneson-Hall works for the US foreign service and has lived in 38 cities to date. During her stint in the Netherlands so far, she has done the Vierdaagse in Nijmegen, swum in the sea on New Year's Day and developed a passion for Limburgse vlaai with cherries. How did you end up in the Netherlands? I joined the Foreign Service right after graduate school in 2002, six months after 9/11. I went through formation classes, learned French, and began my first two year post in Guinea that December. Then I moved to Brussels where I served almost two and a half years and then on to Sofia in Bulgaria for three years and Prague for another three years. Now I’m on my fifth overseas tour here in the Netherlands. I’d been to the Netherlands before while I was living in Belgium to visit Delft, the Keukenhof and Amsterdam. I also came over as part of the delegation when former POTUS Barack Obama was here during the 2014 Nuclear Security Summit and it was a lot of fun. We do have some say when we apply for postings. We call that ‘lobbying,’ and it involves applying, sending out resumes, calling, and interviewing for jobs. As you might imagine, Den Haag is very sought after and it’s a very nice place to come for a posting. It was a hard battle to get here, but I’m very happy that it all worked out. How do you describe yourself – an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international etc? I feel like a bit of a nomad. I was a military child and my stepfather was in the army so we moved quite often. So I now consider myself an ‘eternal expat’. Every few years, my family and I move to another place. After a little while, I also start to itch for a new adventure. However, my kids are now getting to an age where they’re getting less enthusiastic about moving. It becomes harder when you become a teenager and start to form real roots and things like that. So we’ll see how everything goes when we leave the Netherlands in a few years. How long do you plan to stay? We’ll get to stay here for three years, total, and I wish we could stay longer. In the Foreign Service, it’s a three year posting for ‘nice’ tours and for ‘hardship’ tours it’s generally two years. Then there’s ‘unaccompanied’ tours that are dangerous and you can’t bring your family. Those are a one year posting. Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn? I studied Dutch at the Foreign Service Institute for almost six months. For postings, we usually do eight hour days, five days a week for 24 weeks in order to learn a language. It became so much harder when I actually got to the Netherlands, though, and I feel like my Dutch was better before I arrived. So many people here speak good English and it’s difficult to actually use your Dutch. I also thought it was funny that I was assigned to read one of the Harry Potter books in Dutch while I was in training. A lot of the names are different. In the original, the school is called Hogwarts. In the Dutch version, it’s Zweinstein. I thought that was entertaining, but it happens in other countries, too. I remember watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer in French and the character Xander’s name had been changed to Alec. What’s your favourite Dutch food? I adore Limburgse vlaai, or, as they call it in down in Limburg, ‘vla-uh’. I really like the cherry kind, which is like really good cherry pie. I’m kind of happy that it’s only available down in Limburg because I’d eat it more often if it was closer. How Dutch have you become? I keep trying to become more Dutch. I did the Rotterdam Marathon this year and the Vierdaagse, the ‘Four Day March’, in Nijmegen. At the same time though, I cannot ride my bike when it’s rainy, windy, or snowy. I’m not as brave as my Dutch friends. But I also did the Nieuwjaarsduik last year, when people dive into the North Sea on New Year's Day in Scheveningen. Even if you don’t go in the water, it’s still fun to go down there for the atmosphere. It’s probably more fun than actually doing it. It was really cool...and very cold. That sand was freezing! I didn’t know how cold sand could get since I’d never been barefoot on a beach in the middle of winter before. Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet? Johannes Vermeer: I’ve been crazy about Vermeer since 1995 when I was in college. An exhibit came to the States with 21 of his 35 existing works. It was all over the place and featured in National Geographic. It seemed to be everywhere but I didn’t get to see it. I still became enamoured with Vermeer and would love to spend a day with him. Corrie Ten Boom: She was not only an incredibly brave person but I think she’s symbolic of the thousands of Dutch people who tried to hide and save their Jewish friends, neighbours, and colleagues during World War 2. She is truly inspirational and most American school children read The Hiding Place as part of the curriculum. Xander Bogaerts: I am a diehard Boston Red Sox fan and I think it’s incredibly cool that they have a member of the Netherlands national team playing for them. My eldest son is named Xander as well. We call him ‘X Man,’ which is Bogaerts’ nickname, too. He’s someone I’d really like to meet. What’s your top tourist tip? It’s not very well known but there’s the Drents Museum in the city of Assen. They currently have an amazing exhibition called ‘The American Dream: American Realism: 1945 - 1965’. So they have works by Hopper, Warhol, Rockwell, Wyeth, and Estes. It’s incredible. The amount of art they’ve been able to pour into it is really top notch and they’re from some of the best museums in the world. The city is decked out in American flags and they’ve even built their own Statue of Liberty that will be in one of the main squares for the duration of the exhibition. Assen is also a beautiful city. It’s very quaint and I don’t think many tourists ever go there. It would definitely be off the beaten path but also very special. Tell us something surprising you’ve found out about the Netherlands Something that struck me as incredibly touching was the Dutch dedication to the memories of the liberators during World War II. As the public affairs person at the embassy, I often put together the programmes for the Operation Market Garden commemorations or the Nijmegen ‘Crossing of the Waal River’ commemoration. Every year, children in Nijmegen write poems and essays about the crossing and the American troops who did that. There are more than 8,000 American soldiers buried in Margraten at the Netherlands American Cemetery. I think there’s about 1,300 graves for soldiers that were never identified and they’ve all been adopted by Dutch citizens since 1946. There’s currently a waiting list of about 400 Dutch families that are waiting to adopt one. I find that incredibly touching, especially coming from a military family, that they haven’t been forgotten. I wish more Americans knew about that. If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do? I really want to cross the Waddenzee. You can only do it during certain times of the year, though, usually in the summer. There’s a programme that I was going to do with a friend last year but the stars didn’t line up. It takes about eight to ten hours because you have to do it quickly enough to avoid getting trapped after the sea rolls back but you can literally walk from the Netherlands to the islands. It seems like something that would be so cool because it’s a UNESCO protected site and it’s something that you can only really do here. It’s definitely on my bucket list for the Netherlands. Sherry Keneson-Hall was talking to Brandon Hartley  More >


‘The Dutch make the most of the sun at every opportunity’

‘The Dutch make the most of the sun at every opportunity’

Online marketing expert Veronica Guguian is a Romanian national who moved to Amsterdam nearly eight years ago in search of adventure. She is a big fan of the Dutch diary culture, would like to meet Anouk and says stamppot reminds her of home. How did you end up in the Netherlands? My story is quite boring really. I fit in the classic pattern: I followed my partner here. He came to the Netherlands to work in IT and we thought 'let's have an adventure', so I came with him. Back in Romania I was involved in e-commerce and I had an e-commerce platform and a concept store selling French designer clothes. I used to organise fashion shows to promote them and had a lot of fun. Once in the Netherlands, I decided to get a job with a company to learn about Dutch work culture. This is how I started working at Expatica as a marketing consultant and account manager. I’ve since started up my own online marketing company Spin Ideas.  How do you describe yourself - an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international etc? I am an international. I believe we define ourselves through the life we live, our friends and our experiences. My friends are from all the corners of the world, same as my clients, and I love it. I feel I am learning so much from them; about life, different cultures, different ways of doing business. And because of that, I consider myself an international. How long do you plan to stay? I am not sure. I believe in: 'Never say never'. If you would have told me six months before moving the Netherlands, that is would happen, I would have never thought it  possible. And yet, here  I am, almost eight years later. One thing I know for sure - I will not die here. There is a whole world out there waiting to be explored. And I would love to live in a warm country, even if only for a short while. Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn? I understand Dutch but besides ordering my food in Dutch, I don’t speak it. I want to, but is hard to get out of the comfort zone. And because everyone in Amsterdam and the Netherlands speaks English, it is hard to get motivated. Of course my mother tongue is Romanian, so I've spent the past few years getting my English up to scratch. Maybe now I should focus on Dutch. What's your favourite Dutch food? Stamppot. It is comfort food and reminds me of home. In Romania we eat a lot of stews in the winter, and the main ingredients - potatoes and sausage -  are the same. I've never cooked it myself, but my Dutch friends cook it for me - all sorts of different varieties. It reminds me a little of home. How Dutch have you become? I've become pretty Dutch in some ways - it suits me. I am an organised person, and always need to have a plan, so I love the way everyone uses a diary and plans in advance. It is hard to be efficient and productive without a plan. Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet? Anouk – I love her songs. Piet Mondriaan – for him art was not a reflection of the reality, it was higher than that. He one said 'art should be above reality, otherwise it would have no value for man'. I would have loved to talk to him about how he viewed the world. This will sound odd probably, but the person who created the Walter's - The Walter Woodbury Bar on Javastraat. They've created several other locations on the same street and all are great. I would like to meet the person behind Walter's because I would love to work with them. What's your top tourist tip? Don’t stay in the touristy areas of Amsterdam. If you go couple of streets further out, no matter what area you are, you will discover the real city. Just enter a neighbourhood café, grab a coffee or a fresh mint thee and start talking to the locals. This is how you will get to know Amsterdam. And of course, don't forget to visit Haarlem either. It's only 15 minutes away by train and is a great place to find good food and to go shopping. Tell us something surprising you've found out about the Netherlands The Dutch make the most of the sun at every opportunity. Before moving here, I took the sun for granted. But this changed when I moved here and saw how depressing it can get without the sun. I remember, not long after I moved, I saw a business man in a beautiful suit. The sun had just come out after a week of solid rain and I watched him take off his jacket and lie on the grass to enjoy the sun. I started doing the same thing. If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do? I would rent a boat and cruise the Amsterdam canals. Of course, in this scenario it is high summer, around 30 degrees, and there is not a cloud in the sky. You can find out more about Spin Ideas via the website,  Facebook and Twitter. Veronica Guguian was talking to Robin Pascoe  More >


‘The beaches on Terschelling are amazing – you can take fantastic photos’

‘The beaches on Terschelling are amazing – you can take fantastic photos’

Veteran journalist Andy Clark has worked for BBC Radio, Radio Television Hong Kong, and Radio Netherlands Worldwide. The Middlesbrough native, who would like to interview Geert Wilders and loves the Dutch islands, currently lives in Leiden. He now hosts a popular podcast titled Here in Holland. How did you end up in the Netherlands? I was working in Hong Kong where I met my wife, Julie, who is also British. We got together and lived there for a while. Then we decided to come back to Europe. My wife grew up here, although she’s British, in the town of Oegstgeest. She was an expat kid for many years and said, ‘well, home for me is the Netherlands’. I said, ‘OK, let’s give it a whirl’. That was in 1998 and I’ve been here ever since. How do you describe yourself – an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international etc? International, I guess. I don’t really like these labels very much, to be honest with you, but I would pick ‘international’ out of that list. I’m British but I have Dutch nationality as well now. I took the Dutch nationality exam just a few months ago because of the uncertainties surrounding Brexit. I was eligible to keep my British passport and all. Now I have a Dutch passport as well so it was a bit of a no brainer. How long do you plan to stay? I’ve got no plans to leave as long as everything’s working well and I’m happy and our kids are happy. I have three daughters here. The oldest one, Bethany is 20 and she’s at Utrecht University studying medicine. There’s also Zoe, who’s 17, and our youngest, Melissa, is 15. Bethany was born in Hong Kong and she was six months old when we came here. The younger two were born here in Leiden at LUMC so they’ve all been brought up as Dutch kids in a British family. Zoe and Melissa will be leaving school and starting university in the next couple of years so I can’t see myself going anywhere anytime soon. Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn? I do speak Dutch. I learned while I was working for Radio Netherlands. I was lucky enough that my employer encouraged me and my international colleagues to learn Dutch. They facilitated that very well by having a Dutch teacher come in once a week. I continued by taking lessons a few years later. When my kids started going to school here, that was really the time when things started to take off. The first six months or year of your kids being in school is kind of nice and there’s a certain charm that comes with being the only English parent at the school playground. After a while though, you feel a bit embarrassed, especially after one year, two years, or even three years go by and you’re still not speaking Dutch very well. That’s when I felt the pressure to improve my Dutch and really get involved in Dutch society. What’s your favourite Dutch food? Let’s go with erwtensoep. It’s nice in the winter when the cold, wet, and miserable Dutch weather has taken hold. It’s great to warm yourself up with some erwtensoep and some nice Dutch bread. It’s good and practically a central heating system for the body for all those Dutch winter days. How Dutch have you become? Quite Dutch, I think. I speak Dutch and work in Dutch quite a lot as well. So more and more, I would say. I work for myself now since the beginning of this year. I work in a communal office space with lots of Dutch people and Dutch companies. So I don’t know what percentage that would make me. Maybe 70% Dutch? I think you’ll never become 100% Dutch as an international. There’s something in your background and there’s all those cultural references that you can’t really catch up with. Sometimes when I’m talking with my Dutch friends, they’ll mention something that used to be on TV or something they used to do as kids that I just don’t have. I think, to some extent, you’re always a bit of an outsider but the Dutch are pretty easy-going and they accept everybody as well. Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet? Johan Cruyff: He’s still recognised as *the* best footballer or at least one of the best footballers of all time. He also had his own unique brand of philosophy and unique views on life. His whole story is kind of counter-intuitive and he followed his own path the whole time. So it would be great to talk to him and ask what motivated him. He was the hero of the Ajax but then he went on to play for their arch-enemies, the Feyenoord. Then there’s all his experiences with the Dutch national team. It’s all so fascinating and such a part of Dutch culture. Herman Brood: He was a cult figure, a Dutch cultural figure, and kind of a marginal figure in some ways. He was interesting in that he was an artist but also a musician and a drug addict. He threw himself off the top of the Hilton Hotel in Amsterdam in the end so it’s a tragic, rock ‘n’ roll story of a misunderstood, pained artist. It would be fascinating to talk to him about what his drivers were and ask him for his thoughts on Dutch culture; maybe have him take a look at what’s happening now and ask him for his take on it all. Geert Wilders: Not because I’m a fan, but it would be interesting to sit down with him and ask, ‘What motivates you’? As a journalist and as a podcaster now as well, I think it could be a fascinating conversation if he was prepared to talk openly about what he’s really trying to do and why. I’d like to do a critical interview with Wilders and take him apart, which I don’t think would be so difficult. He protects himself and, like Donald Trump, he uses Twitter the whole time to communicate. He only comes out from behind the curtain when it suits him. I think it would be great to sit him down and surround him with microphones and cameras and say, ‘OK, you’re not moving for an hour and a half. Here we go!’ What’s your top tourist tip? Go to the islands, if you can. In a single day, that might be tricky, though. Texel and Terschelling are absolutely fantastic. The beaches on Terschelling are amazing. They’re so wide and you can take fantastic photos. It’s a great place for walks and there’s a fantastic feeling of nature, which can be a bit unexpected in the Netherlands. If you’re looking for cities, I’d say head to Leiden. It’s a great alternative to Amsterdam, which is so full of tourists and kitsch these days. Leiden doesn’t really have that and there’s so many great things to do. Otherwise, head to another small city like Delft or Gouda. But my number one tip would be to get to the islands. If you’ve got to pick one, go to Terschelling. Oerol, their arts and cultural festival, which is in June, is a fantastic thing to visit. There’s all these great, big art installations and performances all over the island. With all the nature serving as a backdrop, it’s fantastic. Tell us something surprising you’ve found out about the Netherlands The formal rules of engagement in social situations. In some ways, the Dutch can be quite conservative. The shaking of hands, the kissing, and greeting everybody at birthday parties while they all sit in a circle. That’s all quite different from what I’d seen and experienced outside the country. A lot of people have this cliche that Dutch society is super liberal and anything goes but, in day-to-day social engagements, there are rules. If you don’t know those rules or don’t follow those rules then things can get awkward. A lot of expats and internationals struggle with this, especially in the beginning, but it’s something you’ve got to get your head around. You need to think to yourself, ‘OK, this is just how the Dutch operate’. Once you know that, then it’s fine. If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do? I think I would take a mega walk. I would head to the coast and go to either Noordwijk, Zandvoort, or maybe even further. Then I’d walk all the way south to Scheveningen. I’ve done that in the past from Noordwijk and it’s about 20 kilometres. It would be a good way to contemplate all the years in the Netherlands before leaving. If I went down there with some good friends, at the end of it, we’d go for a meal and then back to Leiden to the Bonte Koe, which is a fantastic bar. So a big, massive walk down the beach and then finally finish up at the Bonte Koe with some great Belgian beer. You can check out Andy’s podcast, Here in Holland, by visiting its website or its Facebook page. Andy was talking to Brandon Hartley  More >


‘The red light district is one of the most beautiful parts of Amsterdam’

‘The red light district is one of the most beautiful parts of Amsterdam’

Travel blogger, museum guide and Dutch cheese addict Tea Gudek Šnajdar from Haarlem emigrated from Croatia in 2013 in search of adventure. At work or at play, there is nowhere she’s rather be than at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, marvelling at the Golden Age masterpieces. How did you end up in the Netherlands? My husband and I wanted to go somewhere abroad, and we had this idea while we were both still studying to go somewhere outside Croatia and get an international experience. When we graduated, we said let’s both look for jobs somewhere in Europe. We actually knew very little about the Netherlands before we came, but then my husband got an interview, and then a job offer, and within a month, we were in Amsterdam! It was really fast. How do you describe yourself - an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international etc I would say a little bit of all of them. When I came here I saw myself more as a combination of lovepat and immigrant, but then, today, I think this image of myself has changed. In my job, I work with people from all around the world. I also travel a lot. So, I consider myself today more of an international. How long do you plan to stay and why? I’m not sure, to be honest. I love the Netherlands and now I consider it to be my other homeland, but I don’t really see myself living in one place my whole life. Since I’m getting more and more location-independent in my job, I think that I will probably move somewhere else at some point. It’s sort of harder because now there are not only two of us - now we have a son who is three, and who is really a little Dutchie. He loves it here and it would be a hard decision because of him. Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn? I can have a simple conversation in a restaurant or in a store or supermarket, but you know how it is, whenever I speak in Dutch, they really fix on my accent and then they speak in English. It’s very nice and polite from people here but it’s not helping with my Dutch. I did one of these very fast courses where you can learn a lot in a short time. I did a first level course in Croatia. I also did it twice after I came to the Netherlands, but I never continued to level two. We are now going to hire a tutor to tutor us over Skype. When we first came here, English was the first language I set to work on. I was talking to people in English, I started to work in English... But I think that it’s now time to start to work more on my Dutch. My son is very good at it and the other day, he actually corrected my pronunciation of a word, and I thought, ‘Our three-year-old is now correcting me!’ What's your favourite Dutch food and why? I love their sweets, and especially apple pie. It’s one of my favourite cakes – the way they make it with these large pieces of apple, I really love it. Dutch cheese is also something that I’m a huge fan of. I’m always going to the local farmers’ market. You know how they have these big stands where you can try some cheese and they also recommend nice cheese? I am always there – I love cheese. I even bought myself some of those special knives for cheese and so now we have also have them at home and we eat like pros! How Dutch have you become and why? I think that I have become Dutch on so many levels. I would say that my parenting style is very Dutch. I’m always taking my son around on a bicycle. Even when it’s raining, there are rain suits and rain boots and you’re good to go. We go out in the worst weather! I’m always trying to encourage him to be independent, to try to solve conflicts with other kids. This part of me is very influenced by the Dutch parents here. Lunch here is very light, with only a sandwich or a salad, and then a big dinner at home. It was completely the other way around for me in Croatia. Lunch is the biggest meal for us. It was very hard to get used to it when we first came here because you’d go to the restaurant at 1 o’clock and expect to have first soup, and then sometimes meat, a side dish, and a salad, and so on. But then, the other day, I was preparing my lunch for the office and I realised that I had just taken a slice of bread and two slices of cheese … and I realised, oh yeah, I’ve become a bit Dutch here. Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet and why? Jan Steen. He is one of my favourite Dutch painters - not only because he is one of the best of the 17th century, the Golden Age, but also because he includes so much humour in his paintings. There’s a painting in the Rijksmuseum, where you have a couple who are so drunk that they are not aware that there are three men in the back who are robbing them. Or he shows family scenes where a lot of things are happening. It’s so busy, but it’s also messy: children are smoking, drinking wine. I think that we’d have a great laugh together. Johanna Van Gogh-Bonger. She was the wife of Theo Van Gogh and the sister-in-law of Vincent Van Gogh. She was very important because while Vincent Van Gogh was painting he wasn’t earning any money. He sold only one painting during his lifetime. He was always poor. His brother Theo sent him money each month. If you read the letters between them, and between Johanna and Vincent, you can read how supportive she was. After Vincent and Theo died, she is the person who inherited most of Vincent’s paintings and she made him famous. If there wasn’t her, we wouldn’t know so much about him and he wouldn’t be as famous as he is today. This is quite an anonymous person, I think. There is this older man – I would say in his eighties - who lives in Haarlem, who is always dressed in such a traditional way, and each morning when I take my son to the day care, he is always so cheerful with his guitar, singing and playing these Dutch songs and saying hello to everyone on the street. He’s quite a character, but I think that he would be a great person to talk with about the Netherlands and the life here and I would really like to have a cup of coffee with him. Maybe I should just approach him one day, huh? What's your top tourist tip? I always advise people to go to the red light district in the morning. It’s world famous for the night life and the prostitution and it’s very busy in the evening, but in the morning it’s one of the most beautiful parts of the city. It’s very quiet and it’s also the oldest part of Amsterdam. You can really feel the Middle Ages over there. The other thing is to spend one day outside Amsterdam and rent a bicycle and ride a bit in the countryside. Amsterdam is very popular, very nice, but I think that the rest of the Netherlands is also very beautiful and very different from Amsterdam. One of my favourite places is Texel island. I’m always advising people to go to Texel or to take a train ride to The Hague and explore The Hague a little bit. Tell us something surprising you've found out about the Netherlands When we first came to the Netherlands, I was surprised by the wind. I wasn’t expecting this wind at all. But then, this explained all the windmills! I’m also always surprised by the number of languages Dutch people usually speak. It’s something I really admire. English is not considered to be a foreign language at all and even my neighbour, who is 70-something, speaks fluent English. If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do? I would go first in the morning to the beach - probably Zandvoort, it’s quite close. I love the beach and the sea here and I’m always amazed by this huge sandy beach and I love walking on it. It’s so relaxing and so beautiful. After the beach, I would go to the Rijksmuseum: it’s my favourite place in Amsterdam. I would just walk through the Gallery of Honour and take a look at all the paintings over there. And then I would probably finish the day with apple pie and a koffie verkeerd in the museum restaurant. I see the Netherlands as a country with a harsh climate and history, but also as a country of courageous people, who made of it one of the best countries in a world - and you can really feel it in these two places. You can follow Tea’s travels via her blog Culture Tourist or find out about her tours here. Tea was talking to Deborah Nicholls-Lee.  More >


‘I’m one of those people who loves the rain, so I’m in the right place’

‘I’m one of those people who loves the rain, so I’m in the right place’

In search of an affordable university course in English, Somaye Dehban left her hometown of Tehran to build a new life in Utrecht. Some 13 years later, she is a Dutch-speaking, pancake-loving, echte Nederlander, with a shiny new Dutch passport. How did you end up in the Netherlands? I came here to study. I have a degree from Iran in Applied Mathematics and Computer Sciences, but I was more a Social Sciences and Humanities person and wanted to study in this field in English. The UK was very expensive and America was very difficult with Iranian nationality. I had a friend who did her PhD at Utrecht University … and I came across University College Utrecht [a Liberal Arts and Sciences college which is a faculty of Utrecht University] and I applied and I got in. I came in January, so one of my first impressions was the rain. I’m one of those people who actually loves the rain, so I’m in the right place. How do you describe yourself – an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international etc? It’s a question of identity. My identity has evolved over time. I don’t call myself an expat and I didn’t come here for love. I don’t see those words describing me very much. I count myself very Dutch. At some point I emigrated here, but I’m now Dutch. My Iranian heritage is part of the package that I have, but it’s not my identity. How long do you plan to stay? I’m not going to leave. I call this country my home. Here, I can be who I want to be. I don’t want to make it an ideal place and say, ‘oh, this is paradise’ - it has its own dilemmas and challenges. But I still call it home because I feel very safe here – physically safe, and also, from a social perspective, I have the space to grow and I can apply for any job I want. And from a political stance, I can criticise the government and know that I am not going to be taken into custody. Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn? Yes. When I came here, German was my second language and so I could identify [Dutch] words when I heard them in the street. I took a crash course in 2009 and that brought me to B2 level in the Dutch language. I’m moving more and more towards making it my work language. The challenge is that, the moment that I start speaking Dutch, my accent is a lot louder than my actual sentences, so the Dutch people just switch back to English. What’s your favourite Dutch food? Pancakes! Because you can make so many different varieties. I knew about pancakes from back home where I was born, but we have only one type and that was with meat and spices, and here we don’t eat things like that. When I saw it was a flat, kind of bread … it was very surprising for me. As a mum, when I ask my kids what they want for dinner and they say ‘pancakes’, I feel over the moon, because that’s the easiest thing you can do! How Dutch have you become? I can say that ‘Ik ben een echte Nederlander’ and I have found that I have become very direct. I have learned to ask directly when I want something. When you are a connector, you need to ask for things a lot. Instead of beating around the bush, I just say what I want to say. I have also learned how and when to compromise - and when not to. My parenting style is definitely very Dutch. I encourage my boys to play in the mud. I let them discover their environment and, if they fall, I go to them, I stand by them, and I tell them to stand up on their own. I like this Dutch attitude that the kids, when they turn 18, go and live on their own. I am very much preparing them for that moment by asking them to help around the house and do chores. Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet? Anton Corbijn: I just love his style of photography. One of his movies, ‘Control’, really affected me. Once in a while, I just sit and watch it with a glass of red wine. He has a very great artistic view and I hope to one day meet him and do a project with him, in one way or another. The former queen, Beatrix: She was queen when I came to the Netherlands and I really like her – she’s so elegant and lovely. I would ask her about the controversy over her father. I’m very interested to see how she views it now and what she has to say about it. Pim Fortuyn: When he was assassinated, we heard about it even back in Iran. It was one of those events that shook many people. I think if he was still alive, we wouldn’t have a Geert Wilders. Maybe we would have a more moderate right-wing politician - although he didn’t call himself right wing; he always distanced himself from the label. What’s your top tourist tip? Once I made a trip with my mother from Utrecht to Texel. We went to Central Station in Utrecht and then picked a number and counted that number down from the departure board to see which train we would end up on. It was like a zig-zag. We just went around Holland, and at every station where we got off, we walked around a little bit, found a café and had a coffee. We started at around 10 in the morning and I think at around 9:30 in the evening we arrived in Den Helder. We stayed the night and the next day we took the boat to Texel. This was the best trip of our life. We have been travelling together over the last 10 years and still, whenever we sit together and review our memories, this is the best. Just buy one of these open tickets that is valid for a day and simply get on a train and see different places. One of those issues that we take for granted is that literally everywhere in Holland is accessible by public transport - just benefit from it and enjoy that. Tell us something surprising you’ve found out about the Netherlands. Back in Iran the air pollution is very high, and it was very amazing for me that I could actually see the blue sky here. The Dutch are always complaining about the weather, but when it’s summer here, everybody goes on holiday to another country! They know that for 10 months of the year it’s going to rain and from a very young age they keep telling kids that rain is terrible and then, when it’s summer time and the weather is actually quite good here, they all pack up and go camping in France! If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do? I think I would get the best apple pie from Limburg and then go to the best brewery in Leiden, where they have over 150 types of beer. So, I take my cake and I go to the beer place and then I invite my five closest friends. First, we will have a beer and then we will eat the apple pie. I would take it very slow. And I would go to the sea, for sure. I love the Dutch sea. And I would just sit and watch. You can find out more about Somaye and her latest campaign on CrowdPress. For information about her connecting and fundraising services visit yourfundingnetwork . Somaye Dehban was talking to Deborah Nicholls-Lee  More >


‘The Dutch are sometimes more emotional than they claim they are’

‘The Dutch are sometimes more emotional than they claim they are’

Belgian Peter Vandermeersch has been editor of the NRC newspaper since 2010 and now has no intention of living anywhere else but Amsterdam. He misses long Belgian lunches and still hates karnemelk but is planning to become Dutch so he can vote in the national elections. How did you end up in the Netherlands? I came here in a rather special way because I was elected editor of the NRC in 2010, the best newspaper in the Dutch language. Professionally it was much more exciting to work here - my dream come true. My wife is a lobbyist and she stayed in Brussels. One weekend I go back there and one weekend she comes here. We said we would do this for a year but it has now been seven years. We'll probably change the arrangement when my son completes secondary school. It would be nice to live together again. How do you describe yourself - an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international etc ? Sometimes I say I am a Vlaming who got lost in Holland and sometimes I say I am a Dutchman who was accidently born in Flanders. But I don't really consider myself as an expat or an immigrant ... it's a bit strange. Obviously I'm not Dutch... I'm a sort of inbetween. How long do you plan to stay? I plan to stay for the rest of my life. I am so happy here both professionally and personally.  I love Amsterdam, I love the culture, I love the way people behave. So that is why I have started the process of becoming Dutch. I want a Dutch passport. I can do everything I want here. I work here, I pay my taxes, I build up my pension but there is one thing I cannot do and that is vote.  And I want to do that. Its important that I can take part in that celebration of democracy. I can vote in Amsterdam and in Europe but not for the Tweede Kamer. I would lie if I said I do not mind about giving up my Belgian nationality but wanting to become Dutch is more important. But it will be a bit strange not to be formally Belgian. Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn? Well of course my accent is very Flemish and I try not to speak with a Dutch accent because I hate it when Flemish people try to speak Dutch - they come out with a strange mixture. But my accent has changed. When I give interviews in Flanders people say that I sound so Dutch. Dutch people can make the Flemish very angry by claiming they are not speaking Dutch. Its the same language with the same vocabulary and same organisation, the Taalunie, in charge of the rules. But of course there are different expressions and I can make the staff here wonder what on earth I am talking about at times. What's your favourite Dutch food? I have to say one of the biggest cliches in Belgium about the Netherlands is that you can't get a decent meal in Holland. And that is just not true, especially in the bigger cities, you have excellent cuisine. But I really miss the lunch culture in Belgium and Brussels, and in journalistic circles. It is very important at 12.30 to go out to lunch and to stay out for two hours... lunch is part of work. When you meet politicians in Belgium it is work, with a bottle of wine on the table. It is very strange to sit here behind my desk eating my salad or broodje gezond. I still hate karnemelk but when we do go out for lunch and there are no croquettes on the menu, I am the first to say that is what I want. And drop (liquorice)... the secretaries always have big bowl on their desk and when a new one joins the team, I always explain that bowl has to be kept filled up. How Dutch have you become? In Flanders I had a reputation for being straight forward, a little bit hard, always saying what I thought - so I apparently already had all those aspects of the Dutch identity. But of course I am extremely Flemish as is my accent. Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet? Rembrandt van Rijn - I am so obsessed by what he did in the 17th century. But then, perhaps I should pick Van Gogh. I was a correspondent in Paris for five years and I often took people to visit his grave in Auvers. It was always very emotional. Johan Huizinga:  He's an early 20th century historian but was very influential when I was studying and I thought he was a great writer. Mata Hari, the spy: She was very sensual and very beautiful and she had such an interesting life. She was spying for everybody and going to bed with too many men. Of course, this all took place in the First World War which is much more important to the Belgians than the Dutch, but a subject I am very interested in. What's your top tourist tip? I have to say since the Rijksmuseum has been renovated I always send visitors there. And it might be cliched but I would also say a boat tour. More people in Amsterdam should do it, even if you live here. You see the city from another perspective. I also go to the Adam Tower on the IJ because I love the view. Tell us something surprising you've found out about the Netherlands The one thing I find very emotional and surprising is the one minute's silence on May 4 to remember the World War II. I knew there was a ceremony on the Dam but not that it was marked everywhere else. This year I was making a reservation in a restaurant and they asked me if I realised that it was May 4 and that there would be a minute's silence. And indeed, just before eight the music was turned down and everyone went quiet. I think it is beautiful and emotional. And it is interesting that the Dutch are sometimes more emotional than they claim they are. They always say they are so sober and down to earth. But they also have these really wonderful traditions which I love. If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do? I would go to my favourite restaurant Kaagman & Kortekaas for the last time - it is excellent, one of the best in the world. I think I would take my bike and cycle from here maybe to Hoorn. I have one of these typical Dutch bikes with a crate... I'd go north  past Edam and Volendam and follow the sea. It's so Dutch. But I would cycle first and eat later, of course. Peter Vandermeersch's book 'Ik Zou Zo Graag Van Jullie Houden' was published in September. Peter Vandermeersch was talking to Robin Pascoe  More >


‘If someone says “we’re going to meet at 10am” we really do meet at 10am’

‘If someone says “we’re going to meet at 10am” we really do meet at 10am’

Carlos M. Roos relocated to Leiden from Caracas in 2008 to pursue a master’s degree. Nine years later, the Venezuelan native teaches at a local university, when he’s not working on his doctorate and a series of innovative musical projects. How did you end up in the Netherlands? I came over looking for a very specific master’s programme, which was Philosophy of Art. At the time, that wasn’t the most popular subject out there. I found something along those lines in Bologna, Italy but it wasn’t offered in English. There was also one in Norway but it was a PhD programme. Finally, I came across the website for Leiden University and found one for masters students that had the content I wanted to study and research. How do you describe yourself – an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international? Right now? An expat, I suppose. For a while, I was more of an international. I spent two years in Leiden and then I moved to Brussels in 2010 where I started a research project. It gave me the opportunity to travel over the world. I had the chance to visit many countries in Southeast Asia, both East and West Europe, and Northern Africa. I was never in the same place for very long. It was great but, after a while, I got tired. My contract ended and I came back to the Netherlands. Not because of a relationship with a girlfriend or anything like that. For me, it was a relationship with the city, with Leiden. I liked it very much. How long do you plan to stay? I would like to stay as long as I can. I feel a lot of hope here. I come from a massive and chaotic city. Sometimes that’s fun and sometimes it isn’t. I appreciate the scale of this town. It’s a place that seems conceived for actual human beings. You can get from Point A to Point B by walking or on your bike in no time. Try doing that in Caracas, Los Angeles, or Moscow. I also like the straightforwardness of people here. No filter. It’s like my old man says, ‘you know what’s going to kill you’. So you know what’s going to happen and that’s not the case in every culture. Elsewhere, people say one thing but they have something else in their mind. It can be a hard game to play but I definitely prefer this way of interacting. Oh, and the landscape is pretty cool. No mountains, I’m a fan of mountains, but I remember when I was moving back to Leiden from Brussels. I was on a train and we cut across a field that was filled with little cows and it was so green. I remember thinking, ‘Dude, this is beautiful!’ Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn? The biggest piece of the puzzle is the language. In order to really join this community and all its social, political, and professional circles, both in the city and the country, I definitely need to know Dutch. When I was first here, I learned informally while speaking with friends. After I moved to Belgium, I took a class for six months, just the basics. Since I’ve been back, I’ve been trying to use Dutch but, because of my research, I have to study and use German. My mental box for Germanic languages has really been taken up by German. I feel like, right now, I can’t speak any Dutch. I feel like I’ve got a salad in my head of different terms and words. The real problem is having the time to invest. I like learning languages but it’s a skill like any other. It’s like going to the gym or surfing. If you stop for a year, your skills will go down. What’s your favourite Dutch food? There’s the widespread belief that there is no such thing as Dutch cuisine. Maybe not like the French have a cuisine, but I think it’s a simply different thing. Take the pastries, for instance, the ones filled with almond paste. When you get them fresh from the bakery, they’re really nice. Or stroopwafels. When you get them right from the pan? Wow, really nice. Herring I do like and they’re great to eat after a party. But rookworsten, the smoked sausages, would have to be my favourite. How Dutch have you become? Do I have to quantify that? I’d say significantly. When I moved to Leiden for the first time from Caracas, there was an element of shock. I could feel that I was entering a different cultural space, but I knew what to expect. I knew that the Dutch were very systematic, organised, and punctual. I was looking forward to it since I come from a comparatively messy place. If someone says ‘we’re going to meet at 10 am’, we meet at 10 am, we get to work, and we’re done by 11. I found that fantastic! Then I moved to Brussels and assumed the Dutch way of doing things was the European way in general. Little did I know, that’s certainly not the case. That was much more of a cultural shock because I was so used to the Dutch way. Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet? Vincent van Gogh. I would like to hear more about that ear of his! But, seriously, I find him to be a very interesting character out of what one can tell from his paintings. He wrote beautiful letters, very insightful ones, with theoretical and philosophical thoughts on how he saw life that were kind of playful, too. Having read some of those and seen his paintings, that gives me an image of what he was like and I’d love to have a cup of coffee with that guy. Rembrandt. A totally different character with a totally different vibe. You can see that in his paintings and he obviously shared a different place in the social structure than Van Gogh. Yet their work would give you a good idea of what Dutch life was like at different points in history. They were not the same at all but I think it was Mark Twain that said ‘it rhymes’. There were points and coincidences that made these two artists resonate with one another. But I would love to talk to Rembrandt about his drawings, not his paintings. There’s something to those drawings and you can see them up in Haarlem. Anouk. I would love to go partying with her! She seems pretty cool and her voice is very representative of Dutch female vocalists. Since I play music, I’ve had the chance to share stages with these singers often. There’s a specific thing with the timber and colour of their voices that I haven’t heard in other countries. It’s not quite a mezzo, it’s like a dark soprano kind of thing they’ve got going on and Anouk totally nails it. What’s your top tourist tip? That’s a tough one. I think the one thing you should see in the country, if you only have a few hours and you’ve got to catch a flight but you want to take home one memory of the Netherlands, I’d choose the Museumplein in Amsterdam. You don’t have to enter the museums. Just go for the vibe. Or there’s the Vlaggenparade in Rotterdam by the Erasmus Bridge. That area is a great place to take a walk and it’s pretty cool. Tell us something surprising you’ve found out about the Netherlands. The fact that the Dutch had to take the country back from the sea, just like that, out of sheer will. Wow, respect! If not for that, we’d be even more packed into an even tinier piece of land. There would be fish swimming where we’re sitting right now here in Leiden. That is amazing to me. They took it all from nature and, yes, that’s impressive, don’t get me wrong, but the most impressive thing? They keep doing that. It never goes to hell at some point because someone fell asleep. It takes serious discipline and systematic planning, thinking, and acting to achieve this. That’s fantastic. If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do? There’s two options for me: the contemplative one and the active one. For the first one, I’d just sit with a cup of tea somewhere. This could be at one of my favourite places in Delft, Rotterdam, or Den Haag, but here in town? I would go to a place in the southwest part of Leiden. It’s not a popular tourist destination, but there’s some canals there with a forest. It’s beautiful. I would sit there, drink my tea, and play my guitar. Now the other one? I’d throw a 24-hour in a row party with live music. I don’t know if Leiden would be the place for that but there’s a few places that could work like the Vrijplaats. I’d bring a band, or two bands, and we’d go all night. You can check out Carlos’ musical, visual, and theatrical projects via his website. He also leads The Involved Stage, a performance group based in Leiden. Carlos Roos was talking to Brandon Hartley  More >


‘You can’t bike on the roads in Italy. Here it’s a lot safer, and smoother’

‘You can’t bike on the roads in Italy. Here it’s a lot safer, and smoother’

Sofia and Elena are 11 years old, of British and Italian extraction, and have lived in the Netherlands for three years. Sofia is partial to the Dutch way of adding whipped cream to everything, while Elena thinks Dutch children are much more independent. How did you end up in the Netherlands? Sofia - We ended up here because of my mum’s job. She teaches Year 5 at the [British] school. Before that we were living in Italy. Elena - In Italy we also went to a British school and my mum taught there as well. How do you describe yourself - an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international? Sofia - I would describe myself as European because I’m half British and half Italian and I’m living in Holland. Elena - I’m going to copy my sister’s answer. How long do you plan to stay and why? Elena - We’ve been here for four years and we think we might stay for another three years. We’re going to decide as a family if we’re going to stay here or if we’re going to move back to Italy. Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn? Sofia - We speak a little bit of Dutch. We get lessons in school. Elena - We have Dutch lessons twice a week at school. And we used to have a girl from our swimming team give us lessons on Saturday morning. What's your favourite Dutch food and why? Sofia - I like that there’s lots of whipped cream on everything. I also really like kibbeling. Elena - I like that there’s lots of fries. And stroopwaffels. I like to eat them for breakfast. But we don’t really like hagelslag. How Dutch have you become and why? Elena - I think a bit Dutch. Dutch children as much more independent. We take the train by ourselves to school every day. You couldn’t do that in Italy. In Italy, your parents would drive you to school every day. Here you have a lot more freedom. We meet our friends on the train and walk to school together. Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet and why? Sofia - The three princesses! In Italy, they don’t really have a royal family so I would like to meet the ones here. We saw them once at a volleyball tournament. One of the princess [Catharina-Amalia] is a bit older than we are and the other two [Alexia and Ariane] are a bit younger. What's your top tourist tip? Sofia - Go to Trixs. It’s a big indoor trampoline park where you can jump all over, even on the walls. You can play volleyball too. Elena - Or to Duinrell. It’s in Wassenaar and it has twelve indoor water slides. Tell us something surprising you've found out about the Netherlands Elena - The weather. Sofia - The roads. Elena - Also the roads. In Italy, the roads have potholes that are huge. Here the roads are very well surfaced. Sofia - You can’t bike on the roads in Italy. Here it’s a lot safer. And smoother. If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do? Sofia - I would have a sleepover with friends and go to Trixs. Elena - Me too. I’d meet up with friends and go to Trixs. Or Duinrell. Earlier this year, we asked readers if they knew any children who would like to take part in our 10 Questions section. We had several responses, and Elena and Sofia are the first. Sofia and Elena were talking to Molly Quell  More >


‘Biting into bitterballen is like having flaming lava pour into your mouth’

‘Biting into bitterballen is like having flaming lava pour into your mouth’

Toronto native Matt McNeil decided to forgo a career as a broker in Canada to move to the Netherlands with his girlfriend. They’re now the parents of a baby boy and he’s the proprietor of Coffee Company Leiden, one of the few North American-style coffee bars in the city. How did you end up in the Netherlands? Like so many other people: love. I was studying at the University of Concordia in Montreal and my girlfriend was there doing a half-year exchange. We met at the beginning of her trip and we were pretty much inseparable for the remainder. This was followed by a long-distance relationship that went on for four years. By that point I was out of school and I was working as a business broker, which is sort of like being a real estate agent but for businesses. Something had to change. She was in the middle of her master’s degree so I came over here. I eventually started working at Coffee Company in Amsterdam and things went from there. How do you describe yourself – an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international? I’ve been living here for nine years. I’ve adopted quite a few Dutch habits but, at the same time, I fly the Canadian flag all over the place. I’m very proud of where I come from. Even though I’ve only lived in Canada and the Netherlands, I guess I’d have to say I’m an international. I’m not a huge part of the expat community, aside from the cafe, which seems to be a sort of hotspot for expats in Leiden for some reason. I guess it’s because we were the first North American-style coffee shop in the city. We were here before Starbucks, which is over at the train station. A lot of people, like international students or those here for a short time, aren’t going to get the opportunity to really integrate. This place is recognisable and comforting. They can come in, sit with their laptop and get a cappuccino, which is what they would do back home. This is also one of the obstacles we faced in the early days. Going to a cafe by yourself was not really a part of the Dutch coffee culture. Going out for coffee was something you always did with another person. Some of our older Dutch customers or those from outside the city are still taken aback when we offer them take-away cups. They’re still so used to Douwe Egberts, that black sludge that’s so strong it makes your eyes pop out. How long do you plan to stay? That’s a big question. For the time being we’re staying here. The Netherlands has become our home. Moving again would definitely be a bigger thing now. We’ve got a dog, a cat and a son. There’s a lot more elements in our lives that would make it harder to move again. But our son doesn’t have to enrol in school until he’s four so now would be the time to go live somewhere else for a while. Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn? I took two courses. The first one was at the University of Amsterdam. It was very academic and devoted to grammar and sentence structures. It didn’t work very well for me. Then I took another course from the Learn Dutch Community. We would act out everyday scenarios like going to the supermarket or ordering something in a restaurant. It was more focused on conversations and certain words and then we’d build on that. At one point my girlfriend decided to stop talking to me in English, which helped. Listening to the radio during my daily commute was also great. The morning shows have lots of talking segments and the DJs speak very clearly. Working as a barista in Amsterdam definitely helped, too. I became a sort of novelty for the regulars. I was ‘The Canadian That Works at Coffee Company’. What’s your favourite Dutch food? Vlammetjes. They’re hot, spicy, tasty, fried food. Bitterballen always burn my mouth. On the outside, they’re cool. Then you bite into them and it’s like flaming lava just poured into your mouth. No matter how many times I’ve eaten bitterballen, I always make the mistake of biting into them too early. With vlammetjes, I know they’re hot and the sauce that comes with them is fantastic. They're an underrated bar food and harder to find, but well worth it. How Dutch have you become? I don’t think I’ll ever be fully Dutch because I’ll never understand some of the customs. Right now, I’d say I’m half-Dutch, based on the traits I’ve adopted. Put me in most situations and I can blend in pretty well. But the agendas? Those should be for doctor's and dentist's appointments, not for living your life. That’s too regulated. I threw out my agenda when I graduated from high school and I’ve been happy ever since. Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet? Beatrix. She’s still so revered. When I first got here she was still queen and this sort of force that represented the Netherlands. No matter if people were republican or monarchist, they all respected her. Mino Raiola. He’s a football agent who was born in Italy but moved to Haarlem when he was really young. I’m a big football fan and I’ve read these stories about him and the players he represents. He’s one of those people that, if you’re in his ‘family’, he loves you unconditionally, but if you’re not: get out! There’s stories about Mario Balotelli calling him up and asking: ‘can I borrow your Bentley’ and Raiola saying: ‘yes, OK’. Or showing up to important meetings in a tracksuit. In the world of football, he’s a phenomenon. Escher. You look at his paintings and they’re so perfect. I’m a big fan of realism in art and it’s amazing that artists like him can completely replicate real-world things. Take, for example, his self portraits where he’s reflected in the glass ball. The perspectives he used were great. Then there’s the other paintings that make you wonder where he got his inspiration. How did his mind come up with those crazy and amazing things? What’s your top tourist tip? I think it would have to be Amsterdam but that’s hard. This country has things for everyone and it depends on the person. Some people are huge art fans so I would send them to the Rijksmuseum. If they’re sports fans, I’d send them to the old Olympic Stadium. But if I had to choose only one thing for everyone, even though it’s super touristy, I would say they should take a canal cruise at night. Amsterdam looks so much different after dark and, from the canals, the perspective is something that no other city on the planet can provide. There’s lights from the houses, the buildings, and the bridges that are amazing. Then, if the boat goes down into the Red Light and it’s a Saturday night, there’s this noise that the crowds make and it’s – well, it’s an experience. Tell us something surprising you’ve found out about the Netherlands Having to buy cake for other people on your birthday. It’s my birthday: you guys should be buying me cake! I shouldn’t have to show up to work with a cake for everybody else. Birthdays in general and the parties where everyone sits in circles are strange. Having to enter a room and kiss dozens of people before you even get to sit down and then kiss them all again when you leave? No thanks. I prefer to just say ‘hi' ‘to everyone and ask them ‘where’s my cake’? The rituals associated with birthdays make no sense. What’s up with the birthday calendars and why do people put them in their washrooms? I still don’t know the answer. If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do? I would probably do as much as I could. In this scenario, I would hope it’s summer so the sun would set late, giving me more time. I’d wake up in the morning, go somewhere for coffee, sit in Vondelpark and read a book, meet friends for lunch at a waterfront cafe, take a boat ride in the evening, and make the most of it. Then I’d get all our friends together at a cafe, sit on the terrace, and drink beer until we all wobbled home on our bikes. I’d pack as much in as I could so, once I left, I could say, ‘there, I’m done’ and leave with no regrets. Matt was talking to Brandon Hartley. He regularly posts photos and information about his branch of Coffee Company on Instagram and the cafe’s Facebook page.   More >


‘Everyone should try and get their head around what Anne Frank went through’

‘Everyone should try and get their head around what Anne Frank went through’

British national Paul Brown has considered himself a Hagenaar for 26 years, eats his herring without bread and pickles and raves about Dutch beaches. Single with one son, Paul is the director of financial advice group Blacktower. How did you end up in the Netherlands? I moved to the Netherlands in the early 1990s for work. I was working in financial services in London, there was a recession in the UK and someone told me about the exciting market working with expats overseas. I wanted to go to Hong Kong. However, the company I had an interview with sent me to Holland instead. I was peed off, but it was a job. I stayed with that firm for a while before joining another firm where I became a partner. Subsequently, in June 1996 I started my own firm, which eventually merged with Blacktower in 2014. How do you describe yourself - an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international etc? I'd say that I am an international because although I live here, I travel a lot. Technically I suppose I am an immigrant with an international mindset. How long do you plan to stay? I don't see myself staying in the Netherlands for the rest of my life. I'm restless. A restless immigrant. Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn? My Dutch is very poor for someone who has been here this long. It's because I've always worked in the expat sector and the Dutch are so fantastic at English. When I've been in the mood to speak Dutch, and it is not as if I don't speak any, I always get a reply in English. I guess you get your best Dutch out of me after a few glasses of wine. I had a girlfriend who was a schoolteacher and she decided we needed to speak Dutch at least one night a week. I was in love so I agreed. The first time we had a rather stilted evening and after that it just became a bit of a chore. The relationship did not last that long. What's your favourite Dutch food? Herring, hands down. No bread, by the tail, dip it in the onions and get it down you. Wonderful. A thing of beauty. And it is very good for you… natural fish oils. I love it. I always have herring on a Monday when I pick my son up from school. And if I go past one of those old-fashioned stalls – what big hands the fishmongers always have – then I'll pull over and have one. How Dutch have you become? Well, I eat herring! I'm not diary driven, I don't wear a white t shirt under my shirt, but as for brown shoes under a blue suit, I'm doing it now! The Dutch are very laid-back and while I am not a confrontational sort of person, the lifestyle here, having come from London, is very different. I've adopted the doe normaal, take it easy kind of approach. Everybody likes the Dutch. People might have issues with the French or the Germans, and the Brits, but I'd like to think I've taken on some of the positive aspects of the Dutch: friendly, calm and doe normaal. Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet? Frank de Boer, because he's just been installed as Crystal Palace manager and that is my team. [This interview took place before De Boer was sacked.] Me and my son bumped into him at Schiphol airport last year and we got a selfie with him. I'd like to meet him again and get another selfie! It's another football person, but I love Martin Jol. I could listen to him all day. He's so Dutch and he is so engaging and nice to listen to. A third person, that's tricky. Queen Maxima. She does seem like quite a character. I'm not sure she was always accepted in the Netherlands, so I think she would have an interesting story to tell. What's your top tourist tip? Lock your bike up properly if you rent one and in the old days I would have said look out for the dog poop, but that has improved a lot. And as a place to go, you can't beat Scheveningen. It's a fantastic beach. I went to the Anne Frank house after I had been here 15 years. It's a box you have to tick when you come here: everyone should try and get their head around what this girl went through. Tell us something surprising you've found out about the Netherlands How tall everybody is. I've never seen so many unusually tall people in one place. Actually, what really hit me is how flat it really is and how you miss hills. When I drive into England from the Channel Tunnel you go over the brow of a hill and you have this wonderful view... and that always leaves me with a smile on my face. It's only a hill, but because there aren't any hills in my part of Holland, I appreciate it. The Dutch are also super friendly. You could not have King's Day in London. There would be fights and flying glass. You go out in The Hague and people might knock into each other but you are much more likely to hear 'hey jongen' than that aggressive 'what's your problem mate?'. The Dutch also really do go Dutch. I have watched people at the table saying 'no, I didn't have the coffee', and moving the coins around. If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do? I would go to Scheveningen beach. I've been a Hague guy the whole time I've been here. It's my city. I would have a nice lunch at the beach and… we'll draw a curtain over what would happen next. Paul Brown was talking to Robin Pascoe  More >


‘It baffles me that parts of the Netherlands are 6 metres below sea level’

‘It baffles me that parts of the Netherlands are 6 metres below sea level’

British national Lucy Borne is celebrating her third year in Amsterdam this summer and says she has fallen completely in love with the city. A plant buff, Lucy currently works as global publicity and marketing manager at the post-production studio Smoke & Mirrors. How did you end up in the Netherlands? I ended up here completely by chance. I came on holiday with my boyfriend during the sun-soaked summer of 2014 and never looked back. I'd just finished a contract so I had no ties to the UK. Having very little knowledge of the city before visiting, Amsterdam completely stole my heart. I still to this day feel Amsterdam has a unique spirit. I luckily get to walk via the canals to work every day. Each day, still, this chocolate-box town stuns me. How do you describe yourself – an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international? When asked where I’m from, my response is always the same: ‘I live in the Netherlands’. I'm very proud to live here but I was born in Britain. I don't think I’ve referred to myself as any of the above. Take from that what you will. How long do you plan to stay? Amsterdam will always hold a place in my heart. Moving to a new country has been an incredibly rewarding experience. It has taught me about myself and given me confidence that only comes from being out of your comfort zone. I'd love the opportunity to learn from another culture again. I want to plant some roots in Amsterdam and then see where the wind carries me. Hopefully somewhere warm! Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn? Een klein beetje. What’s your favourite Dutch food? Oh, that’s tricky. Grabbing a cold beer with a kaasstengel and a few bitterballen has become a treasured winter delight. But my ultimate favourite would have to be hachee. How Dutch have you become? Despite not speaking Dutch, I’d say I’ve ticked most Dutch boxes. Herring though? No way, never! One Dutchism I’m happy to have acquired is their honesty. There is something hugely empowering in being true to yourself and, with no frill of emotion, being able to communicate that, especially as a Brit.  Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet? Jan Sluijters, because during my first week in Amsterdam I visited the Stedelijk Museum where his work 'The Ball Tabarin' completely took my breath away. I've been back since just to visit that painting and I would love to pick his brains about the scene he captured so vividly in that painting. Mata Hari, she had such an overwhelming amount of chapters to her life; from falling into wealth, becoming a circus horse rider in Paris, then became a pioneer for exotic dancing and most famously her time as a spy. She has an endless list of interesting turns, admittedly some are dark - but what a fascinating person to meet. And thirdly, the original owner of Reguliersgracht 1. It was our first proper home in Amsterdam and will, for the rest of my life, be special to me. All 30 square metres of it. What’s your top tourist tip? Hire a boat for at least three hours, grab a picnic, and sail around the city. It’s the best way to take in the magic of this place. Not once in my three years have I gone on a boat and not been completely spellbound by the journey. Tell us something surprising you’ve found out about the Netherlands It still baffles me that, at its lowest points, the Netherlands is six metres below sea level! If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do? Simple pleasures. I'd start with a stroll along the Bloemenmarkt. It can get crowded, but at around 8 am on a weekday, it's a plant lover's paradise. I’d then hop on a bike and cycle around the Vondelpark with my favourite playlist in my ears. Then I'd make my way to the canals and jump on a boat with my pals and giggle the evening away, perhaps finishing off at the Eye Museum, where it all began, for a glass of bubbles. Lucy Borne was speaking to Brandon Hartley.  More >


‘Locals are extra friendly to me when I try to speak their language’

‘Locals are extra friendly to me when I try to speak their language’

“I moved here for love!” Graphic designer Yihmay Yap (40), hails from Malaysia and moved to Rotterdam for love. Two and a half years later, she’s still learning the language and discovering her favourite places in the country. How did you end up in the Netherlands? It’s a long story, but in short, I moved here for love! My husband is from Rotterdam and we met when he was traveling around Asia and I was living in Singapore. We initially met in Singapore but we decided to meet up in Vietnam. That’s where we found out that we clicked really well. So he decided to move to Singapore to be with me and he ended up living there for seven years. But then he moved back to the Netherlands and when I came to visit after a year, he proposed! So that’s when I packed up and moved to Rotterdam to start a new life! How do you describe yourself - an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international etc? I am from Malaysia, but I’ve been living outside of my home country for more than half of my life. I wouldn’t call myself an expat because it sounds exclusive. I don’t want to categorise myself into a specific group. I am just living my life; trying to experience difference cultures wherever I am, whenever I can. How long do you plan to stay? I don’t have any concrete plans on how long I’ll be living here. I just take things one step at a time and see what life brings to me. Although I would love to move back to Southeast Asia one day, because I feel that my heart is still in Singapore and Malaysia. My husband, however, isn’t a fan of moving back there because housing is expensive and he thinks things are ‘crazier’ there. But I still keep my door open. I don’t know where else I’d move to. Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn? I enrolled in a Dutch class when I came here two and a half years ago. Language is not really my forte, so it’s taking some time. I still try to use my broken Dutch whenever I can because I realise that the locals are extra friendly to me when I try to speak their language. When my colleagues found out that I am learning Dutch, they speak to me in Dutch to help me practice. I think that it is super sweet of them to do that. What's your favourite Dutch food? I love boerenkool! I fell in love with this dish the first time I tried it many years ago. I was still living in Singapore at the time and I would even try to make it over there. I also really like haring maybe it’s because I really love sashimi and sushi and it’s pretty close to that. I like the ritual of eating it whole too. But speaking of food, I do miss the food back home in Singapore and Malaysia. Even if you’re able to find a lot of international restaurants here, it’s just never the same. How Dutch have you become? I fiets every day to work, even when it’s raining. But I’m not sure if that makes me Dutch. I lost my bike a while back though and on that day my husband told me, ‘you’re a real Dutch person now!’ (laughs). Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet? I honestly can’t think of anyone in particular. I am an easy going person, so for me, if I meet you it’s nice, but if not, then it’s also okay. I am a fan of art and design but I’m not die-hard about it. Even with famous actors, I’m not too privy... Okay, maybe Leonardo DiCaprio! But he’s not Dutch (laughs). What's your top tourist tip? Even if it may seem intimidating, go and rent a bike. It’s a good way to feel like a local and it’s the best way to explore the city! Tell us something surprising you've found out about the Netherlands There are quite a few things that have surprised me here. Aan tafel is one of them and it’s interesting to me how Dutch people have their meal on time every day. In Asia we eat hot food at almost every meal, so it’s interesting that warm lunches and breakfasts aren’t common here. Also, I moved here in the winter so there weren’t many people out on the streets. But when spring and summer came it came as a shock that there were so many people out! I’ve also noticed that spontaneous meet ups with friends isn’t common here. Even my inburgering book says that you should always make an appointment. If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do? I feel like I still don’t know the Netherlands well enough. I’ve only been here for a little over two years so I don’t have my favourite places or restaurants picked out yet. I’m still searching for them. To me a places aren’t what makes a city special, it’s the people. So with that said, I would spend my last 24 hours meeting up with all of my friends because to me, their company is what’s most valuable.  More >


‘Invest in a museum card and see as many museums as you can’

‘Invest in a museum card and see as many museums as you can’

Kristin Anderson is a American novelist and her second book has a Dutch travel writer in the lead role. A stroopwafel fan, she would warn tourists not to eat space cake and would like to meet television naturalist Freek Vonk, who recently got chomped on by a shark. How did you end up in the Netherlands? I fell in love with a Dutch man of course. We met at a wedding in Santa Barbara, California where I lived at the time. He was the best man for his Dutch friend and I was the maid of honor for my friend. After his two week stay in the US, we fell for each other and had a long distance relationship, traveling back and forth. Nine months later I quit my job and moved to the Netherlands to live with him. After one year together in Amsterdam, we moved to the U.S. and lived there together for six years before moving back to the Netherlands in 2011 to pursue work opportunities. In 2013 my husband started a masters’ program in theology. How do you describe yourself - an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international etc? After six years in the Netherlands, I am half expat, half immigrant, as I identify with both cultures. Although I wrote professionally for others for years, it wasn’t until moved to the Netherlands that I dedicated time to my fiction. How long do you plan to stay? My husband, son and I dream of moving back to the United States, but that dream is constantly shifting. I love living in Western Europe. I have expanded not only my sense of identity but I have also become used to multicultural living. The US has a lot to offer, and California is a wonderful place to live. However, when Trump became president, our desire to move back to the United States diminished. My husband is also finishing his masters and will soon be a Dutch protestant minister. Our future locale will be determined by the position he finds. Who knows: We may end up in Curacao or Maastricht! Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn? Ik spreek Nederlands! I took a beginner’s course in that long-ago year of love when I moved to Amsterdam to be with my then Dutch boyfriend. When we returned to the Netherlands in 2011, I took another course, but I have learned most of my Dutch language skills on the fly, at my workplace and through communicating with others. Many consider me fluent until we start talking at a more in-depth level. I was never asked to take an inburgering course. What's your favourite Dutch food? Rijsttafel. I realise this is Indonesian food, but to be honest, I don’t care for the heavier Dutch foods, and many Dutch consider Indonesian ‘rice table’ as an integral part of Dutch gastronomic history. I do love stroopwafels as well. How Dutch have you become? I have become more direct in my communication, and I have developed a more international perspective that is hard to come by when you live in one, large country. Dutch culture has also infiltrated my writing. In my second novel, The Things We Said in Venice, I created a Dutch travel writer as the male lead character and although this novel is set primarily in Venice, the last third of the story takes place in Amsterdam, The Hague and one other locale. I wrote some of the Dutch conversations in the book, but had native speakers polish them into native Dutch-speak. Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet ? Freek Vonk (television naturalist). He’s awesome and wild and if I could bring my son along to meet him, I would score some major mom points. Arjen Lubach (satirical tv show presenter), because he is witty, intelligent and informed. Saskia Noort (novelist). She’s a talented writer and I can read her novels in Dutch. Some of her novels are too gruesome for me, but I really liked Terug naar de kust (Back to the coast) and I still think about the characters even though I read the book a few years ago. I like how she incorporates the Dutch landscape and locations in her novels. What's your top tourist tip? 1. Don’t eat the space cake and then expect everything to be okay. My husband worked for some time after university as a night receptionist in a hotel in Amsterdam. A recurring theme was young visitors from around the world who had eaten space cake and then thought that they were going to die, going absolutely crazy. 2. Invest in a Museum card and see as many museums as you can while here. It’s worth the investment and you will see much more than Van Gogh and Mondriaan. Tell us something surprising you've found out about the Netherlands The Netherlands is in the top three of the world’s largest fruit and vegetable producers. That is hard to grasp, considering the entire land mass of the Netherlands fits at least 11 times into my home state of California. If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do? Throw a big party at Culpeper strandtent in Scheveningen and invite all of the amazing people I have met here in the last six years to come celebrate my last 24 hours. We would dance, run over the beach, whether it was raining or not and dip our toes into the North Sea. You can find out more about Kristin Anderson and her novels on blog and website  More >


‘I am surprised that I like living here!’

‘I am surprised that I like living here!’

Alma Patist (64), a Filipina married to a Dutchman, has been living in the Netherlands for two decades. She has no time for complaining expats, loves Dutch comfort food and works as a teaching assistant in an international school. How did you end up in the Netherlands? In short, I married a Dutchman. I didn't think that we would ever live in the Netherlands but certain circumstances brought us here. We were in our forties and living in Singapore as expats. Our work took us to different countries but my husband's company closed. Eventually we decided to move to the Netherlands because my husband and our two kids are Dutch, so we decided it was time to come back 'home'. How do you describe yourself - an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international ? I don't like to label myself. I am just a human being who has lived in many places! How long do you plan to stay? I'll be here forever. My kids and grandchildren live here and life is kind. The government and the people really look after you. Even if you don't have any money the state will make sure you have what you need. I have a friend who has been here for 20 years and she didn't contribute by working but she has a nice apartment and is on subsidised living. Some people may think that it's not fair but I the way I look at it is, if you can afford to help then you should. My husband and I are comfortable and have property and savings so why not take care of others too? Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn? I can hold a decent, simple conversation in Dutch but I will admit that it's not very good. I taught myself how to speak Dutch when I first came to visit in 1974. But when I moved here for good 20 years ago, I went to Dutch classes. On good days people understand what I am saying, but on bad days they have no idea what's coming out of my mouth! It can be difficult because sometimes I can't fully express myself. But I have no excuse, I should learn how to speak Dutch better. What's your favourite Dutch food and why? I love Dutch comfort food like stampot with endive. In the Philippines our comfort food is arroz caldo and sinigang so it almost hits the spot in the same way. I also like kapucijners which I make at home and I fry up some bacon and onions. With regards to haring, I still haven't been able to enjoy it. I can't stand the smell and texture! How Dutch have you become? I've always just seen myself as a Filipina living in Holland. I suppose Dutch people are said to be direct and opinionated. I have always been that way and maybe living in the Netherlands has made me more like that. I believe that everyone should have rights. It's important that we speak our mind! Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet? I would love to have Van Gogh, Mata Hari, and G. Bruggink over for dinner. I'd love to learn about Van Gogh's life. It would be interesting to find about the line between 'crazy' and 'genius' because I really think that he was a genius. I am also so curious about Mata Hari. She was this beautiful woman who was a spy. Can you imagine how brave she was, especially in that day and age? G. Bruggink was a parish priest in our neighborhood and we were connected in some unspoken way. I don't know what it was about him, but he would just show up on my doorstep when I needed advice or help. What's your top tourist tip? The Netherlands is a beautiful country, so I would advise tourists to see more than just Amsterdam. Another thing would be to see the country through the eyes of a local. When I have visitors, I always show them my daily life so we'll go to the markets and supermarkets. My most recent house guests were from the United States and they just loved looking at all the breads and cheeses at the local supermarket. Tell us something surprising you've found out about the Netherlands I am surprised that I really like living here! From my experience, there is so much bashing about living here within the ‘expat’ community. They complain about anything and everything – the banking system, the food, and so on. But I can’t stand the complaining and comparisons. Living in the Netherlands is great, I don’t understand it. If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do? I'd go for a walk in a park, stroll along a market, visit a museum, and then sit down in a corner pub and have a beer and a chat with the regulars. Amsterdam Bos, specifically, is huge and beautiful. Alma Patist runs the blog Alma Matters. She was talking to Marisse Gabrielle Reyes  More >


‘I appreciate how individualism works here, I find it very productive’

Theatre designer Vasilis Apostolatos (44) came to The Hague from Athens for love, and found an outlet for his creativity here. Vasilis teaches at a theatre academy in Maastricht and works with STET, an English language theatre in The Hague. He took time out of his schedule to talk about expat life, love, and oliebollen. How did you end up in the Netherlands? Love. This is the only thing that can move me. It’s quite simple, I met a wonderful Dutch guy online, and we met in Athens and fell in love. We met right after I finished with eight months of chemotherapy, and after something like that you’re more open to try new things. You value life in a different way. It was the right moment to move. How do you describe yourself - an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international? All of those. There are moments when you feel like an expat, and a lot of moments when you feel like an immigrant, especially in northern Europe. After I left Greece, hundreds of Greek friends of mine were desperate to find a future in northern Europe. I am one of the lucky ones, in that I chose to be here. How long do you plan to stay and why? As long as I am productive, creative and in love, I will stay! Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn? I do speak a little bit, but it’s a language that’s not made for my mouth. I feel ridiculous when I’m doing it. So I’m trying to convince people to speak Dutch to me because I do understand 80 to 90% of what they say, and then I reply in English. It works sometimes, and the rest of the time I mime my answers or something. I have a few tricks to cover my inability! What's your favourite Dutch food? I love haring, but to be honest there’s nothing that can beat oliebollen. I go nuts for them. Here in The Hague there’s a guy who starts selling them in October so I start then and finish in the middle of January. That’s my oliebollen season. How Dutch have you become? I do appreciate how individualism works here, and I find it very productive. It also balances how I am as a Greek person because we live together and affect each other in bizarre ways in Greek society. Here you can stand by yourself, and I do a bit more of that than I used to. Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet? Ivo van Hove is a theatre director working in Amsterdam. I admire his work and the way he approaches theatre and communicates. I’d love to work with him. I’d like to meet Spinoza for his openness towards religion in very dark times. Holland isn’t a very spiritual place and when you see how much a figure like Spinoza contributed to philosophy and the way we deal with religion, I think he’s very important. I’d say Berlage for his architecture. But then again I could also say painters like Mondrian and the whole Flemish school of painting. They were great teachers and way they used light was unique. What's your top tourist tip? I’d take visitors on a long walk on the beach near where I live with a patat met mayo. It’s wonderful here when the weather is good. I strongly believe that if this country had the weather we have in Greece, they’d have to put up fences around it. Everyone would want to be here. Tell us something surprising you've found out about the Netherlands That it’s not as open-minded a place as I thought. As a gay man, you notice that people do judge your sexual orientation or your lifestyle. But because Dutch society is a society of traders, it’s much easier for them to accept everything and say ‘let’s make money together.’ At the same time, behind closed doors they do have opinions about gays, immigrants, refugees, and not always nice ones. I’m having a great time here, and I love the Dutch. It’s just something I’ve noticed with them. If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do? Oh my God! Just one day left here. I’d spend a day seeing Vermeer and Van Gogh, have a nice haring, and probably make love. Why would I skip that if I only had 24 hours? Vasilis Apostolatos was talking to Graham Dockery  More >


‘Since taking citizenship I say “we” a lot more when referring to the Dutch’

‘Since taking citizenship I say “we” a lot more when referring to the Dutch’

Originally from Hampshire in the UK, Paul Oram moved to the Netherlands after meeting his future wife while scuba diving in Egypt. He now lives in The Hague, where he works as a graphic designer and volunteers for Stichting Present, an organisation that helps vulnerable individuals.  How did you end up in the Netherlands? I was working in London in 1997 and I was getting fed up, so I decided to do something completely different and booked a week's diving holiday in Egypt, on my own. It was shortly after a terrorist attack at a tourist site, but I decided to go because I'd already paid and couldn’t get my money back. My Dutch wife to be was there, doing exactly the same thing. We literally met underwater. I remember thinking at the time ‘she’s the one for me’ and we went from there. A few years later I sold my place in London a few years later and moved over here to be with her. How do you describe yourself – an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international? I’d say I’m a lovepat and an international. I never refer to myself as an expat. I think it’s more for people who have partners who are foreign as well. How long do you plan to stay? This is home. I belong here. I’ve just had my naturalisatieceremonie so I’m now officially half Dutch and half British. It was a Brexit-related decision: I consider myself a European. It was very easy to apply and I think there will be a flurry of other British people waiting to do the same. I applied and, about a month later, I went to the ceremony. It was quite amusing. We all had to go up on stage to get our certificates and we were spoken to in Dutch by the presenter. A lot of applicants clearly didn’t understand a word he was saying and a few people gave him some strange replies. Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn? I think I can say I speak Dutch. It’s still not brilliant after hundreds of lessons, though. My last course was at the Volksuniversiteit in The Hague and it was really good. It was a year-long conversation course, quite a high level. We just chatted with each other and the teacher was fantastic. It’s often difficult to find enough people to attend these conversation classes. I wanted to take it again but they couldn’t find enough students for the next one. What’s your favourite Dutch food? I’ll say rolmops: rolled pickled herring held together with a cocktail stick. I usually get a whole jar of them from the supermarket. How Dutch have you become? Not very [laughs]. I read somewhere that you go through phases after you move here. You love everything Dutch for a few years. You even find yourself wanting to buy a rowing boat to tour the canals. When the novelty wears off you can get a kind of seven-year itch and start to get frustrated by everything. Then you get over that and sort of relax into it. I’ve found that I’ve been saying ‘we’ a lot more after the naturalisatieceremonie when I’m referring to the Dutch. I voted in the recent election. I figured we needed every anti-Wilders vote we could get. Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet? Since I’m a designer, I should pick MC Escher. The museum here in The Hague is fantastic. You can’t get anyone more unique than Escher when it comes to a graphic artist. I would have loved to watch him and learn while he works. There’s also Gerrit Rietveld and the Rietveld Schröderhuis in Utrecht, which one of the best examples of De Stijl. It’s quite fascinating; it’s sort of an early IKEA idea. The house doesn’t contain traditional walls: they’re all movable. He’s most famous for the Rietveld Chair. I imagine it’s not very comfortable as it’s made of simple flat wooden panels. Lastly, Vincent van Gogh. I wish I could just go back and tell him: ‘It'll all work out. In the future, you will be remembered’. What’s your top tourist tip? In The Hague, they should visit the Gemeente Museum and GEM next door. One more, Beelden aan Zee. It’s a beautiful sculpture museum in Scheveningen and quite special. There’s also the dunes in Meijendel, between Scheveningen and Wassenaar. They’re really beautiful to cycle through at the end of the day as the sun is going down. Tell us something surprising you’ve found out about the Netherlands This one is more of a personal thing for me. When I was made redundant several years ago, I decided to start my own business. I was pleasantly surprised by the support you get if you want to set up on your own in this country. Because I typically work at home on my own most days, I wanted to get out and become involved with something locally. I found out about Stichting Present. I’ve been volunteering for them for a few years and it’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. We help disadvantaged people or those with disabilities. Many of them live alone and just need a little assistance in the home. Every project is different and can involve anything from painting and decorating, to gardening, cleaning and decluttering. It’s a lot of fun and, surprisingly, a great way to meet other internationals. If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do? Go out in Amsterdam and enjoy lots of Belgian beer [laughs]. That would be it. I can never remember the names of places so I can’t think of any specific bars. I’d aim for someplace tiny that feels kind of authentic. There are plenty of them if you wander around the Zeedijk. My best friends live in Amsterdam. I’d meet up with them, drink and talk nonsense for the day. Paul Oram was speaking to Brandon Hartley  More >