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


‘My favourite Dutch thing is the 35% off section at Albert Heijn’

‘My favourite Dutch thing is the 35% off section at Albert Heijn’

Raquel García Hermida-van der Walle is a Spanish national who works for an animal rescue charity and has lived in the small Frisian town of Gorredijk for the past seven years. She is also standing for election to the European parliament on behalf of D66 on May 23. How did you end up in the Netherlands? I met a man from Gorredijk while I was at a bachelorette party in Barcelona. We had a long distance relationship for a while, then it became serious and I decided to move to the Netherlands. That was in 2012. We had a daughter together but have since separated. I now have a new partner, also from Gorredijk, and we have twins together. My first partner and I share the care of our daughter, which is easy in a village. I first came here as an Erasmus student and did the third year of my degree at Utrecht University. I was also working with Survival International, a job which I continued to do remotely for a year. Now I work for Stichting AAP, which is a rescue centre for animals which have been abused or neglected. We rehabilitate them and place them in new homes. I work on the policy side. I was actually pregnant while I was at Utrecht and my fellow students did not dare ask me about it. Towards the end, I was so big I could not fit on the college benches. My degree is still on hold, but I hope to complete it at some point. How do you describe yourself - an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international etc? That depends very much on the context. In some situations you could say I was an expat, in others an immigrant. I don't like the way white, well-educated middle class people are always called expats and the rest immigrants. I guess an immigrant is what I really am. How long do you plan to stay? I have no end date. Gorredijk and the Netherlands have become home to me. I would say it is most likely that I will live here for ever. Well, at least until I retire, and then, like so many Dutch people, I will go to Spain. Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn? I started learning it in Spain and I took some basic lessons. But really I have learned just by doing it. It is easy when you live in a small village, if you are surrounded only by Dutch people. At some point, it just happens naturally and became a seamless process. I can't remember when people started speaking Dutch to me and I started speaking it back to them. Being in Friesland, I am also exposed to Frisian and it is my partner's mother tongue, and that of many of my friends. I understand it but I don't speak it. So much of speaking a language is about the context, it is about relationships, about what moment you are at in your life. What's your favourite Dutch thing? I don't know if stamppot is my favourite Dutch thing but I always eat it with a lot of pleasure. It is something everyone in the family likes. I'm a terrible cook. We make it with endive, with boerenkool and with zuurkool - which is my personal favourite. Actually, I think my favourite Dutch thing is the 35% off section at Albert Heijn where I buy organic meat. I'll wait until dinner time and then I will go off and see what they have. I come back with loads of bakjes for the freezer. I've also started studying the weekly special offer leaflet. In a small town, that is what everyone does and after all, why not do it? You save so much money. How Dutch have you become and why? Apart from the 35% discount section? I've become Dutch in many ways. In fact, when we go back to Spain, if feels less like a home and more like a place to visit. After a couple of weeks, I want to go home to Gorredijk. My boss says I am more of a kaaskop than the real Dutch. But then he loves Spain. I tend to be very critical about it. Migrants are often very critical of their home country, sometimes too much. There are things about Spain which are better than here, and visa versa. Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet? Johan Cruijff - I'm a total Real Madrid fan but I really admired the man when he was alive as a coach and as a person. Since I've been here I have learned a lot more about him and I really look up to is outlook on life, as well as football. Suze Groeneweg was the first woman to be elected to the Dutch parliament and a lot of events are being organised this year to celebrate 100 years since women were granted the right to vote. She was a real innovator. People outside the Netherlands are often surprised by how traditional the country is when it comes to the role of women. When I was learning Dutch, I used to listen to Guus Meeuwis' greatest hits in the car. I learned a lot from him and I'd like to thank him for the free lessons, complete with Brabant accent. What's your top tourist tip? Visit the Frisian lakes around Sneek. It is such a beautiful area and it would be great if more people discovered it. On the other hand, I would hate it if the lakes became like Giethoorn or Volendam. It is a difficult balance to find. Tell us something surprising you've found out about the Netherlands It might seem silly but I really don't get why people congratulate other people on someone's birthday? I still can't get use to the way you say 'congratulations on your son's birthday' to someone. If anyone knows the answer, I would like to know. I was also surprised about how warm and friendly people in the north are. There is this idea that the Dutch are cold and keep their distance but I soon realised that all it takes is a moment for them to open up - if you show you are open too. The Dutch are a warm and welcoming people. Not in the same way as the Spanish perhaps, and there is a difference between here and the Randstad but Dutch people are, well, authentic. If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do? I would stay in the village with the family and we'd go for a bike ride. Then we would come home, put the children to bed and I would go to the kroeg and stay there drinking beer until the owner asked us to leave. I am a real bar person. Raquel is eighth on the D66 list for the European parliamentary elections. She was talking to Robin Pascoe.  More >


‘A museumkaart means there is no pressure to get my money’s worth’

‘A museumkaart means there is no pressure to get my money’s worth’

 Originally from West Los Angeles, Joe Silber moved to Prague in the early ‘00s. There he met his future wife and later moved with her to the Netherlands where he currently works as a technical writer. He's partial to an uitsmijter, would like to have met Jan Steen and plans to visit the Aalsmeer flower auction. How did you end up in the Netherlands? When I first moved to Europe, I lived in Prague for about five years. I met a woman there named Rachel who I would later marry. She was doing business development and, in 2007, her company said that her job was going to be moved to their European headquarters, which are located in Leiden. We’d been together for about two years at that point. ‘I want to keep my job,’ she said. ‘Would you like to move to the Netherlands with me?’ I asked her if the city she was moving to was nice, and she said: ‘Well, come over for a weekend and we’ll find out.’ So I did, and it was all very charming so I decided to make the leap. After I found work in the Netherlands, I moved over to join her. How do you describe yourself – an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international? I followed my wife over here, but I consider myself an expat, partially because I define myself as an individual as opposed to part of a relationship. Another one of the reasons I moved was for the adventure of coming to a new place and learning and developing within that culture. How long do you plan to stay?  My original plan was to stay in Europe for one or two years. Then I realised, no, I’m much happier over here than in the US for any great number of reasons. When we relocated to Leiden, Rachel had a two year placement. The plan was to see where we were at in a couple of years and determine what to do then. A few years later, we’d switched jobs, bought a house, and found that we were both comfortable here. The political situations in England, where Rachel is from, and America are such that we’re both very grateful to be living in a country that is quite stable. We’re happier here than we are when we go to visit our native countries so we don’t plan to move anytime soon. Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn? I have the one sentence that I speak really, really well. It’s ‘Ik spreek maar een beetje Nederlands; kunnen wij in Engels spreken?’ People hear that and say my Dutch is fine, but I’ve only perfected that one sentence. That said, I took lessons the first couple of years after we moved here and my Dutch is okay. I can do more than feed myself. My goal for this year is to pass the inburgering exams so I can remain here on my own terms. My visa has always been based on being the partner of a non-Dutch EU citizen. However, my partner is British, and she’s in the process of going through inburgering as well so her residency won’t be based on her possibly tenuous status as an EU citizen or having a job here. Way back when, my company paid for six months of lessons, and then I did one semester at BplusC followed by another semester at Leiden University while I was briefly unemployed, but I had to drop out once I found a new job. Now to prepare for inburgering, I’m using DuoLingo. [laughs] I’m really amused by some of the exercises and weirder sentences it uses. What’s your favourite Dutch thing? My favourite Dutch thing is my museumkaart. I can go to places like the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam or the museums here in Leiden and spend an hour in them while avoiding the entrance fees, which can be €12, €15, or €17. With a museumkaart, which runs about €60 a year, I can go on my own or when family’s visiting, spend an hour, see a few things, and say, ‘Okay, I’m feeling cultured today.’ Because there are so many great museums in this country, it doesn’t matter what city I’m in. I can go into one of their museums for an hour and head to a nearby cafe without feeling the pressure of trying to get my money’s worth because I paid so much at the door. How Dutch have you become?  Wow, not very Dutch, in that I don’t speak the language well. I like a lot of the food, and that’s a big part of becoming integrated into the culture, but there’s only so many sandwiches one can eat. There’s a phrase that keeps coming up in DuoLingo; ‘he ate five sandwiches today.” An American might think that’s an obscene number of sandwiches, whereas a Dutch person might say, ‘Yeah, that’s about average.’ On the other hand, when I log onto something like an expat page on Facebook, I see all the new arrivals who are asking where they can get this or that from their native land and are talking about all the things they miss. I’ve moved past missing certain things. I know what I like to eat and know where to find it. I’ve also come to terms with Dutch directness, but I still act very American while interacting with people whereas other expats I know really go for it and stop pulling their punches. So, I guess what I’m saying is that I’m, maybe, 20% or 30% Dutch. Once I’m more comfortable with the language, I might go up to 50%, but I probably won’t get beyond that. Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet? Jan Steen. I’d like to talk to him about art, technique, and his sense of humour. Queen Wilhelmina. I don’t know a lot about her, but she got into the dirt during World War 2. She did the hard work of leadership during a period when she could have stood on a pedestal. Instead, she got down with the people and led by example. Jacob Cats. This is a really weird one. He was a 16th/17th century poet and politician. I wouldn’t know anything about him if it weren’t for the fact that the first place I lived in the Netherlands was on a street called Jacob Catslaan. Many of his poems were written for female admirers and later set to music. Needless to say, not all of them were necessarily religious. He’d be another person who would be great to talk to about his art, which in this case was poetry. What’s your top tourist tip? This one is weird because it’s something on my list, but I haven’t actually done it myself yet. It’s going to the Aalsmeer flower auction, but you have to get up very early. The fact that 80% or so of the world’s flower trade comes through this region, the flowers arrive before dawn, and they’re put on planes before 10am is fascinating. They go to these huge halls near Schiphol with practically their own railway system where they’re auctioned off. I’m hoping the next time we have out-of-town guests that I’ll be able to drag them out of bed early enough to go there. Tell us something surprising you’ve found out about the Netherlands. This isn’t something that’s secret or hidden, but about a year and a half ago, we went to Arnhem for the first time. Rachel wanted to a see a bridge that goes over a river that runs through the city. Once we got there, she started talking about Operation Market Garden and the film A Bridge Too Far. I grew up in Los Angeles and I’ve seen tons of movies, but she was surprised I’d never seen that one or heard about the failed World War 2 battle that it was based on. I was also surprised that I didn’t know about it. Weirdly enough, the movie was on TV while we were in England over Christmas. If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do?  There is a house in Utrecht that, alas, requires booking way in advance. It’s the Rietveld Schröder House, and it’s one of my favourite sites in the country. I’d want to see that again and, assuming that the stars aligned, I’d go there for a visit. Beyond that, I’d want to visit a museum I’ve never been to before. There’s also a restaurant in Noordwijk called De Zeemeeuw, and they do the best uitsmijter. I’d want to go there for one of those. All of these places are in the Randstad, so I think there’d still be time to get to the dunes outside Heemstede. It’s a great natural reserve, and the walks there are really beautiful. During mating season, there’s also hundreds and hundreds of deer everywhere. After we decided to go there for the first time, we were worried we wouldn’t see any. We asked a colleague about it. ‘Don’t worry,’ she told us. ‘They’ll be there.’ In addition to his work as a technical writer, Joe also occasionally writes short stories and posts about music and politics on his blog, Joe Jots.  Joe Silber was talking to Brandon Hartley  More >


‘I have a new appreciation for the ‘rules’ of society’

‘I have a new appreciation for the ‘rules’ of society’

Swapping New Amsterdam for Old, 37-year-old visual effects expert Ricky Weissman from New York quickly felt at home in the surprisingly familiar architecture of Amsterdam’s Jordaan. Three years in, he is mad for mustard, flowers and sand dunes and never says no to a poffertje. How did you end up in the Netherlands? My wife and I were living in Brooklyn, New York about three years ago now and we had found that we were travelling to Europe more and more often and that the cost of getting here and the time it took was just kind of killing us. We figured that we would find a way to get closer to our end goal, which was to live here for a few years and see if we liked it. I was freelancing for a company in New York City that had strongholds all over the world and I put in for a European destination and they told me they had an Amsterdam office and had a position available. We came out here for a week to see if we liked the city and taste the food and feel the culture. We decided that we wanted to make the move for sure. They offered me the job, and my wife was able to get a job through her network also, and seven months later we moved over. It felt like home when we came here. When we went back to New York [to visit], we saw it with new eyes. Park Slope and those town houses, the way the bricks are laid out – even the name ‘Breuckelen’ – it was built by the Dutch. How do you describe yourself – an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international etc? I would say I’m an international citizen living here, but the experience I have here does feel more like an immigrant in a strange land sometimes. As accepted as I am in my own work communities here, I find that with my facial attributes and just what we look like, [means] the Dutch know that you’re not from around here. Even with most of my neighbours, it has taken a good amount of time for them to say, ‘Oh, this guy lives on the block now’. Only in the last year or so, I've been getting very chatty with them. How long do you plan to stay? With every day that we’re here, we make plans to stay a lot longer. Socially, things seem to be collapsing back home... We said that we’d try five years and see how we felt after three – and now we’re having a baby in two weeks and I feel like we’re probably not going to go home any time soon! Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn? I speak a little Dutch. I do a half hour of this Rosetta Stone software in the mornings and I find that’s really good. And I practise with my co-workers and stuff like that, and they’ll correct my grammar. But as much as I can speak Dutch, I find that as soon as I start to have a conversation, people go too quickly for me when they speak back, and I just get very lost. I think that it’s a very difficult sentence structure once you try to form larger sentences. But you really can’t embrace the culture fully unless you learn the language, so we are aware that to be fully immersed we have to learn it. What’s your favourite Dutch food? We were a little mixed on that for a while until we started travelling further north up to Friesland and, for the first time, had northern Dutch mustard soup. That was a very interesting combination of flavours that we’re really into. Now we travel the countryside to find these mustards and we make our own soup at home. That would be my go-to here. Otherwise, we just stuff ourselves full of poffertjes as much as we can. How Dutch have you become? I’m going to say ‘medium’ Dutch, as I think it’s really important to represent your own culture as well when you’re living overseas. We really embraced the government system here a lot more than I thought we would, and I’m finding all the problems with our own government because of it. There’s no slum or ‘bad neighbourhood’ here that is visibly apparent – the bottom rung is set a lot higher and I think that’s something that the whole world could follow. I like the fact that all the roads are maintained. There are no tolls. And there’s functional social housing. Everything is just covered by the system. In New York, there is a feeling that it is every person for themselves sometimes. There’s a lot of things that work here that I didn’t even know about. I have a new appreciation for the regels of society – these ‘rules’ that they have here! I used to be anti-rules, but now I find that rules do help things to progress sometimes. Here there’s a structure and there’s an answer for everything. We can’t fathom what life would be like going back now. It’s a Pandora’s Box for us. Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet? Pieter Stuyvesant, who was the last Dutch director-general of New York, then New Amsterdam. There’s such a rich history there of how they set up a society. Granted, there was a lot of conquering, but at the time there was also a lot of negotiating, too. There’s an interesting story that when the English came to take the colonies from the North-East area, Pieter Stuyvesant jumped on top of a canon and was prepared to fire at 300 ships, when they themselves only had limited ships to defend themselves. They had to pull him off this canon and force him to surrender. For the present, I would love to be in a room with the prime minister, Mark Rutte. I’ve got a lot of questions about that whole tax thing [30% ruling] they’ve been altering lately. I’d really like to know how they were able to pull that off because that has a very big effect on us and a lot of people I work with. The society likes all the money coming into the country for their personal benefit, but they don't seem to like the people bringing it in. There’s no representation for the expat community, I feel. People make investments here based on the numbers they’re given and to have those numbers so drastically change at the drop of a hat, it’s really confusing to me how that’s legal. Multatuli. We went to the national military museum and we learnt all about the conquests of the Netherlands. Everyone tends to learn their local history from their own point of view – and all the conquering in Java and in the Indonesian islands, we didn’t know anything about this. Multatuli wrote news articles about what was really going on and the people were so upset by what they had read that they eventually pulled their own military out. To find out about how they had economically enslaved these people, and that it just took one writer to overthrow that whole concept, I think that was fascinating. What’s your top tourist tip? Leave Amsterdam! When you go to the city, you get a multi-cultural experience, which is very nice, but if you really want a true flavour of any country, you have to get to the countryside. We have an affinity for the national parks here. The Veluwe, a lot of people go to that, but our favourite is the Kennemer dunes. Just before you get to the Bloemendaal beach, there’s a beautiful national park on the north and south side of the N200. It’s miles of sand dunes before you get to the beach and you can just walk around there for weeks! The dunes make for a unique landscape which we don’t have in the States. Tell us something surprising you’ve found out about the Netherlands That democracy with a touch of socialism works! That was a unique thing for me. When I first got here, the fact that tax was so high here, I didn’t understand why people would be a fan of that. But then I see how much you get for that. The concept that we [as Americans] are aware of is that the government ‘takes over’ your life, but here it’s just that the government sets a high minimum for life standards. All the roads are maintained, the national parks are free, … you get everything you need. Also, we did not know about the agricultural market here and that over 80% is exported. I found it peculiar that the majority of the produce is exported and that the people in the country do not necessarily get the best of the best. You really have to seek if you want to find high quality products. The fact that we can even buy or afford orchids here is also a phenomenon to us. Orchids in the States are like €30 a piece. Here’s it’s like €2.99! We keep flowers weekly. We have become those people! If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do? There’s a few little countryside lakes that we have found along the way. Hopefully, it would be summer when this moment occurred because there is a lake in the Kennemer Dunes – you park your car and you hike around 15 minutes through the woods and then there’s this beautiful desert lake that exists in the middle of this park. It’s just glorious and it feels so secret, even though there are people there. After work, in the summer, we’ll go there two or three nights a week: drive to the dunes, park the car and go for a swim for an hour or two. To find out more about the post-production projects Ricky works on, visit MPC Amsterdam. Ricky Weissman was talking to Deborah Nicholls-Lee.  More >


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

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

Greek national Charalampos Sergios came to the Netherlands to continue his academic career but ended up co-founding the website IamExpat instead. He's a huge fan of the Dutch agenda, likes to drink local beer in local bars, and says rainy days make him productive. How did you end up in the Netherlands? I was studying for a master's degree in marketing in Stirling in Scotland and then went on to do an MPhil in what was basically econometrics and marketing at Tilburg University. While I was there I got to know some other Greek guys and one year later we started IamExpat. That was 10 years ago. How do you describe yourself - an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international etc? I don't like to put a label on people. You are what you feel. If you feel like an expat you are an expat, if you feel like you are an immigrant, that is what you are. I would like to think I am a world citizen. How long do you plan to stay and why? I'm not really sure to be honest. Every two years I say 'another couple of years' but then something happens - it could be work, meeting the love of your life. Have I done that? No comment. Do you speak Dutch? Een beetje. We've had classes here at the office after work.  I've been here for about a decade and I can read it and I can sort of talk - I would order in a restaurant in Dutch or call a taxi, but discuss astrophysics? No. What's your favourite Dutch thing? I love the Dutch agenda. I love planning my meetings and I would never have thought of doing that before coming here. It is actually kind of weird when I go back to Greece or to meet friends in other countries and I say, 'what are you doing on Thursday morning?' They tell me 'I don't know man, phone me on Thursday morning and see.' How Dutch have you become? Maybe I have become more Dutch than I think I have. There are little things, maybe they are universal, like the way everyone goes outside when the sun comes out. I don't define that as Dutch, it is more default behaviour. Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet? There are no specific Dutch people I would like to meet. I would just like to go for a beer and talk to the three Dutch guys sitting next to me. I'm not very fond of idols or superstars and stuff like that. I like ordinary people, Marieke, Jochem and the other guy sitting in my local bar. Would a famous Dutch scientist want to talk to me about science? I don't think so. What's your top tourist tip? Don't be a tourist. I've been here 10 years now and I have had lots of friends and friends of friends come to visit. I always make sure that whenever we meet, we meet in a neighbourhood bar and have a local beer. I tell them to do all the research they want, pick out ten things they want to do, and then decide to do just two. For the rest, take your bike and go out, start talking to people, eat bread and cheese... try to see the city from a local perspective. Tell us something surprising you've found out about the Netherlands This is more something surprising I found out about myself. I realised that these long grey rainy days that everyone hates, I kind of love them. I'm very, very productive on days like that. If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do? I would gather my friends, those who are still here or just happen to be in town, and go for a La Chouffe or a Zatte. Just have a beer and say goodbye. Charalampos Sergios was talking to Robin Pascoe The IamExpat fair takes place at the Gashouder in Amsterdam's Westerpark on April 6. Sign up here for a free ticket.   More >


‘People here speak their mind, but they’ve never seemed rude to me’

‘People here speak their mind, but they’ve never seemed rude to me’

Originally from Plymouth in the US, New York Times author and illustrator Brooke Barker moved with her husband from America to Amsterdam a few years ago. She loves real ginger tea with ginger slices, is baffled by the local love of toothpicks and says she is too short to ever feel really Dutch. How did you end up in the Netherlands? I’ve always loved the Netherlands, and I’d always wanted to live there so I found a job with an international ad agency I’d worked with before in America. I grew up there, but I’ve lived in France, Germany, Australia, and Canada. When I visited the Netherlands, I was very impressed with how happy, optimistic, and outgoing everyone seemed. I liked how I pictured myself there, and it seemed like a happy and cosy place to live. How do you describe yourself – an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international? I would describe myself as an international. While growing up, I sort of always felt a little weird, like most people do while growing up, and I thought maybe the reason why was because I was living in the wrong place. So I’ve tried moving around a lot in my adult life, and I think I’ve discovered that it might be that I’m a little weird. I might wind up feeling a little weird no matter where I live. I think I might also, technically, be an expat but expat sounds a little like America and I had a fight or something. But it’s more of an open-relationship, so I’ll stick with international. How long do you plan to stay? I think we’ll move back to America pretty soon because of the time difference. It really makes talking to my family and seeing my family a little difficult. A lot of people I work with live in America, and it would be nice to see their faces more often. At the same time though, there are days we imagine living here forever. I think I’ll always imagine an alternative reality where I actually was living here forever, could ride my bike without using my hands, and could pronounce all the vowels in Dutch words easily. Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn? When I first moved here, I took Dutch classes at night after work. It just got to be a little too much with learning to speak Dutch and then trying to make friends with people who spoke Dutch. I decided to focus on trying to make friends with people who spoke Dutch for a while instead of learning to speak it. Now I mostly practice at the gym, so my gym vocabulary is on point. I’m really familiar with phrases like ‘lekker jongens’ (well done, guys) and nog eentje (one more). I took classes at Koentact in Amsterdam, which is sort of led by a man named Koen. The company’s name is his name combined with the word ‘contact’ because the lessons are all about friendship. So the vocabulary you learn covers stuff like going to get a biertje (a glass of beer) with people. My grammar is a mess but I can go get a beer with lots of people very easily. What’s your favourite Dutch thing? Is a ginger tea with ginger slices considered Dutch? I’ve seen it here in the Netherlands, but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen it anywhere else. So if it does qualify as a Dutch thing, then my favourite thing would be ordering a gemberthee, which is just some slices of ginger in a cup of hot water, that always comes with a tiny, perfectly round cookie. How Dutch have you become? Whenever I go outside, I always feel like I’m too short to ever be Dutch. I feel like I’ll never be Dutch because of that. I’m also a pretty soft-spoken person, and I moved here hoping that the Netherlands would help me become more confident. I don’t know if it has. People here speak their mind, but they’ve never seemed rude to me. They’re confidently open and maybe that goes along with the tallness. Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet? Dick Bruna. He was the illustrator of Nijntje. He seems like an obvious choice because I also draw animals. He died shortly after I moved here but if it’s possible for DutchNews.nl to still arrange for us to get coffee together, I’d really love to [laughs]. I’d want to know if he ever got tired of drawing the same rabbit so many times, or if he ever felt overwhelmed by how many people liked it. We went to his studio at a museum in Utrecht, and it was really fun to see his work station and think about all the illustrations he did there. Michaela DePrince. I don’t know if she counts, since she’s from America, but she lives here and dances for the Nationale Opera & Ballet. She’s just very cool. I love that, as an athlete, all she needs is her shoes and herself, and she can make all these different things and make people feel different ways. I saw her speak once, and it was also very amazing. For the last one, I was thinking about how we go to a liberal synagogue here in Amsterdam. Outside of that, we don’t get the opportunity to meet many other Jews. There are a lot of those Stolpersteine (‘stumbling stones’) around our neighbourhood. If I could, I’d like to meet some of the people who used to live here whose names I’ve been seeing on these stones for so long. What’s your top tourist tip? My favourite place to take visitors is the Muizenhuis in the Jordaan. It’s a sort of art project, but it’s this massive mouse mansion made out of cardboard boxes with all these detailed and intricate scenes that the artist has made. She makes everything by hand, and her studio is there too so you can see examples of how she would make a tiny bucket or a tiny lamp. You can look at it for an hour...if you don’t feel awkward about being there for an hour. I’ve never seen anything like it anywhere in the world. Tell us something surprising you’ve found out about the Netherlands The most surprising thing I’ve found out is that no one in the Netherlands is flossing. They’re all using these small, wooden toothpicks that they jam into the spaces between their teeth. I’ve always been really proud of my flossing habit but, when I told my dentist I floss, she seemed completely uninterested. She even said that flossing has nothing to do with good dental health. So I’ve got these wooden toothpicks now, and I try to use them but it really doesn’t feel natural yet. It’s strange how over here, just on the other side of an ocean, there’s completely different rules for this sort of thing. If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do? I think I would want to cycle around Amsterdam for as much of it as I could with a lot of breaks along the way. I always feel happiest in the city when I’m cycling around it. I just like seeing all the different corners and seeing all the different shops lit up. I think I’ll really miss how everything looks at different times of the day; during the early morning when all you see are a few trucks going around and there’s not much happening, during the afternoon when there’s the tourist rush, and during the evening when everything is all lit up. You can follow Brooke on Instagram via this link. Her books Sad Animal Facts and Sad Animal Babies are available from the American Book Center. Brooke Barker was talking to Brandon Hartley  More >


‘I couldn’t get over how perfect Amsterdam looked, like a postcard’

‘I couldn’t get over how perfect Amsterdam looked, like a postcard’

Bilge Yörük spent most of her childhood in Turkey before she moved to Canada as a teenager. She now lives in Amsterdam with her husband and young daughter and works for a medical research company. She would like to meet tv presenter Arjen Lubach and loves hanging out in the Jordaan. How did you end up in the Netherlands? I met my now husband while I was working on my PhD in Toronto. He was doing a research internship in the same department. He's Dutch, we met at a birthday party and have been together ever since. It’s been...let me think, seven years now. But once we decided that we really liked each other we had to figure out what we were going to do. At that point, he was only scheduled to be in Canada for another six months, and I still had to finish my PhD. Then he was able to extend his internship, we got to know each other a bit better, and we decided to stick together in a long distance relationship for another year and a half until my research was done. I moved over here to be with him in 2013. How do you describe yourself – an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international? I guess I moved here for love so that would make me, technically, a lovepat. I’m curious about the term ‘international’, though. Whenever you move somewhere that you’re not from you might think of yourself as an international. I imagine everyone has a different definition. I’m also thinking of my background as a Turkish-Canadian and how I grew up in different countries so I see myself as more of an international person. It’s difficult because there’s no one place that I consider home. I feel like I’m more attached to people than countries, and I can move elsewhere, if needed. But if I had to pick one term to describe myself, I’d choose lovepat. How long do you plan to stay? I’m not sure. I can see myself being perfectly happy living here for the rest of my life. If another opportunity comes up, I could also see my family and I living somewhere else. I love the Netherlands, and I think it’s a great country to raise your kids in. That’s important now that we have a daughter. I grew up in two different countries, though, and I find that can be a great experience, too. It can help create more global citizens who are not just tolerant of other cultures and traditions, but also appreciative of them and their differences. To be able to experience those things throughout your youth is fantastic. I’d love for our daughter to have that same opportunity, but you never know what will happen in the future. Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn? I can’t say that I speak Dutch. When anyone asks me, I always say ‘Ik spreek een beetje.’ I can definitely speak a little, and I have taken various courses over the years, but since I don’t speak it at work and we speak English at home, and I live in Amsterdam, I don’t really need to use Dutch. All that obviously hasn’t helped me with my Dutch learning. At this point, I would say I understand a lot but I don’t speak it. I’m not comfortable enough to go beyond basic conversations and build on them so I don’t really use Dutch. When I’m ordering things in cafes and restaurants, I sometimes use it. At Albert Heijn, I also usually know what questions they’re going to ask me. I know they’re going to ask me if I have my Bonus Card and if I want a bag so I’m ready to respond in Dutch. What’s your favourite Dutch food? I don’t know if it’s technically Dutch, it’s more Indonesian-Dutch, but I really love saté. I never tried it until I came here. I love kip saté and bami, but one thing I find weird is saté sauce on fries. I really don’t like that. Mayonnaise on fries is also weird. I only like my fries with ketchup. I think that’s very North American, whereas mayonnaise is more of a European thing. How Dutch have you become? I was thinking about that before the interview. What does ‘Dutch’ mean, really? That makes it a difficult question. There are typically things that people associate with the Dutch, like the directness and being punctual. I have to say that I’m neither, and I use polite phrases when I write emails like ‘would you please kindly….’ The Dutch are always on time but I’m getting to be less so, especially now that we have a kid and tend to always be a little late. In Turkey, it’s a bit more relaxed, but it can really depend on the person. It’s not like you can say, ‘Oh, Turks, are never punctual.’ So I don’t think I’m really Dutch. I still love my warm lunches and would rather have those than bread and cheese. I do miss driving a bit, too. We live in Amsterdam so we don’t really need a car. I used to drive in Canada though and it’s something I do miss...but not the traffic. It’s much nicer to be able to just bike everywhere.  Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet? Eberhard van der Laan. He’s the former mayor of Amsterdam, and I wish I could have met him before he died. I think he really loved and cared for the city, and I love living here. I find it amazing that so much of the city centre and its canals have remained mostly unchanged for hundreds of years. There’s so much history. I would have loved to have gotten a cup of coffee with him and talk about his Amsterdam; his favourite spots and his vision for the future of the city. Arjen Lubach. He hosts the TV programme Zondag met Lubach. I think he’s a brilliant comedian, and I agree with most of his views on the things he discusses on the show. It would be great to hang out with him, get some beers, and chat about relevant issues and all the ridiculous things that are happening in the world. It can be tough for me to keep up with his Dutch, though. Some parts I can understand and some parts I don’t so I usually watch the show on YouTube with subtitles. Dafne Schippers. She’s an Olympic runner who is a pretty amazing athlete. I love watching her in all the different running events in the Olympics and other world championships. I think it would be really cool to meet her. What’s your top tourist tip? I say to all my friends and family who visit us that, unless they’re really big on museums, they should avoid them if they really want to experience Amsterdam. I tell them to just go for a walk or rent a bike to go to different neighbourhoods. They should pick a cafe, and get a couple of drinks. I try to get them to see the city with their own eyes and not stick to just one area or a few museums. I love the Jordaan, which is where we live, and I encourage them to explore it. I still find it super pretty. When I first moved here, I couldn’t get over how perfect it looked with all the houses by the canals, like a postcard. It took me a few weeks to realise, ‘Oh my god, I’m actually living here!’  Tell us something surprising you’ve found out about the Netherlands I’m still surprised at how fast the weather can change here. You can get sunshine and then, five minutes later, it’s raining heavily. Five minutes later, there’s hail, then another five minutes later, it’s clear again. How fast the clouds move is something that I’m not used to, having grown up in Turkey and Canada. I also expected it to be a lot darker and rainier. Everybody warned me before I moved here that the winters were tough. Of course, there are some weeks that are really dark and depressing but, most of the time, I’m perfectly okay with the weather. If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do? I thought about this one too before the interview, and it actually made me quite emotional. I suppose we would do what we always do on the weekends. We’d go out for a stroll along the canals and the Nine Streets. We’d visit our favourite cafe, Cafe 't Smalle, and have some drinks there. I’d just want to walk around the city, really. I love strolling around the Jordaan and past the canals. That’s what I’d miss the most, I think, our walks in our neighbourhood. Bilge Yörük was talking to Brandon Hartley.  More >


‘Amsterdam weather is controlled by an angel who is on an internship’

‘Amsterdam weather is controlled by an angel who is on an internship’

Originally from Pakistan, Basir Mahmood is an artist, photographer, and filmmaker whose works have appeared in galleries and museums all around the world. A few years ago, he was awarded a research fellowship in Amsterdam, and he continues to live in the city. How did you end up in the Netherlands? I have been travelling around for the last eight years now, from one artist residency to another. This is how I also ended up at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam in 2016. After finishing the two-year-long programme, I decided to stay because of the city itself and the people I met here. In Amsterdam so far I have collaborated with professional translators, athletes and young actors, to produce video works. How do you describe yourself – an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international? I think I would be more comfortable calling myself an expat, even if I was residing back in Pakistan. This feeling comes mainly through the position I take as an artist while making a work and also through constant travelling. For years I have been observing unfamiliar contexts through my work and with time I realised that I am slowly losing a sense of belonging. When I went back to Pakistan, I continued to observe things the way I do in other countries. I am not a great believer of maps anyways, the lines we draw keep on changing with time. They are only meant to navigate through a present time, so it is better not to take them too seriously. How long do you plan to stay? This is the question I ask myself almost everyday, and my answer to this changes every time. I do call it my home, this calm, cosy city of Amsterdam. Today, a group of tourists asked me for an address on the street, and I was able to guide them correctly for the first time. I felt proud and at home. The only unsettling thing for me is that the Netherlands is just too fine; too clean, too beautiful. It is almost unreal compared to where I come from and the other places I have visited. Sometimes, I do not know how to deal with its excellence. Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn? I wish, one day, that I will wake up and start speaking Dutch. I am lazy, not just with languages, but otherwise too. Recently, I have started listening to Dutch radio stations at home. You can consider it my intention towards learning the language. The longer I stay here, the more I feel that I have to push myself to learn it, no matter how difficult I feel it is. Without Dutch, I feel like I am missing out on something important, for instance those conversations on the street or in supermarket that might be useful for my work as an artist. I mostly have to depend on my sight, which is also not bad. What’s your favourite Dutch food? I like food and people who like to eat. However, I am still very conservative when it comes to trying out something new. Despite this, here in the Netherlands, I have tried foods that are easily available while going around the city that I now absolutely love. They have become part of my tastes. Poffertjes, for instance, are one, and bitterballen another. How Dutch have you become? I am not sure how much, but I think living here has turned me into a straightforward person. At first, I thought I might sound rude, but I later realised it just saves so much of my time. Also, at home, I have no curtains on my windows, which I think is very Dutch of me. Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet? More than meeting individuals, I wish I had been around in the 1960s and early 1970s, when the Netherlands had one of the most influential art scenes in the world. During that time, many Dutch artists travelled abroad and established themselves internationally. Many very interesting artists came here to develop their careers as well. I was introduced to the work of Bas Jan Ader and Marinus Boezem when I was still a student, probably because of my interest in conceptual practices. Jan Dibbets work I explored very recently while curating a programme for the Stedelijk Museum. I am interested in meeting these artists because they are relevant to what I am trying to resolve today through my own work. What’s your top tourist tip? If you are in Amsterdam and feel it is too small, just make sure you are exploring it right, because the city just keeps the image of a small town, but there is actually a lot more to it. It will surprise you with something new in every neighbourhood, like it did for me. Furthermore, it is needless of me to mention the importance of having a bicycle. One will make you feel like a king of the roads while you go around as far as you can go. Tell us something surprising you’ve found out about the Netherlands Weather, and the way Dutch people deal with it. I even have an app on my phone that tells me at what minute it’s going to rain and when exactly it’s going to stop. Even then, the weather can be surprising. When I moved here, I would joke that the weather in Amsterdam seems to be controlled by an angel who is on an internship. Like me, everyone living here has something to say about it. It is a good way to start a conversation with any stranger you meet here.  If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do? I would take a boat and go as far as I could in the last 24 hours. Basir's video works, Good Ended Happily, was currently being screened as part of a solo exhibition at Wilfried Lentz Rotterdam. His 2016 video installation Monument of Arrival and Return, is also part of the Freedom of Movement exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. You can learn more about Mahmood and his others works via his website. Basir Mahmood was talking to Brandon Hartley  More >


‘There’s a non-hierarchic, “say what’s in your heart” mentality here’

‘There’s a non-hierarchic, “say what’s in your heart” mentality here’

Groningen-based Israeli Guy Weizman (45) moved to the Netherlands with his partner some 20 years ago to work with celebrated choreographer Itzik Galili. Today he is the artistic and general director of theatre company Noord Nederlands Toneel and dance company Club Guy & Roni; parent to a teenage son; and an enthusiast for Dutch art, literature, philosophy and oliebollen. How did you end up in the Netherlands? I was invited to come and work here when I was dancing, myself. It’s not so unusual for dancers to travel around because dance is pretty much an international language. Before I came to the Netherlands, I lived in Berlin and Barcelona and Brussels. When I was in Brussels, this guy that I worked with before asked me if I wanted to join a project in Amsterdam with him. That’s how I ended up in Amsterdam for two years; and then the whole group moved up to Groningen and I moved with it – and I’ve stayed ever since! How do you describe yourself – an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international etc? I couldn’t find myself in any of the definitions. I don’t think I’m international because I’m very well embedded in the culture of the Netherlands. Now that I’m involved in theatre, language became – in the last ten years – a very important aspect of my work and the culture in general. I think, then, it’s this old, pitiful 'world citizen' definition as I can’t find anything better than that. I don’t really divide the world into countries or continents and I am happy with the people that surround me wherever I am. How long do you plan to stay? I’m happy here. I don’t plan anything. I think it’s very different when you relocate for your work. I might stay forever or leave in three years – I’ve no idea. Time will tell. Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn? I do speak Dutch. I didn’t learn it on a course, I learned it by talking to people, by reading newspapers, by reading subtitles and asking a lot of questions. What’s your favourite Dutch thing? I love oliebollen – I really love oliebollen! I also really like Dutch art and the way it has developed over the centuries. It has always been very innovative, always looking ahead. If you compare it to other European disciplines or arts, it’s much less tradition-based. Like many other things in the Netherlands, Dutch art is very progressive and future-orientated and I find that really inspiring and I think that’s probably one of the reasons I’m here creating work in the Netherlands. How Dutch have you become and why? I am very hungry at 6 o’clock in the evening! I find it really amusing. I don’t plan what I’ll eat a week in advance, and my son [who was born here] is kind of starting to get a bit uncomfortable with that! I became maybe more direct than I used to be, and I think that’s a good thing, actually. Communication is relatively simple here for a foreigner. There’s a very non-hierarchic, 'say what’s in your heart' mentality, and I appreciate that. Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet? I would be very excited to watch Van Gogh work and just try to understand what was going on in his head. I would like to meet Spinoza. He was a visionary who was excommunicated from his community for having really crazy, non-religious thoughts. He came up with a couple of really exciting thoughts that we are still trying to understand today. He was a very brave, smart man who didn’t comply with the rules that were forced upon him and I find him very interesting. I’m very happy I [already] met Judith Herzberg. She’s a Dutch poet, writer and playwright. We had a really beautiful conversation. She’s one of the most fascinating people I’ve met here. She just won the Dutch literature prize. She has a way of looking at the world… I would never be able to think of the world that way. And she has a way of translating it into words. She keeps it very concrete and at the same time strips it of any aesthetic or unnecessary emotions and brings it down to an abstract essence that is beautiful. This was really a big shift in my understanding of Dutch culture and Dutch language and it was a very important encounter for me. She wrote the script for one of our productions. Working with her and seeing how she processes her artistic thoughts and how she looks at the world, many things fell into place and it was very meaningful for me. What’s your top tourist tip? I think, very often, nature in the Netherlands is under-estimated. The canals, the museums, the cheese, and the flowers are the really big tourist attractions that everybody seems to follow. My biggest surprises about the Netherlands were always outside the main cities, far away from the Randstad, in all these scenic routes in Drenthe, and in Groningen, and in the North of the Netherlands – which you can’t get to so quickly. There’s a surprising and overwhelming serenity that’s really very special. If you are there on the right day, you look at the sky and the trees and you think, OK, that’s what made the great artists paint those beautiful paintings. So, my tip is: stay away from the big cities, take a bike, and get lost in nature. Tell us something surprising you’ve found out about the Netherlands The openness of the society is something that I really love. It really surprised me how indifferent society here can be about the differences of people from other nationalities. It’s not tolerant, necessarily, but really indifferent, which I think is much more exciting. I’ve lived in many countries and I’ve never met this quality anywhere else, that someone couldn’t care less if I’m a foreigner or not. If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do? I would probably pack all my books and ship them to wherever I was going to. I would maybe also meet my friends and have a big dinner. Good food with all my friends. I would cook a huge goodbye dinner in Groningen or wherever it is easy for everyone. My friends are a little bit everywhere in the Netherlands. Guy’s latest production,‘Brave New World 2.0’ (subtitled in English) runs from 11 February – 18 May. Visit Noord Nederlands Toneel and Club Guy & Roni to find out more about Guy’s work. Guy Weizman was talking to Deborah Nicholls-Lee.  More >


‘There are more than 400 museums in this tiny country’

‘There are more than 400 museums in this tiny country’

Dual national Abbie Vandivere (Canadian and British) gets to work with some of the Netherlands' most precious paintings, as a conservator at the Mauritshuis in The Hague. In the Netherlands for 13 years, she would like to have a party at Jan Steen’s family tavern, and invite Hieronymus Bosch and Johannes Vermeer to join in. How did you end up in the Netherlands? I’ve always been fascinated by Dutch Old Master paintings, and I came here in 2005 for an internship at a museum. Now I’m a paintings conservator: I restore 16th and 17th-century paintings at the Mauritshuis, and I teach technical art history at the University of Amsterdam. How do you describe yourself - an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international, etc? I proudly refer to myself as an allochtoon. If this word is used (negatively) to describe a certain type of person who moves to the Netherlands, then I want to reclaim it. How long do you plan to stay and why? I’ve lived in Canada, the US and England, but now I can’t imagine living anywhere other than Amsterdam. My husband was American, but after living here for more than half of his life, he became a naturalised Dutch citizen. Why would I leave now that I’m married to a Dutch person and working with my favourite paintings? Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn? I started learning Dutch art vocabulary when I was a student in London. In class, we read and translated short descriptions in a book about Dutch paintings of the Golden Age. Funny enough, most of them were from the Mauritshuis where I now work. After moving here, I took ‘Nederlands als Tweede Taal’ courses at the University of Amsterdam in the evenings. Since then I’ve picked up a lot of Dutch at work, and now I speak fluently enough to give presentations at the museum and university lectures. One student’s feedback was that I speak slowly and carefully like Bob Ross, which was a huge complement because he is one of my art heroes. Of course, I still make mistakes but Dutch people consider it charmant. What’s your favourite Dutch food and why? Does Dutch-Indonesian food count? As a vegetarian, I love the tofu and tempeh dishes that you get with a rijsttafel. I love really spicy food, which rules out most other Dutch cuisine. How Dutch have you become and why? I’m responsible for preserving some of the country’s most precious cultural heritage, so I’m immersed in Dutch history and culture at work. I had the chance to hold one of the country’s most beloved paintings in my (gloved) hands: Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring. Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet and why? I would love to help out in the studios of some 16th and 17th century artists. After a day of painting, I would have a party at Jan Steen’s family tavern, and invite Hieronymus Bosch and Johannes Vermeer. We could talk about art while drinking out of roemers and smoking out of long clay pipes. What's your top tourist tip? In Amsterdam, take a canal cruise. It might seem cheesy and touristy, but the city is spectacular, seen from the water. Then enjoy some of the museums in other cities that are easy to reach by train: the Mauritshuis in The Hague, the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem. Tell us something surprising you've found out about the Netherlands There are more than 400 museums in this tiny country, from the sprawling Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam to the tiny (but fascinating) ship-in-a-bottle museum in Enkhuizen. Really young children are taught to recognise paintings by Van Gogh and Rembrandt. Yet when people around the world were surveyed about what their idea of a ‘perfect painting’ was, every country came up with a landscape… except the Dutch. They envisioned an abstract painting.  If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do? I would get up early and roller skate around Amsterdam as the sun rises. During the day, I’d visit my favourite museums, then stop in at the goat farm in the Amsterdamse Bos. After some jenevers at Wynand Fockink in Amsterdam, I would like to be the passenger on a boat puttering around the canals of Amsterdam. Abbie Vandivere was talking to Natasha Cloutier  More >


‘I got into local cooking because I had to. I knew I was going to stay’

‘I got into local cooking because I had to. I knew I was going to stay’

Aileen Enda Jansen Dawson, 83, will be spending her 59th Christmas in the Netherlands this year. She moved here in 1959 to marry a Dutchman she met while working at a hotel in Germany. Now widowed and with four sons, she still gets het and de confused, has learned to eat Dutch vegetables and knows every museum in Amsterdam. How did you end up in the Netherlands? I was doing hotel management at a hotel in Ireland. It was a six year course and for the final year we had an exchange system with either Germany or Switzerland. I ended up working at a family hotel in Heidelberg with a friend. I was 21 and she was 20. The local paper wrote about us when we left for Germany because we were sort of trailblazers. My future husband was studying at the hotel school in The Hague and he and a friend were also working at the hotel. So you can tell what happened. When I told my family I was going to marry my Dutchman, my father said 'not only is he a Protestant but he's a bloody Orangeman'. Once he got to know him, they got on famously. After a year in Heidelberg, I applied for a job in Amsterdam and eventually found work as waitress in the Carlton hotel. In April 1959 I had known him for exactly two years and we got married. When he died, we had been married for 58 years. How do you describe yourself - an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international? I always say I am Irish and I'm Dutch. When I went to a reunion at my school, they asked me what nationality I was and I said I am Irish and Dutch. The girl taking my details said 'thank god you said it that way round'. How long do you plan to stay? I hope I stay here until I die. I love it here. I've only lived in Amsterdam for a year. We moved to Den Helder after my husband took early retirement because we both wanted to live on the coast. When my husband died my sons helped me move to Amsterdam. Do you speak Dutch? My Dutch is anything but perfect. I speak it fluently but I still don't know the difference between de and het. But it makes no difference to me whether I read Dutch or English. We spoke English at home when the boys were little but people used to laugh at them because they would say shampoo not champoh and jam rather than sjem. I still do. What's your favourite Dutch food? In the beginning I thought it was terrible. I was used to having a hot meal at lunchtime not bread and milk. We'd eat broad beans and I thought they were absolutely awful but I said to myself I would have to get used to them because I am going to live here. Endive, I hated it. Stokvis was made from dried fish and rice and potatoes with sauce. My mother came to stay and I made it for her and she told me she ate something like it as a child in Ireland. Another thing we ate was blote kindertjes in het gras - white beans with salted French beans. I got into the local cooking because I had to. I knew I was going to stay here. How Dutch have you become? I'm still Irish but I would not go back to live in Ireland. It's changed too much. I used to go a St Patrick's Night before my friend died. When the children were small we did Sinterklaas and we always celebrated Christmas. I never watched football apart from when Ireland was playing. My husband always called me for the national anthem. If you ask me who I would want to win, I'd say Holland because my husband was Dutch, as are my four sons. Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet? Vermeer. When I was at boarding school I can remember one of the nuns saying to me that a painting on the wall - it was The Milkmaid - was a reproduction of famous painting and that one day I might see it for real. The first time I saw it in real life I bought a postcard of it and I sent it to the nun. I was also very fond of prince Claus even if he was German. I couldn't care less. I think nationalities should mix. I've just been at an exhibition at the Amsterdam Museum on 1001 emancipated women. It's marvelous, definitely worth seeing. There was a Dutch woman, a runner called Fanny Blankers-Coen. My brother used to call her 'Flying Fanny' and always wanted to meet her. I saw her once in the Amsterdamse Bos when my son Dolf was running and I wanted to say hello to her and get her to sign something, but I never did. The shoes she used to run in are in the exhibition. What's your top tourist tip? I know every single museum in Amsterdam, whether small or big. I've visited them all several times. I am a real museum person. The Willet Holthuysen and the Van Loon museums are beautiful houses on the Herengracht. and you've also got beautiful churches, like the Nicolaaskerk by central station and the Papegaai in the Kalverstraat. I've got plenty of time to visit them. I walk everywhere. Tell us something surprising you've found out about the Netherlands When I first lived in Amsterdam I thought the people were very friendly. I tried to speak Dutch but of course I had a terrible accent and they used to say to me 'maar jij ben geen Amsterdamse'. They didn't tell me I was a foreigner, but that I was not from Amsterdam and I liked that. In Den Helder, however, they would tell me I was not Dutch. If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do? Go with my children and my grandchildren and their wives for a meal somewhere by the sea. We'd walk to the beach and then all eat together. The sunsets here are beautiful. Enda Jansen was talking to Robin Pascoe  More >


‘Dutch people don’t like long silences but in Sweden we can live with them’

‘Dutch people don’t like long silences but in Sweden we can live with them’

Helena van Heel is a Swedish mezzo soprano who moved to the Netherlands 25 years ago. She lives in Amsterdam Noord with her Dutch husband and daughter, recommends you visit the 11 Fountain tour in Friesland and sneaks off to Ikea when she gets homesick. How did you end up in the Netherlands? I met a Dutchman in Stockholm, he was playing in an orchestra and it was love at first sight. The first time I had visited him I did an audition for Netherlands Chamber Choir - it just happened to be that week - and they said I could have a job - if I moved to Holland. I decided to finally make the move after a year. So the move was a combination of work and love. Actually, the love only lasted six months - we were very different. Anyway I had a job of course with the choir and then I met another man, who is now my husband. He is the reason I stayed. How do you describe yourself - an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international? I think I say I am Swedish. That never goes away. I am considering getting get Dutch nationality, if I can keep my Swedish passport because it is really frustrating when it comes to voting. But I want to keep my Swedish nationality. I am very yellow and blue in that way. How long do you plan to stay? So far so good. There have been a lot of times when I thought I would move to London or back to Sweden because it took me a long time to settle here. But now, at this moment, I have a daughter and I am quite happy here. I don't have any serious plans to go. My dream is to buy a nice Swedish summer house and go there often. That would be lovely. Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn? I had this job with the choir and as a singer you have to know your languages, or at least how to pronounce them. They made it very clear to me that if I wanted a job, I had to work on my Dutch. Every day they helped me. It was an international group so English, sometimes German, even French were the working languages. But their help with Dutch pushed me over the threshold. What's your favourite Dutch food and why? In this season, I like to eat stamppot with zuurkool and smoked sausage. There are such great variations on stamppot, with curly kale for example. How Dutch have you become and why? I guess if I compare myself to the young woman who came here 25 years ago I was shy and timid and now I have learned to be direct and to say what I think. If that is Dutch, then that is how I have become. I remember when I was with the choir, we had a meeting with the whole group and the director told us we were going to talk about a certain matter. She went round the group and when she came to me I was quiet. I did not know what to say. She looked at me and she said: 'Helena, we would really appreciate it if you would tell us what you think, right now. This is your chance to have your say.' And I realised at that moment that no-one had ever said anything to me like that in Sweden. In Sweden people are more reticent. Swedes are not afraid not to say anything. Dutch people don't like those silences but in Sweden we can live with them. I also took my Dutch husbands name which is not very emancipated and people often ask me about it. But when I used to say my name was Helena Wiklund people would immediately say 'oh that sounds Swedish' and we would end up having a conversation about Volvo, Saab and Ikea. Of course, I like people being interested but every day it gets too much. It's also a practical thing. As a family we all have the same name. Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet? The garden architect Piet Oudolf. He's in his 70s now and he has made gardens all over the world - including Ground Zero in New York. I met him briefly when I sang at an event he organised years ago. I would like to meet him again to talk, not just to sing for him. I plan to read more of the writer Hella Haasse and I would like to meet her as well. And I would like to have met my husband's grandmother. She lived in a big house in Amersfoort and during World War II they hid 15 mainly Jews in the top of the house. I have heard so many stories about her and it is such a shame I never met her. The Germans had confiscated one room at the bottom of their house as an office but the people upstairs were never discovered. You have make sacrifices to live like that. One of the girls, a Jewish girl from Germany was a good friend of my husband's mother and she ended up living in the north of Sweden. What's your top tourist tip? Actually this is also a tip for myself because I have not done it all yet either. I would like to do the 11 Fountain tour which a friend of mine developed for the Leeuwarden Culture City of Europe event. You have the Elfstentocht on ice, and goodness knows if we will ever have another one. But she asked artists from all over the world to design a fountain for each of the 11 Frisian cities instead. The cities are real jewels, we never visit them and we all should. Tell us something surprising you've found out about the Netherlands There are so many things that surprised me, both positive and negative. When I came here 25 years ago I was so surprised that people left their car motors running for more than one minute when they were not driving. In Sweden you are not allowed to do that. I thought it so strange that in this small country, no one seemed to care. Of course there are people who are busy with environmental issues, but many people don't seem to be bothered. And switching off your engine - that is something we could introduce now. If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do? I would gather all my friends together and hopefully spend it in our garden on nice summer evening and enjoy the togetherness. I would go to as many museums as I possibly can and I would go to Hema. When I get a little bit homesick or when I long for Swedishness, I actually take the car to Ikea. I think if I moved to Sweden I would be homesick for Holland and it would be one of the things I would miss. Helena van Heel is performing several candle-lit Christmas concerts this month. On December 16 is launch of her CD of traditional Christmas music ‘Ave maris stella’ in Amsterdam. Helena van Heel was talking to Robin Pascoe  More >


‘We have fallen in love with the Netherlands, the people, the weather’

‘We have fallen in love with the Netherlands, the people, the weather’

British national Hannah Bayliss, husband Tim and dog live next to the Valkenburg airbase near Katwijk where they distill gin, enjoy beach life and have gotten to grips with the weather. How did you end up in the Netherlands? We ended up here in 2015 after Tim sent me a picture of the beach at Noordwijk. We both wanted to live in another country and were debating between New Zealand or the Netherlands. Tim had a temporary job in the Netherlands and I was in New Zealand when he sent me the photo. It was an early morning shot, the beach was deserted and all I could see as far as the eye would go was flat golden sands and blue sky!  I just thought, this is an amazing place. Why would we move half way around the world when we could live here? Tim now works for KPMG and we have set up a craft gin business on the side. How do you describe yourself - an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international etc ? I think we would describe ourselves as EU citizens. We are both proud to be British, but at the same time, I love where I live now and can not see myself living anywhere else. We have fallen in love with the Netherlands, the country, the people, the weather and most importantly, the opportunities that are here. How long do you plan to stay? We have renovated our house here, our dog has a dutch passport, we aren’t leaving! Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn? Not really… I try and it gets mistaken for German. It's something we are working on, but we are not natural language learners… it will take time! What's your favourite Dutch food? Tomatoes! Actually we love the quality of food that is grown here. The fish is amazing and so fresh, the bread is gorgeous, coffee is great…. The only thing we can not get to grips with is bitterballen… it is something about the texture. How Dutch have you become? I think that we must always have had Dutch tendencies. We have become a bit more direct in the way we approach people, but also because of where we live, the beach lifestyle has made us a bit more relaxed. And the outdoors nature of life around here means that our exercise habits have vastly improved! Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet? Dafne Schippers because I always have great admiration for athletes who are able to do the most amazing things and are so dedicated and committed. They are today's modern day superheros. Jan van Speyk, the Dutch naval lieutenant, was the first character for our gins and I really would like to find out if he meant to blow himself up or how much navy gin he had been drinking. I'd also pick resistance hero Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema because his adventures inspired us to find out more about the area where our distillery now is. Reading his book Soldier of Orange was really quite an eyeopener and bought the history of where we now live to life. What's your top tourist tip? Get out of Amsterdam and into Leiden, or the beaches from Noordwijkerhout down to Katwijk. There is so much to do and see. Its much better to take a canal ride through the bulb fields than the city. The restaurants are diverse and excellent quality and there is so much space to take a breath and appreciate where you are! I know people say the Netherlands is overcrowded but I I look out of our window, I just see bulb fields. When I go running I'm on the beach one moment and on a street the next. But everyone has their own space, the cars, pedestrians and bikes. Tell us something surprising you've found out about the Netherlands When we were doing background research for our Chow Hound gin I discovered there are 36 square miles of greenhouses in the Netherlands. That is larger than the footprint of Manhattan! If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do? Tricky one… I would spend it with Tim, our dog Maggie, walking, going to the beach and watching the sunset with a gin and tonic in my hand. Of course, the sun would have to be shining! Find out more about the Driftwood Distillery here. We're also giving away four bottles of the distillery's craft gin via a photo competition on our Facebook page.  More >


‘I try to make Dutch food healthier, I made bitterballen with liquid nitrogen’

‘I try to make Dutch food healthier, I made bitterballen with liquid nitrogen’

Jordanian Moayad Abushokhedim is a trained food scientist who has embarked on new business adventure using recycled food waste to create chemical-free additives in the Netherlands. Based in Rotterdam, he has learned to ride a bike and has become Dutch enough to go for 'buy two, get one free' offers in supermarkets. How did you end up in the Netherlands? I moved in November 2015, from Jordan — well, I moved to Spain first, and from Barcelona I moved to the Netherlands. I did my internship [in Barcelona] in food science, but I was more specialised in food science technology. Ferran Adrià—he’s a really famous chef, the most famous chef in Spain when it comes to food science and gastronomy—he trained me for three months. In Rotterdam, the Netherlands, the whole aim was to start my own company. I moved here because it’s a great place for business, and, mainly, because I could work in English. I came with lots of ideas—I’ve been working on my ideas since I was 16. I started my first company in 2015 [Blazing Sorbets]. I created a new fermentation process using zero sugar, and created the world’s first pure frozen alcohol. We developed this product to be made as a cocktail. It was hugely successful. We sold almost 600,000 units to Ibiza in one summer. The new idea is the biggest project I’ve undertaken yet. For me it means a lot, because I have a personal thing regarding this: based on research, chemical additives can cause cancer. So I kept researching for six years, until I discovered a method to create chemical-free additives and sweeteners. But not only that, I was able to extract the additives from fruits and vegetables. We buy food waste from farmers and supermarkets, and we convert them. We really rely on the circular economy. We produce our own energy at the office, with a solar system, completely. How do you describe yourself - an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international etc - and why? Well I would definitely consider myself an expat, because I moved to this country with an aim of making my dream come true, not to stay forever, so I still say this is not yet my real country. But who knows what could happen in a few years? I don’t know what life will bring me—I’m 24 and life is still ahead of me. How long do you plan to stay and why? I am still open-minded. I want to stay until I can make my company successful, because this project is really huge. By the way, we’re also opening in the UK and in Sweden using the same methodology, it will happen in 2019. We already have funding from Sweden and from the government in the UK. Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn? My Dutch is really, really bad, I have to tell you the truth. Everybody speaks English. All of my team, they all speak to me in English. When I moved here I tried to study Dutch for three months, and the reason I stopped was I just realised it wasn’t really useful. When I go to the supermarket as soon as I say, 'goedemorgen', they immediately continue in English, which is very respectful. Really respectful for them to do so. They are being nice, polite, and I always find it charming when Dutch people say, 'Ja, but please my English is not very good', and then their English is perfect. I always admire them when they say that. What's your favourite Dutch food ? I am a person who’s into health, vegetables, into changing the world. And when I moved here I literally gained three kilos because of all the fried food. So I think the only thing I could say is this: my favourite Dutch food is erwtensoep! I try my best, and I always try to cook myself to make healthier Dutch food. I actually made bitterballen with liquid nitrogen. I did! I froze it with ­-200 degrees liquid nitrogen and then afterwards baked it in the oven, because it gives it a crust but stays soft inside. It’s like it’s been fried, but actually hasn’t. How Dutch have you become? I have become a little Dutch. Once I moved here I hated the word gratis. I hated the word gratis. It’s against my culture. When we see something for free in Jordan we’re just like, 'Uh, no. No thanks'. Businesses won’t even use the word 'free' in Jordan because people hate it. If you see the phrase 'buy one and get one free'. Jordanians feel like we are either taking something that is not ours to take, or we must have over-paid for something else. I have changed, frankly. So when I see 'buy one get one free' I just go and buy it. I see everybody doing it. It’s not longer shameful. Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet? I would like to meet the Dutch royal family. They are so down-to-earth, and I admire that. But, to be honest, I have to tell you something: I’m connected with a lot of government people here, because the government sponsors me in my projects. But I feel they’re too down to earth. I feel they act very normaal, or try to act normal. It’s respectful, of course, but in the same time they don’t get to shine. What's your top tourist tip? Definitely Rotterdam, because I live here. I would say in the area of Prachtig Bar-Restaurant—it’s the best view in the city. And then, of course, the best tourist point in Rotterdam is the Markthal. It’s so beautiful, so fascinating. Everytime you’re there you just keep looking at the whole place; it’s fascinating. I would say my favourite place to eat in Rotterdam, actually I would definitely say: Parkhoevel. I love food chemistry, and let’s say they share the same beliefs as I do: sustainability, a good atmosphere and, in the same time, innovation. It’s not an everyday kind of restaurant, no, but once in a year, twice in a year? Definitely worth it. Tell us something surprising you've found out about the Netherlands Bikes. Bikes are everywhere! I didn’t know how to cycle before I moved here, because in Jordan we’re a mountain country, so we all rely on our cars. So when I moved here I had to learn how to cycle, and that was really fascinating—everyone was looking at me like I was a weirdo. I fell lots of times, I have to be honest, but I did it. I learned how to cycle and now I use my bike to get to the office. I prefer the bike more than the car now, because it’s so easy just to park. But my bike has been stolen three times already. This is my fourth bike, so I decided that if this one’s stolen, OK, I’m just going to walk. If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do? That’s a very hard question... First of all, here’s what I would do: I would be with my friends. I have lots of friends in the Netherlands, and I just want to be with them. That’s the most important thing. And I will take them to Delft! I love this small city so much. I love how crazy it is—it’s sort of, as they say in the Netherlands, gezellig. I know a great restaurant there, so that’s exactly where I’d be spending my last 24 hours. It’s called Cocoon. It’s a small restaurant, really tiny, but it’s really worth eating there because it’s handmade food. An old lady cooks the food; you get the homey feeling out of it. I would say the best 24 hours of my life maybe would be spent there. You know, you get so sick and tired of suits and the same lifestyle. I wear suits every single day of my life, so you just get, you just want to change your mood, your lifestyle. Moayad's healthy food additive company is called 7thcircle.nl Moayad Abushokhedim was talking to Joshua Parfitt  More >


‘People see me and they see my name and they assume I am Dutch’

‘People see me and they see my name and they assume I am Dutch’

Rachelle Meyer is an American illustrator who moved to Amsterdam with her British husband twelve years ago. She’s currently putting together an art collection of her Faces on the Ferry drawings, she would like to meet Jesse Klaver and she thoroughly recommends the Hoge Veluwe as a place to visit. How did you end up in the Netherlands? I’m originally from Texas but I was living in New York City when I met my British husband. He was living in LA but agreed to stay in New York for me, with the idea that we would eventually move to Europe. He had three cities in mind: Brighton, Amsterdam and Zurich. We visited all of them and I felt like Amsterdam was the most interesting and had the potential to take my life in unexpected ways. It has a rich history of art and design. How do you describe yourself – an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international? I veer between immigrant and international. I consider myself a global citizen. I think people should have freedom of movement. How long do you plan to stay? I’ve lived here now for 12 years. We’ve bought a home and I adore it. I love my neighborhood. Plus with the political situation in our home countries, we don’t have any interest in going back. Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn? I have one more class before I plan to take the NT2 exam. I took my courses here in Amsterdam at a language school that was very relaxed and friendly. I’m hoping to take the next course next semester and then take the exam. Mostly, I just want to keep up with my son who is going to a Dutch school and does his homework in Dutch. What’s your favorite Dutch food? I would say stroopwafels. They are addictive. You can’t eat just one. How Dutch have you become? It’s funny. People see me and they see my name and they assume I am Dutch. Then I open my mouth and they are very confused. I am pretty integrated, I think. I love my house and my neighborhood in Amsterdam Noord. My son goes to a Dutch school and speaks Dutch like a native. Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet? Fiep Westendorp. She’s a Dutch illustrator who drew the Jip and Janneke series which started in Het Parool and are now famous children’s books. I would love to just know more about her and what it was like working at that newspaper during that period of time. Duifje van den Brink. She hid out at the [Amsterdam Artis] zoo during the war. She sat on a bench in the zoo during the day, talking to people. It’s a really fascinating story and not as well known as other people who went into hiding. Jesse Klaver. He seems like he has a realIy great energy. I personally would like to see the US move away from its two party system and I think he would be a great person to ask for advice on how to do that. Plus, I have to pick someone alive so maybe I have the chance of it actually happening. What’s your top tourist tip? Go to the Hoge Veluwe. You will feel like you’ve been transported to another world. It’s a natural park in Gelderland which also has a museum (the Kröller-Müller museum). You can only go in by bicycle so you get a white bicycle at the entrance. There’s also a really cool castle (the Jachthuis Sint Hubertus). Go for the whole weekend and visit the Apenheul as well. Tell us something surprising you’ve found out about the Netherlands. Just how much Dutch people value sitting and enjoying the small things in life. When I first moved here, I registered with an employment agency and they sent me to work on a project in Utrecht. I was very proud of myself for navigating the trains correctly and I arrived at this building twenty minutes early, so I went to a little bakery to get a cup of coffee to go. In New York City, any bakery would serve you a cup of coffee to go. The older lady running the place pointed me to a bench outside and gestured for me to sit. Then she went away and came back from the house next door with a mug of coffee. It was from her own kitchen, in this chipped mug. Dutch people don’t see coffee as a method to fuel up but as something to be enjoyed and I really love that about being here. If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do? I would stay in Amsterdam Noord. I love my little house here that I’ve fixed up. Perhaps my family and I would cycle to Het Twiske, maybe get a cup of coffee somewhere and then go to see a movie at The Eye. Then have drinks at Noorderlicht. Then I would go home and snuggle up with my family. Rachelle Meyer is launching the Faces on the Ferry project in October, with silkscreen prints and postcards of the artwork also available for sale. Rachelle Meyer was talking to Molly Quell.  More >


‘I was told “even if you’re the queen of the Netherlands, no means no”‘

‘I was told “even if you’re the queen of the Netherlands, no means no”‘

Seven years ago, Beena Arunraj said goodbye to her dental practice and, with her husband Eddie, who works for Philips, upped sticks and moved from India to Eindhoven. Beena has been shocked by home births and sales staff in Ikea, but says she would like to meet Menno Snel and talk to him about the 30% ruling. How did you end up in the Netherlands? It was by a very normal route: my husband was with Philips, so he moved here for work eight years ago. I had never moved to another country before, but when you’re living in India a different state is almost a foreign country. We have a different language for every state, so it teaches you what it means to move to a new culture. How do you describe yourself - an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international etc ? I wouldn’t call myself an expat, because technically my husband is the expat; I would call myself an international. And I would call myself an international even if I was in India, because when you read a lot, and when you travel a lot, your mind stretches and I think once it stretches it can’t shrink. I was like this before, and I think I kind of it re-emphasised it coming here because I didn’t change so much; I could accept other cultures easily. How long do you plan to stay? Right now, I’m not thinking of moving elsewhere. Twice we were offered a good job in the US, but we actually turned it down. We chose the Netherlands over the US. One reason is Trump... Well, Philips does take good care of you, of course, but it’s more about Trump’s cultural impact, white supremacy, and what you hear of... I don’t think it’s the right time for anyone to move there, especially us. In the Netherlands I would always know that when my son says something about home, about his country or our culture, it wouldn’t be ridiculed here. It’s never ridiculed. Dutch society is more tolerant I feel. Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn? It’s not good because I haven't really had the necessity to learn it. Even with my neighbour, I don’t speak Dutch with her, but our relationship has still been so nice. We can jump over our fence into her house, and she can do the same with us. And our children also get along: when my neighbour has a paddling pool out, I don’t have to make my pool, I can just drop my son into hers. We can do that easily. She’s proper Dutch, her partner is Dutch, but still they’re not closed to communication. But I will be learning Dutch soon, because I figured that if you don’t know the language, you really can’t integrate into the society. What's your favourite Dutch food? I would say stroopwafels and the Dutch bitterballen. I have a sweet tooth, so the stroopwafels are welcome—and the bitterballen, yes, to offset the sweetness. I have them together! Not nowadays, though, because I’m conscious about my sweet tooth. I can’t have much. How Dutch have you become? I haven’t conquered the language but I have become Dutch in some ways. I have many Indian friends who still do the whole winding way of saying no, but I’ve become much more direct. That’s what really I adore about this country, though, that everyone is treated so equally. I went to Ikea when I first arrived and the lady there said she could only send our furniture to us two days later. I was still in my Indian mindset. So I started to persuade the lady. I said, 'No... I would like it tomorrow, I mean I have a party, and I have to do this and that...' because in India you can push the other person to make them say yes. You can always push more. So I was going on, taking her time, until the lady said directly to me, 'Hey, even if you’re then queen of the Netherlands, no means no.' I was just shell shocked. I thought it was rude. But after some time I realised it was my mistake: this was her job, and I should respect that. I think I really like the Dutch humour too. We cannot talk like they do, in India; we’re a bit more, well, not so direct. For example, there was one time I was sitting in the reserved seat on the bus, and I was really pregnant and close to delivering my baby. I was, like, you know, too big and I was squirming in my seat in this crowded bus. And then a teenager sat opposite me, maybe 19 or 20 years old, and he just looked at me and asked in English, 'Do you wish you didn’t do what you did now?' I couldn’t believe it! I laughed and laughed, and he laughed, and every one else around laughed, and I said, 'It’s too late now!' He made that joke in a kind of decent way, I felt. Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet? I really want to meet Menno Snel, the junior finance minister. I don't think his plan to cut the 30% ruling for existing expats is going to benefit either the Dutch or the expats. To give a commitment of eight years and then to go back on it isn’t right for the integrity of the country. My family will lose the ruling in January. I also want to thank the FNV (trade union federation), especially Tuur Elzinga. The FNV is against the 30% ruling, they want to get rid of it completely, but even they came out saying that it should not be scrapped for the existing beneficiaries. The third person person would be Arie Slob, the minister for school education, because I’m an advocate for bilingual education in the Netherlands. It's not just for international students, I think it’s also good for Dutch children to learn as many languages as they can when they are growing up. What's your top tourist tip? It’s a shame that when people think of the Netherlands they only think of Amsterdam. There’s so much more. I think the villages are far more picturesque, especially the Zaanse Schans in Noord Holland, with its windmills. Harderwijk is also one of my favourite villages on the waterfront. A lot of families might have been there for the Dolfinarium, but it’s a beautiful place to look at the canals, the quiet cafes and the fishing boats. The Dutch islands, the Wadden Islands, are also wonderful. There’s one island with the lighthouse, Terschelling, which makes for such a nice weekend getaway.  Tell us something surprising you've found out about the Netherlands A big surprise would be home births. It’s completely new to me. The midwife comes to your house of course, but I always used to think, 'What if something goes wrong?!' I learned about it in my birthing club, when I was pregnant with my son. I think half of the Dutch women at the club had a home birth. If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do? It gives me a strange feeling to think about this, but I think I would go biking in the woods, and send out farewell messages to my friends and acquaintances. In Eindhoven, I would really love to visit the Philips Fruittuin for a quiet family lunch, and would love to have dinner with all my friends. But even if I leave the Netherlands I would carry some Dutchness with me. Seven years is not short right? Beena now works for local news service Eindhoven News. She was talking to Joshua Parfitt  More >


‘Dutch families have dinners together, celebrate special events and holidays together’

‘Dutch families have dinners together, celebrate special events and holidays together’

Sheetal Shah originally moved to the Netherlands with her husband while she was finishing her PhD and pregnant with their second child. She now lives in Ouderkerk aan de Amstel, teaches psychology at Webster Leiden, and works with Bridge 2 Hope, an organisation that helps the victims of human trafficking.   How did you end up in the Netherlands? I was born and brought up in Mumbai and I moved to the Netherlands 12 years ago as a trailing spouse. My husband was working at ABN Amro and then he joined their global team. At the time, I was completing my PhD and was working, studying, volunteering, was a mother, and was soon to be a mother to a second son. I thought we would come to the Netherlands, I would finish the PhD, and we would eventually move back, but that never happened. How do you describe yourself – an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international? This is a very interesting question because this has been a journey for me. I moved here as an expat but I’m very often referred to as an immigrant as well, until I prove otherwise and have a discussion about it. I don’t see anything wrong in that. I also see myself as an international, though. I work with an international team, I have a classroom full of international students, and my identity is very much international as well. When I go back to India, I feel that I have an ‘outside-in’ perspective and I have an ‘inside-out’ perspective when I’m here in the Netherlands.  How long do you plan to stay? I think we’ll be here until the children go to university because both of them are in secondary school. I wouldn’t want to uproot them at this stage. So we know we’ll be here until then. After that, for me personally and professionally, my plan would be to work in the field in any country with a great opportunity. I consider myself an international psychologist. I do think that bringing together what I love doing, which is my work in the field of human trafficking, and using it with my background in psychology, I would be able to add value to these projects in different parts of the world.  Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn? Een beetje (a bit). I always start with that. I try to get by at least at the farmer’s market in Dutch. Very often, I joke that I speak Dinglish, which is Dutch and English combined. I find myself infusing my English now with Dutch words and a Dutch accent. Two things though, medical and legal conversations, I never do in Dutch. I prefer to do those in English. I learned Dutch as part of an expat relocation programme and I took lessons. I think that I learned a lot as well by speaking to people in the village where I live. What’s your favourite Dutch food? I come from India and food defines us. When I moved to the Netherlands, it took me a while to understand what is Dutch food. Over the years, I’ve learned that it’s not just only bitterballen, a borrel, or stamppot. What I love about Dutch food now is the cheese and all the breads that you can get. I absolutely love that and miss it when I’m out of the country for long periods of time. There’s one type of cheese that I like in particular. I buy it from Clara Maria, a cheese farm on the border of Amstelveen. It’s called Farmer’s Flame. It’s absolutely my favourite and it’s great for anyone who loves a tinge of spice in their cheese. You can buy it as a relatively young cheese or a slightly mature cheese, which will give you more flavour. I absolutely love that cheese and even travel with it. It’s a great present for our friends all over the world.  How Dutch have you become? As I said before, when I go back to India, I have that ‘outside-in’ perspective. There have been some moments that have defined my Dutchness. One is to make appointments and ask people to respect my schedule. Going back to India on our annual holiday means that our schedule is completely taken over by friends and family. So we’re going from one point in Mumbai to the next to meet someone else. Insisting that everyone respect the schedule and telling them that this is the time I’ve allocated for each gathering is really being Dutch but it’s not usually acceptable in Indian culture. Another part is more of a family thing. It’s opening presents. In the Netherlands, it’s a tradition when you open a present to do so right in front of the person who gives it. In Indian culture, it’s more polite to say ‘thank you’ and open it afterwards and not express if you like it, don’t like it, or even have it. So all these cultural nuances really define my Dutchness now and I’m also more direct. While Dutch directness is often criticised, in my conversations I have now started being more direct instead of more diplomatic like I would have been in the past. Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet? Anne Frank: She’s the first one I would pick. I don’t know if you can call her Dutch since she was born in Germany and she was stateless while she was here in the Netherlands. The reason why I choose her is because I work with an organisation called Bridge 2 Hope. We work with men and women who are the survivors of human trafficking. They’ve been marginalised, as were so many Jewish people during the Holocaust. I would love to meet Anne because, even as a child, she was able to express that experience so beautifully in her words. I wish I could meet her to learn more about her and her motivations for writing about all of these difficult experiences and trauma. Vincent van Gogh: This is based on my background as a psychologist so I would love to meet him. I had the opportunity to visit the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam recently and see the Van Gogh in Japan exhibition. Every time I go there, I spend time in the section when he was hospitalised and he did all those paintings towards the end before he died. I would love to meet him so I could work with him. I hope that, if he had been born at this time, he could have been better helped with his pathology than he was during his time. You can see his pain in his strokes and the melancholy in these artworks. Geert Wilders: I work with people who are marginalised and it’s my belief that, speaking as an international, we stereotype people because we don’t know them well enough. That ignorance can very easily become hate. So I wish I could meet him and discuss the long lasting implications of what he is doing to a country that otherwise has been very different than what he believes it to be. The fear he has been able to instill in people is an unfortunate but clever strategy. I would want to help him understand what the world would look like if there were many more people like him, and what has happened in the past when people have been able to exploit such hate.  What’s your top tourist tip? I would take them to Ouderkerk aan de Amstel. It’s a little village outside of Amsterdam and it has everything the Dutch love and love to do. It has the river Amstel, and it has a beautiful bakery called Bakker Out that’s over a hundred years old and makes the best speculaas. I think it wins an award every year around Sinterklaas and Christmas. They could walk along the Amstel, taste cheese at the beautiful cheese farms, and experience being Dutch in the way they like to spend their free time. So, if a person only has one day, I’d suggest that they avoid all the touristy things on TripAdvisor and just choose a Dutch village to visit instead. Tell us something surprising you’ve found out about the Netherlands. What really surprised me about the Netherlands is family values. When you think about stereotypes, Asian countries and southern European countries are the ones that are family-oriented. What I’ve seen in a lot of Dutch families is a concept of having dinners together, or celebrating special events and holidays together. I remember my first New Year’s Eve here. Because I was a new mum, we were celebrating at home that night. I saw that, over at my neighbours’ place, they had three generations of family celebrating New Year’s Eve together. Based on my travels and experiences in Mumbai and elsewhere, this is a night when young people go out and party with their friends, but there were my neighbours, celebrating all together with sparklers. I thought that family values wasn’t an important aspect of life here but it really is. From a professional perspective, it amazes me that the influence of this small country is so huge, whether it’s engineering, art, or even the field of psychology. I see Dutch researchers all over the world, the work that they do, and the impact that they’ve been able to make. Despite being a small country, it’s made a big impact on the world. If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do? I would like to just buy my favourite bread, sit with my Farmer’s Flame cheese and a glass of good red wine, and sit along on the Amstel river near my home. I would spend my day reflecting back on the last twelve or thirteen years that I was in the Netherlands and what a journey that was. Sheetal Shah was talking to Brandon Hartley  More >


‘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 >