A Day in my Expat Life – the Netherlands

Welcome to the latest post in my series about ordinary expat life. Today we hear from Lucille, an expat mum who moved to The Netherlands with her husband and their two boys a year ago. Her husband works for a multinational company and this is their fifth international posting. Lucille and her kids have three nationalities, The Netherlands being one of them, and so are happy to be practicing their Dutch and eating stroopwafels.  

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5h30

5:30am – I’m an early riser, a habit I formed when we lived in South Africa and would go running at 5:15am! In The Netherlands I still try to get up very early so I can work a bit in peace. In the summer it’s light fairly early, and by 7 the sun shines through the window on our top floor…if it decides to shine that day

7h30

7:30am – The kids wake up and come downstairs. I make them breakfast and they sit and eat at the kitchen island while I make their school lunches so we can chat. The school days are so long in The Netherlands – 8:45-3:15 – so these morning chats are an important part of our day.

8h15

8:15am – My brother Jake is visiting from Australia, and so the kids don’t want to get ready for school, and would rather listen to his stories.

8h40

8:40am – We’re off to school, late as usual. Even when my brother is not visiting we are usually late. I am actively trying not to nag my kids in the morning, not to hustle and shout and bribe them out the door. The result is that we are nearly always 5 minutes late for school, but we are relaxed and happy so who cares! When we moved to The Netherlands I decided not to get a car, and to only cycle. My 6 year old cycles, my 4 year old goes in the Bakfiets.

9h15

9:15am – I’m off for a run. I try to go at least three times a week, even if I’m super busy. It’s important to schedule exercise into my week. There are the most beautiful trails around our house. I can run through forests, farmland or to the beach through the dunes which is my favourite run. The weather isn’t always this good!

10h00

10am – This is the beach I run to. It’s sandy and wide and on a sunny day is lovely. It’s 10kms there and back, perfect.

11h30

11:30 – I’m home, have showered and eaten, and it’s time to work. Work is my freelance writing, posting on my blog, or working on the copy writing business I’m starting. I don’t run everyday so usually I start work at 9 after cycling the boys to school. You’ll notice the kitchen is still a bit messy from breakfast this morning, it just has to stay that way for a few more hours! If I don’t start work now, I don’t get enough done by the time I fetch the kids.

2h30

2:30 – Once a week the kids finish school at 2:30pm instead of 3:15, so off I go to fetch them. They attend the American School of the Hague and it’s in a lovely green area. The cycle is really lovely, and only five minutes from our house

2h45

2:45 – On early release days I usually pack a snack and we cycle to a forest (there are a few to choose from) and go for a walk. It’s so important to me that my kids relate to the natural world, I think I’m winning because they get so excited when they see a blackbird or magpie or some cowslip!

4h00

4pm – Monday is football practice. That’s the new American Consulate being built in the background.

5h00

5pm – If (and only if) I’m super organized I don’t need to go to the supermarket after football, but sometimes we stop on the way home to buy dinner. The main supermarket chain is called Albert Hein and it’s pretty fantastic with fresh produce and a wide variety. It doesn’t really compare to Woolworths in South Africa, but I don’t think anything can!

6h00

6pm – Straight home to Uncle Jake who is here from Australia to landscape our garden and who has been working hard all day! I make dinner while the boys play or watch TV. I cook separately for the kids because my husband only gets home late and we eat then. Weekends are our family meal times. That’s the reality of an hour-long commute to the office unfortunately.

6h30

6:30pm – Playtime, bath and story. We all get into one bed and read a story. We just finished The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe, and the boys were utterly enchanted. Now we are reading James and The Giant Peach which is such a great book. I love reading these books for the first time in almost 30 years!!

8h00

8:00pm – That’s it, days done. The boys have been asleep for a while already. I’ve cooked, my husband arrives home and we eat. If I need to finish up some work I do, but we usually watch an episode of something, maybe Outlander or Game of Thrones. I’m usually in bed by 10pm so I can get up early and do it all over again!

Thank you Lucille. The Hague was one of the places we applied for when we got this posting to Pretoria and although I love my South Africa life I can’t but help feel a little envious of this wonderful day with its cycling through greenary and runs on the beach!

Don’t forget to read the other posts in this series by clicking here.

People Who Live in Small Places #5: The Netherlands

When I started this series, I wasn’t sure what I would end up with. I started with Mayotte, simply because I had never heard of it so thought it would be interesting to hear about life there from someone who actually lived there. But while in the process of putting together those first set of questions, I kept coming back to my own experience of living in a “small place” and how similar life must be in Mayotte as it was for me in St Lucia – despite being half a world apart. So the concept of People Who Live in Small Places was born. Since then, I have branched out to include a small rock (Gibraltar), a small village (in France) and a small series of islands (the Seychelles). And then when I spotted a blog called Small European Country I knew I had to ask the owner to contribute. It turns out the small country in question is the Netherlands – and Michael is the blogger. So here it is, yet another take on what it is like to live in a small place.

Small places Netherlands 1_1

Thanks for helping me with this, Michael. First of all, can you tell me a bit about your ‘small place’
I live in Rotterdam, a city of over half a million people which can hardly be called a “small place”. It is, however, in the Netherlands, which is a small European country, so you can say that I live in a small place. What I love about living in Rotterdam is that it is a no-nonsense city, where attitudes and poses are not appreciated, it is a rough-around-the-edges port city.

And what are the good, and the not so good, things about living there?
The Netherlands is a very colourful country to live in – the Dutch countryside still looks much like a classic Golden Age landscape painting, and the spring flower colours are amazing. The living standard is quite high, and its a great place for children – playground facilities are superb here! I love cycling so of course I enjoy the world-famous Dutch cycling infrastructure. The downside is that it is a very crowded country, with little wild nature. Especially in Rotterdam, where there is a lot of industry, the air is rather polluted and the roads are very congested.

Dutch cycling infrastructure is superb

What to you find to do to occupy yourself in your spare time?
As I mentioned, I like cycling, and in the weekends I often go for a ride. I am also a runner, and in the summer I participate in triathlons (not the full one, but the shorter versions). Writing is my creative outlet. Besides my own blog about the living in a small European country, I also write about my favourite spots in Rotterdam for Spotted By Locals.

I have two children one 2 years old and another 2 months old, and they of course keep me busy, so my spare time activities have in the past two years been more centred on playgrounds and petting zoo’s. We do go to museums and exhibitions together. The Netherlands has probably the highest density of museums in the world – there’s a museum here for everything! I have a so-called Rotterdam Pas, which gives me free access to museums in and around the city, so even if the children’s attention span is only half an hour, its still affordable to visit museums.

The Utrecht canals on a sunny day are packed with boats

How easy is it to “get away” and where do you escape to? Do you even feel the need to escape?
As most small European countries, the Netherlands is very well connected to the neighbouring countries and there are flight connections to every corner of the world, so yes, it is very easy to “get away”. As I mentioned, this small European country severely lacks wilderness, and it is of course known for its flatness. I love hiking in the mountains, so I do feel the need to escape the flat Dutch landscape every now and then. Fortunately, there is another small European country just around the corner – Belgium – that is more three-dimensional.

What is the local community like? Have you felt welcomed?
The first years after my arrival I spent studying at the Delft University of Technology. I jokingly say that Delft is a big university with a small town in it. As befits a technological institution, Delft is highly internationalized, so everyone’s accustomed to foreigners. I once checked the newspapers offered at the Delft train station and was a bit surprised to find no less than 9 in Russian – more than in Dutch! Of course, moving to a new place always takes adjustment, and I am not the easiest person to welcome, so my housemates sometimes raised an eyebrow about my habits and customs, but the Dutch have quite a few quirky habits themselves, so I’d say we’re even.

Small places Netherlands 4

What advice would you give to someone thinking about moving to your small place, or to somewhere similar?
Even though the locals, especially in North-Western European countries like the Netherlands, speak fluent English, making meaningful connections in the local community is difficult if you do not speak the local language. And since the locals speak English well, and generally do not understand why would you want to learn their insignificant and difficult language, it is rather challenging to learn it – and the vicious circle is complete! I am fluent in Dutch but local people still try to speak English to me as soon as they spot a slight accent, weird but true.

The Dutch climate is best described as ‘moist’, so be prepared. Especially people from more stable climates and drier places have trouble imagining how the unpredictable weather can effect your daily life. For example, winter temperatures of 5 degrees feel much colder in the wet, windy Holland than -25 in, say, dry and sunny Novosibirsk, where I was born. Sure, here in the Netherlands it can be dry, sunny and warm. But (almost) never all 3 on the same  day.

OK, so the Dutch have their wilderness - on the water

Can you tell me a bit about yourself and your family, and why/how you came to be living in your small place?
I am a “serial immigrant” – I was born in Novosibirsk, in what was then the Soviet Union, and when I was 12 we moved to Israel. I came to the Netherlands more than 12 years ago, to study Aerospace Engineering in Delft. The choice for Delft, and the Netherlands, was a bit random, in short, I could find arguments against studying in pretty much every other place but had no reasons not to go to Delft. I applied, was accepted, and here I am 12 years later, still studying in Delft (doing a PhD by now), married to a Dutch girl, with whom I have two children. My local friends now plague me for being the most assimilated foreigner in the country.

Thank you Michael for that insight into what looks like a really pleasant place to live (despite it’s petit size). Michael does include guest blogs from others living in small European countries on his blog so let him know if you’re interested. In the meantime, don’t forget to check out my review of Dutched Up if you want to find out more about living in the Netherlands as an expat; and to read my earlier posts on People Who Live in Small Places if you haven’t already done so: Mayotte, Gibraltar, a Small French Village and the Seychelles.

Review Wednesday – Dutched Up

Today’s Review Wednesday looks at a book aimed at expats in, or moving to, the Netherlands. However, although it is aimed fairly specifically at that one market, I would still recommend it to other expats looking to find out more about expat life in general.

Dutched up

Dutched Up is a collaborative effort, a book produced by a collective of writers from around the world who are all either based in the Netherlands now or who have been in the past, and therefore all able to write about expat life in that country from a personal viewpoint. This makes for an honest, as well as often very funny, appraisal of what life is really like for foreigners living in what I have always thought would be a great expat posting.

For the most part, this book doesn’t disprove my instinct. The tales, which range from what it’s like to be short in a country of very tall people to how to steal back your bike (there are a lot of very Holland-specific stories here!), are related with a gentle sense of underlying love for their host country. There are twelve sections altogether, starting with tales of culture shock; continuing on to some of the practical elements of living aboad including eating, shopping, transportation and learning the language (which apparently involves a ‘throaty G’); then through some of those really “big” subjects like work, making friends, marriage, birth and parenting; on to matters of health; some chapters about Dutch life in general and then finally saying goodbye – and what it’s  like to leave a place like the Netherlands behind (clue: sad).

By the time you reach the end of the book, you really feel like you know what life is like for the typical expat in that country, whether they be settled semi-permanently and married to a local or visiting only briefly on a short posting. It’s hard to pick out a favourite chapter as there are so many good ones, plus each will appeal to different people depending on their circumstances. But as a trained antenatal teacher, I really enjoyed the chapters about giving birth, and some of the ones on parenting were very eye-opening. However, if it’s laughs you’re after, then I would recommend the Leech – a story of a house-guest who wouldn’t leave:

By the time Saturday rolled around, we were ready to kill him. So far, he’d had his hand out, been fed, had a free place to sleep, been offered endless bottles of beer and had all the Internet and telephone access a person could possibly ever want. We hadn’t seen a thing in return. He hadn’t offered to cook dinner or offered to tidy up a bit. he had just emptied our fridge, used all our toilet paper and just made a general nuisance of himself”.

Perhaps one of the reasons I like this chapter so much is because, although it is based in the Netherlands, it could have happened to any expat, anywhere in the world. I haven’t lived in the Netherlands, and nor am I ever likely to (although I have holidayed there and thoroughly enjoyed my time), so many of the stories are interesting, funny but perhaps not all that relevant to me. However, if you are an expat in Holland, are likely ever to be one, or if you happen to know someone who is heading that way, then this would be an excellent purchase. Read it from cover to cover or dip in and out of it, I am sure you will find it a great source of both knowledge and comfort before, during and even after your Netherlands adventure.

Dutched Up is available in paperback or Kindle edition from Amazon.