A Brit finds balance in the Netherlands
Relocating with his Dutch wife and children from London to the Netherlands was not as easy as British expat Kevin Jones initially thought it would be.
Name: Kevin Jones
City of residence: Abcoude
Date of birth: 22 September 1963
Civil status: married, two children
Employer: ABN Amro
Position: compliance officer
In the Netherlands since: 2000
It is important I try to maintain a balanced view of living in the Netherlands. For example, I find that expats can sometimes be very negative about living here. I believe that it is up to individuals to find what works best for them and concentrate on that.
In the end, focussing on the negatives isn't going to get you very far. It's important to take the good with the bad and move forward on that basis.
My wife — who is Dutch — and I used to live in London, but after our children were born it became increasingly difficult to live there.
After all was said and done, we decided it was in our best interest to move to the Netherlands. Through my wife, I already knew a lot about the culture and language. The times that we spent with her family in the Netherlands were always great fun.
But we also realised that it would not be Utopia!
I had a sort of long holiday in the first two months because everything was new and exciting — a new life, a new beginning. The period after that was actually a shock and settling in became more difficult than I thought it would be.
Colleagues were very understanding in the beginning, but that changed after six weeks or so when they began demanding: "That's enough, speak Dutch". And suddenly, I felt that I was expected to be typically Dutch.
At this point, I started to miss Britain and I sometimes felt like a fish out of water here. I went from understanding everything intuitively in my own country to having to learn things all over again that I had always taken for granted.
I had to work hard to make things happen but in a way that made sense to me.
For example, most Saturday mornings I do some grocery shopping by bike in our village. I go to the baker, the green grocer and the fish market — I love haring washed down with a jonge Jenever (gin) — but it never seemed to go easily in the beginning.
"Why am I finding this so difficult?" I used to think to myself. "I'm only going to get the groceries!"
The language was naturally a problem, particularly the "shopkeeper speak": "Zegt u het maar" (What will it be?) or "Wie is er aan de beurt?" (Who's next?). The weight measures are different here and Dutch people do not stand and wait in a line as I was accustomed to.
It is elbow work here! But I have now learned how to do it and I’m even prepared to knock old ladies out of the way to make sure I get my turn!
I will always remain a foreigner, but I feel comfortable in the Netherlands now and I'm making good progress. There are little signs that demonstrate this, such as the fact that I don't carry that much loose change in my wallet anymore!
Earlier, I never understood the figure very well when I had to pay for something, so I paid with a big note. I ended up with a lot of change in return.
Another sign is that if I am sitting in the metro or tram, I understand what the people behind me are saying. I'm not sure whether this is a good or a bad thing!
I find there is a strong uniformity among the people here. This can be positive because it can take a lot of competition and stress out of your life. But sometimes the "one size fits all" concept can be too restrictive.
The Calvinistic influence and the "doe maar gewoon" (act normal) way of doing things is always very clear to see.
I also think there are some contradictions in Dutch society. For example, the Dutch like to sell themselves to the rest of the world as a very tolerant and easygoing country, a country where everything goes and it's always possible to be yourself.
Having lived here for awhile now, I know there is a strong sense of acceptable social behaviour and this is not always clear to a foreigner.
I also think that there is an undercurrent of indifference and, in particular, the attitude towards immigrants is like: You can live here, but don't interfere with my life!
And so I find that the Dutch are not always as socially minded as they like to believe.
They can also be quite guarded and defensive at times, which is possibly another contradiction because they like to tell you that they’re very direct and open!
As a result, I have found it difficult to make close Dutch friends, whereas I've had a lot more success with other expats from all over the world.
The Dutch language
The Dutch language is very important for me because I lead a Dutch life. I have learned a lot from my wife and I have also taken private lessons several times. I now learn a lot from my children!
But I mostly speak English to them. I also speak English with my wife, but she now talks back in Dutch!
The prepositions and the pronunciation remain a problem, but the word order is no longer difficult for me. I am increasingly less shy when I speak Dutch and I am less self-conscious about making mistakes.
I live in a typically Dutch village now and I live a very Dutch life. For years I lived in a metropolitan city such as London, where life is quick and hectic. I now think occasionally when I ride through Abcoude: "How the hell did I get here?"
But then I know — whatever decisions I made — I made them myself. I would not go back to Britain now as we have a much better life as a family here than in London. Okay, it is a bit of a head-heart situation and sometimes I wish I was back in London, but then I realise that I kind of romanticise it.
Essentially, I have a beautiful life here. Step outside Abcoude and you are right in the middle of nature, pastoral land with sheep and windmills. Yet, you are very close to Amsterdam and all of its urban culture.
A friend from London visited recently. While sitting on a terrace in the Jordaan on a Saturday night, he said he could really understand why I had settled down here.
Kevin Jones told his story to Nicole van Schaijik, who owns and operates
Talent Taaltrainingen (Dutch Language Courses), based in Amsterdam.
(Tel: 020 420 66 59 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org).
20 September 2004
[Copyright Expatica 2004]
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