America to Holland: A place like home
US expat Rosemary Amato has lived in the Netherlands since 1999. Still learning Dutch, she has found Amsterdam to her liking and rather than seeing negative aspects of life here, she enjoys discovering the differences.
Name: Rosemary Amato
City of residence: Amsterdam
Date of birth: 17/5/52
Civil status: single
Function: Director Enterprise Risk Services
In Amsterdam since: 1999
A European connection
I have always wanted to live in Europe, but I was never able to find the right opportunity. Then a few years ago, the company I worked for in the US asked me if I would be interested in assisting it sell a new software package. I was given the option of working in London or Amsterdam.
*related*I chose the Netherlands because I wanted to live in a country with a foreign language — ten months later I was living here!
I always felt connected with the "old" countries of Europe because my grandparents from my fathers' side came from Sicily, Italy, and my grandparents from my mothers' side came from Budapest, Hungary.
The most amazing thing was that when I first came here, I felt immediately at home. I walked from Amsterdam Central Station to the Victoria Hotel where I was staying and realised I had never had this feeling in the US when I moved to the various cities I had lived in.
I had spent my childhood in Cleveland, Ohio, and in a way Cleveland is very similar to Amsterdam — the trams, little neighbourhoods and not a lot of sun.
When I first went to Italy, I saw people behaving in the same way as my grandparents did. And yet, I'd always thought that this was personal; I never realised it was cultural.
A new perspective on history
I have become more interested in history and am thus reading a lot of books. In the US, the oldest building is about 200 years old, but here in Amsterdam there are houses from the 16th century.
Every country has its own story; there is just so much history still to learn. Take the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam; I had always thought it was in Germany!
What kind of history are we learning in the US? "Global is spelled USA," we say as a joke in our office. I think Americans just don't realise what is happening in the rest of the world.
The Netherlands, for example, has had, and still has, a large influence on the US. New York was founded by the Dutch and some buildings still have Dutch owners. I was amazed to discover the Dutch had several major colonies, including Indonesia. That is a lot of exploration for such a tiny country.
Work, family and play
The people in the Netherlands are also very inventive, but they don't know how to sell things. They are very low-key, they work from underneath. They invent something and when the job is done, they let the Americans or English do the marketing and sales effort.
This is also what I have noticed at work — people here do their job and go home at five. I am used to people working from 7am to 7pm. I wanted to work here in the office on the weekend once, but that was not possible.
It is very normal in the US that you might stop by your office on the weekend, have a look around, see which colleagues are there and do a little bit of work. But it is not that people work harder in the US, it is just different.
Americans spread their work out over the day, the first few hours they have a cup of coffee, a chat with colleagues, play a little on their PC. The Dutch are living for life, instead of living for work like the Americans. It's a different perspective.
The Dutch are also very focused on family life, much more than Americans. Birthdays, for example, are really important. In the US, it's only like that in certain areas or certain family relationships.
People view their careers differently in the Netherlands; working in a bar or at the laundry is considered a real job, a profession. But in the US, these jobs would be a temporary job or work for immigrants.
When it comes to clothing, I think that women here dress down at their work; they are not so stylish. Men wear a smart suit, but women dress very casually. In contrast, working women in the US are more often dressed in a women's suit or a pants suit with high heels, depending on the city they are living in.
If I have friends over from the US, I always explain a few rules first. I tell them that they must close the menu in a restaurant when they have made a choice, otherwise the waiters won't come and serve them. I also tell them that they must devote at least two hours to eating out because everything is a lot more relaxed here.
In the US, quick service is considered good service. Here, people enjoy their food. The quality of the food is also so much better here than in the US.
I also tell my friends that they must never wear white sports shoes, shorts or sweatshirts with designs because that is so American and you will be a target for pickpockets.
It is also nice when going out to bars in the Netherlands to be able to just simply have a good chat with men. They don't try and immediately flirt with you as they do in the US.
But the houses are small here. I'm used to living in 300sq m and even that's small for two persons in the US. Now I have 110sq m and after downsizing I have adjusted. But one of the reasons I bought my apartment is that it has a wonderful view over a canal.
Another remarkable thing is that people buy goods here for keeps. The US is a throw-away society. You buy a television, for example, for two years and then you upgrade, you always upgrade. The European perspective is different because here you buy something to keep.
I was also very amazed by Dutch people cycling bikes to work, to shop or to go out. In most US cities bikes are only used for sport.
Learning with an open mind
I took a lot of Dutch courses at different schools and also started with the famous course run by the nuns in Vught. I am not fluent in Dutch, but it is coming along. I speak more and more Dutch at work and sometimes with friends also, but in an international company our business language is English.
Unfortunately, I don't speak Italian or Hungarian. Both languages were spoken by my family, but as soon as the children came into a room, my relatives called out: "Speak English" and they would stop speaking in their native tongues.
I kept a very open mind towards learning new things so I did not really have expectations when I first came here. Many expats are very negative. They only see the outside and they do not try to understand the differences. If you do, you start to understand where the differences come from and that's how you learn to understand the Dutch and become Dutch.
I'm not negative about living here, but there are certain things that can appear as a negative opinion. In the US, you have large supermarkets where you can get everything and that are always open, that's easy. Here, you must take the opening times into account and you must go to several shops to buy everything that you want. There is more planning needed, but I don't find this to be a problem.
Many expats also complain about the medical care. But I find it very good, different than in the US, but I am very satisfied from my experiences here. Doctors don't like to prescribe painkillers in the Netherlands and that can be a problem for foreign people.
Set to stay
Now after five years I have obtained a five-year residence permit instead of a one-year permit. I can see myself staying here. But it also depends on my job because that's how I got here. We’ll see.
I think that there is more respect between people in the Netherlands than in the US and that makes it easier to live here.
And last, but not least: in the Netherlands there are many tall handsome men!
Rosemary Amato told her 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).
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