Expat Voices: Amber Taylor on living in the Netherlands
American expat Amber has seen the Netherlands change greatly over the years—for better and worse—but has never regretted choosing to make this her home.
Name: Amber Taylor
City of residence: Amsterdam
Date of birth: 28 June 1950
Civil status: Single, US passport with Dutch permanent residency
Occupation: Media consultant
Reason for moving to the Netherlands: I had visited for 10 years and decided it was the place for me.
Lived in the Netherlands for: Almost 19 years
What was your first impression of the Netherlands?
Riding into town on a bus, I thought it felt strangely like home. It felt so familiar. Amsterdam is on the same latitude as New York City where I had been living on Amsterdam Avenue. New York was settled by the Dutch so it is full of names and places that I recognised.
What do you think of the food?
It has certainly improved in recent years. No longer limited to broodjes and haring, the Dutch restaurant scene rivals any metropolitan area and I can now find any ingredient necessary for every recipe I cook; that’s a big change.
What do you think of the shopping in the Netherlands?
Shopping is very good. Mostly everything one could want is available.
But it always is surprising to find that most women’s shoe stores only stock one or two pairs of size 42 of each style and they are snapped up quickly as it is a common size among Dutch women (and me).
What do you appreciate about living in the Netherlands?
Mostly the innate kindness of the people and the sense of fairness that dictates the social interaction. Most people understand waiting in line, not always true in NYC. If one falls while biking, ten people rush over to help.
What do you find most frustrating about living in the Netherlands?
The sense of personal space of the Dutch. People bump into you, step on your foot and never say ‘pardon’ or ‘sorry.’
What puzzles you about the Netherlands and what do you miss since you’ve moved here?
I am puzzled sometimes about the sense of justice that pervades here. I’ve been shocked by some of the sentences handed down for brutal and senseless crimes: the perpetrator is handed a light sentence or else a psychiatric evaluation. America has carried criminal justice to an extreme but the Netherlands is too far on the other end of the spectrum.
I miss my family and friends in America but, once they visit me here, they understand why I prefer it to the States.
How does the quality of life in the Netherlands compare to the quality of life in other countries that you’ve lived in?
I’ve lived in the Philippines, Japan, Canada, Puerto Rico and both coasts of America, and the Netherlands is by far the most humane and livable. Moving here is a decision I have never regretted.
If you could change anything about the Netherlands, what would it be?
More integration among the cultures. I go to a lot of concerts, jazz, pop, classical and can count the number of brown faces on one hand usually. The opposite is true in salsa clubs and it’s not just a matter of taste. The Dutch have had the policy of separate but equal, but it’s not equal. I know many cultured Dutch people who have no friends of colour and, when asked why, answer that “it’s ‘them’ not ‘us’ who are at fault. ‘They’ keep to themselves and don’t integrate.”
Music is usually the great equaliser, and with some young people that works. But the older generation seem content to complain about the ‘other’; it happens in both groups–coloured and white–and ignorance and fear breed contempt and lead to tragedies. The government needs to do more to integrate newcomers into the culture and foster interaction among the races.
What advice would you give to a newcomer?
Always remember that you are a guest here and since the Dutch value hard work make sure they understand that you are not looking for a free ride. Keep up with the Vreemdelijkepolitie and make sure your paperwork is always on time and in order.
The language is difficult but one should try; otherwise one never understands the culture or gets the joke. Try to read up on some Dutch history to get a sense of place. You will find these efforts pay off in a big way with the locals.
Would you like to add anything?
For myself, I’ve seen the attitude toward foreigners change especially in the climate of fear of the last eight to nine years. The welcoming open arms policy of previous times is no more. I’ve been very conscious of how unpopular Americans have become, but am now hoping that the Obama presidency will change all that.
Photos © Amber Taylor
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