Expat Voices: Finding my space

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When Latvian student Gunta Badovska fell in love with a Dutchman and moved to Amstelveen from Riga, she found some of the differences in culture and style between her homeland and Holland frankly peculiar.

Name: Gunta Badovska
Nationality: Latvian
City of Residence: Amstelveen
Date of Birth: 3 May 1977
Civil status: Samenwoning
Occupation: Student Dutch language
Education: Masters in Social Psychology from the University of Riga
In the Netherlands since: 2005

Gunta Badovska: Amsterdam is
a beautiful, romantic city

Love brought me to the Netherlands. I met my current boyfriend while I was on holiday in Turkey recuperating from a difficult period in my life.  It was love at first sight and we both knew immediately we would live together. It was also clear that I would come to the Netherlands, because the Dutch language was easier for me to learn than Latvian was for him. He had also bought a house and had been working in a steady job for several years, while I was living in rented accommodation and had just switched jobs.

After eight months I moved to the Netherlands. Although I hadn't completed my Master's thesis, I arranged to finish it in the Netherlands.  This arrangement was also a lot cheaper than my boyfriend's fortnightly plane trips from the Netherlands to Latvia, not to mention the enormous phone bills we were running up!

In the beginning it was rather strange to leave my busy life - my job and studies - in Riga to live in Amstelveen. But I started doing a course in Dutch immediately and quickly made a lot of friends.

The nature I miss

I'm glad I'm living in Amstelveen; it's greener than Amsterdam, but you still have the advantage of living next to a big city. Nature is beautiful in Latvia, there are so many forests, rivers and lakes, and the countryside is mostly hilly.  When you go hiking you sometimes don't meet any one else for days – that's how expansive it is.

In Latvia, a lot of people do things outside at the week-ends. During the winter, skiing and snowboarding are popular sports, and in the summer you can go camping, sailing, swimming and hiking. A lot of people stay in summer residences in the summer months. They even stay there during the week if the location isn't too far from their work.

I really miss all of this in Netherlands. It's so crowded here and gardens are so small. Sometimes they are only 20 square metres, while in Latvia a garden is at least 600 square metres!

Nodding off

There are hardly any highways in Latvia and the existing routes are poorly maintained. However, here in the Netherlands there are so many good, smooth roads, which is really relaxing. However, I often fall asleep because there is little to see in this flat countryside.

What women wear

In general women pay a lot of attention to their appearance in Latvia. Especially in the capital, women wear high heels and elegant clothes. To be honest most of the time elegance comes before practicality, which is quite different from the Dutch women's approach. To be honest I must be becoming a bit Dutch myself, because when I go back to Latvia now I feel like a rural resident. The first thing I always do is pay a visit to the beautician, manicurist and hairdresser! I have the feeling that the Dutch woman pay more attention to their appearance when they are older. I mostly see very elegant and well-groomed women in their fifties.

Bike after bike

In Riga you see hardly any bicycles. They are associated with the countryside, where they are used as a means of transport or to exercise. In the capital people hardly ever cycle.  All those bicycles in the cycle-ranks are so typical of Holland, as are old, rusty bikes.

Brick upon brick

Riga architecture

I think Amsterdam is a beautiful, romantic city, but it also feels a bit like the country because of all those identical brick houses. I miss the allure and elegance of the Jugendstil in Riga, with all its architectural embellishments.

In the Soviet period a lot of the Jugendstil creations were neglected and that is a pity. The houses are plastered and sometimes the paintwork is all cracked, Amsterdam on the other hand is very well-maintained.

Weekend shoppers

In the Soviet period there was hardly any choice in the stores, but now we have compensated for that and supermarkets, which are much larger then those in the Netherlands - they are almost all hypermarkets - also offer more choice. Opening times are longer as well. I really don't understand how people in the Netherlands can do their grocery shopping when they work all day. A lot of Dutch people do their shopping on Saturday but I really don't want to do that on my weekends! Besides, how can I know what I want to eat for the next four days?

The quality of products in Latvia is better as well. Over here the meat often has a rubbery taste to it. In Latvia most of the products come from small farmers and everything is biological. You don't even have to label it that.

Dutch mealtimes

In Latvia we tend to eat a hot meal at midday.  I missed that a lot in Holland in the beginning. I was hungry all day and could only eat 'for real' in the evening. Now I am more used to this.  At midday I make pasta or a salad and I eat my main meal in the evening.

Usually the service in restaurants isn't good here. I always remember the restaurants where the service is good because I think it is important. Often the interior of restaurants are a bit old-fashioned and in some small restaurants I get the impression that I am having diner in some one's kitchen!

My foreign friends and I often make jokes about Dutch birthday parties. "Make sure you have something to eat before you go!"  In Latvia you don't eat before you go to a birthday party because you know a lot of food will be served and sometimes even a full meal. The cake you get here as a starter is the dessert over there.

Fast friends

I think the Dutch are friendly in day-to-day contact and easy to connect with, but I have the feeling it remains a bit superficial. Latvians are less open and spontaneous, but in the end, I think they are more serious about making friendships. I must admit that I don't have any Dutch friends except my boyfriend's. I only make foreign friends myself.

I think another difference is that Latvians are often more friendly with their colleagues. You hang out with them more, also in the week-ends. For instance it is normal to organise a company party where a sauna is included. There are a lot of nice hotels with saunas and they are very popular for parties.

Lasting romance

Lastly, let me tell you about the first impression I had of the Netherlands, something which remains lodged in my memory.

I had visited the Netherlands twice before my immigration, to attend the marriage of a Latvian friend of mine to her Dutch boyfriend. I discovered that a famous Latvian writer of children's books was also living in the Netherlands and was married to a Dutchman. The couple had been in love for years but she was only able to marry him at the age of 80. I think it is a very romantic story and I was lucky enough to meet her in Holland.

In short, the Netherlands has been a country of love for me and everything has worked out in the end.

21 February 2007

Gunta Badovska told her story to Nicole van Schaijik, who owns and operates Talent Taaltrainingen (Dutch Language Courses), based in Amsterdam (www.talent-tn.nl).
(Tel: 020 420 66 59or email: info@talent-tn.nl).

Translated from the Dutch language by David van Bakergem.

[Copyright Expatica 2007]

Subject: Expat profiles

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1 Comment To This Article

  • Viktorija Mironova posted:

    on 25th April 2008, 09:30:51 - Reply

    I am also coming from Latvia, live here for over 6 years and I agree with what Gunta says about the abundance of nature in Latvia and the lack of it in Holland, the elegance of women in Latvia, the allure of Riga architecture, the friendship long orientation of people in Latvia and of course biological food where western style supermarkets are slowly taking over which are dominated by the mass production products predominantly from Germany, France and Holland while local farmers are slowly pushed out...alas!
    Holland has its own beauty and I like the freedom of "be what you want to be", the sea, the flowers, the winds, the canals, the friendliness in cosmopolitan areas, straightforwardness of Dutch people, and the optimistic outlook.