Expat Voices: Francesca Oosterbaan-Clarke on living in the Netherlands
Francesca Oosterbaan-Clarke is impressed with the education system but misses "being able to get a decent cup of tea," and "what is 'beschuit met muisjes' all about?"
Name: Francesca Oosterbaan-Clarke
City of residence: Zutphen
Date of birth: 1 July 1966
Civil status: Married with two children.
Occupation: Sales Support for a publishing company, and Gastouder (Child minder)
Reason for moving to the Netherlands: It seemed like a good idea at the time! My husband was offered a job and a few weeks later we were here, we originally planned to stay for a year.
Lived in the Netherlands for Nearly 13 years
What was your first impression of the Netherlands?
The flat landscape, big skies and so many tall people but although I had visited the Netherlands several times before moving here I saw it through different eyes when we were actually going to live here. My first impressions were of the bikes-- everywhere. I remember being hugely impressed by a man cycling along with umbrella in one hand bunch of flowers tucked under his arm and a bag of shopping. And now that is me! Well almost… I still struggle with the umbrella bit!
What do you think of the food?
Like anywhere in the world the food depends on who is cooking it! I am very happy that in the last few years the variety is getting wider (bear in mind I live in a small town in the eastern part of the Netherlands). The Dutch do eat much more seasonally than I was used to on arrival – asparagus season, wild season, nieuwe haring etc. Summer it’s salad with everything, winter, cabbage and potato-based meals. One thing that has always surprised me is that the delights of the parsnip although grown here extensively, are largely unknown in the Dutch kitchen. The Dutch in general seem to eat for fuel rather than taste or socialising. Fortunately there are many exceptions to this, my husband being one!
What do you think of the shopping in the Netherlands?
I do not have a problem with the shops themselves (I love the Hema) But I still find the service, or rather lack of it, frustrating. The limited shopping hours can be irritating; having nothing open on a Monday morning or after five pm took me a long time to adjust to. I know that is different in the city though. I was pleased when our local supermarket recently extended their opening hours to 8pm.
I would love a local clothes shop where I could easily find something that didn’t need the arms or legs taking up!
What do you appreciate about living in the Netherlands?
I love the history, the architecture, and that I can get almost anywhere on my bike! What I most appreciate (and a big factor as to why we are still here) is the education system. My youngest son has special needs, and although the usual Dutch red tape was difficult to deal with in the beginning, it really is a fantastic school. My eldest son goes to a local Vrije school (Steiner school) which would just not have been an option for us if we were in the UK as we would have had to send him to a private school. I also have been able to take advantage of several different courses over the years.
What do you find most frustrating about living in the Netherlands?
In the beginning the bureaucracy, (and being made to feel like a criminal because I wanted to live here) almost drove me to tears. I still find the apparent rudeness of the Dutch frustrating, but I try to accept that it is not meant to be rude, but rather direct and to the point. I am also aware now, that what I think of as politeness can be interpreted as insincerity by the Dutch!
What puzzles you about the Netherlands and what do you miss since you’ve moved here?
What I miss most of all is being able to get a decent cup of tea!
The cheese puzzles me – they really only have one kind, but say that to a Dutch person at your peril! I do miss a decent bit of Stinking Bishop!
My biggest puzzlement however is how different the perception of a nation by outsiders is to the reality? The perception that the Netherlands is all underage drinking, prostitution, and drugs, when in fact the Dutch are simply canny business people, and figured that if you legalize it, you can tax it! Anyhow, in my experience the Dutch people are pretty conservative; they like the rules and like to keep to them. The Calvinistic heritage of the Dutch runs deep.
I could go on and on, but just one more thing: “beschuit met muisjes “….what is all that about?
How does the quality of life in the Netherlands compare to the quality of life in other countries that you’ve lived in?
As I have only lived in the UK and briefly in Italy I find the quality of life is similar. The houses are pretty small, and there are a lot of people competing to get rented accommodation. But the healthcare is good, and the education is great. The standard of living, as with most countries in the West, is high.
If you could change anything about the Netherlands, what would it be?
Dog poop! I have never understood why the Dutch who are normally so fastidious think it is perfectly acceptable to let their dogs do their business anywhere and not pick up after them, even in children’s play areas.
What advice would you give to a newcomer?
Learn Dutch. Join groups, nothing connects people better than a shared interest.
Keep a cool head when dealing with the gemeente, or vreemdelingenpolitie, be prepared for a lot of form filling (in triplicate). It is a nightmare getting into “the system” but once you are in, it works for you.
Don’t be surprised when the lid is put firmly back on the tin when you have taken one cookie with your coffee at a neighbour’s house.
Don’t expect a warm welcome if you arrive at a Dutch person’s home unexpectedly, especially round mealtimes!
Explore! There is way more to The Netherlands than Amsterdam and den Haag.
Would you like to add anything?
Filling in this questionnaire has made me think about what it means to be an “expat” – and having looked up the dictionary definition I have discovered I am not one! I was neither banished or forced out of the country of my birth – and neither have I renounced the rights and liabilities of my British citizenship (I still keep my UK passport) I have discovered though, that I am not entirely sure where I belong. The Netherlands will always be a foreign country to me, but when I visit the UK it has also become foreign to me. The up side of that is that it doesn’t matter which direction I am travelling in, I am always going home!
Joining Expat Voices
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