Expat Voices: From Switzerland to Holland: A designer life
The Dutch are frugal, not very hard-working and the choice of food here is limited. Yet Daniela Eichenberger says she feels at home in Amsterdam.
Name: Daniela Eichenberger
City of Residence: Amsterdam
Date of Birth: 16-07-1965
Civil status: Married, one child
Employer: Interbrand, Zintmeijer & Lux
Function: Senior designer
In Amsterdam since: 1999
I met my future husband in Switzerland in 1997 where he was staying at the time. Having lived outside the Netherlands for seven years, he was feeling homesick. I had lived in the Netherlands in 1995, and having enjoyed the experience, I wanted to move there with him.
The Netherlands is fairly advanced in the field of design so this was very interesting for me, a graphic designer. I had the good fortune I was able to keep working for the same company (and still my employer) but in the English division.
The initial period in the Netherlands was difficult and perplexing as I found myself in the midst of two cultures: by day I had to speak English at work and get to know English culture; and in the evening with my partner I found myself back surrounded by Dutch culture.
I had to improve my English for work and I applied myself to doing this straight away. After about a year, I felt the need to express myself in Dutch. The decisive moment was when I was pregnant with my son. Suddenly, I wondered: What language do I want to give birth in? In English, German or Dutch? It was then that I really took the step to learn Dutch.
I feel much closer to people when I speak Dutch; you can get personal so much quicker. Learning Dutch has really changed an awful lot of things for me and I think it is a major plus point. I just couldn't live here for six years and not speak the language. I want to feel at home here!
Now I am much more interested in Dutch news rather than the news from Switzerland because I live here. Many expats around me don't have this attitude; they are far more interested in their lands of origin.
The frugality here really struck me in the beginning! People constantly talk about money, it is very much a theme. In Switzerland you never talk about it; it is just something you have. I found the Dutch attitude unusual, negative.
I have also been challenged about this on occasion after buying something expensive. People have said: "you would be better off buying this [one] as it is half the price". "No", I reply. "I am buying this because I like it better". People in the Netherlands often go for bargains rather than quality.
This also applies to food. Switzerland is naturally influenced by France and Italy, and you see that quite clearly. Much more attention is paid to cooking and the dinner table is also far more important than in the Netherlands. In the Netherlands, you move to the sofa after dinner. Swiss people talk a lot more about food. Now I sometimes get annoyed with my Swiss friends: "If you make this sauce you have to use these herbs" or "have you tired this recipe before?"
The quality of food products in Swiss supermarkets is far higher and the there is a great choice, for example in terms of biological items. Albert Heijn does not really compare to that!
All the same I really like it here; I feel at at home in the Netherlands. This has a lot to do with Amsterdam. The people here are fairly young, it is international and it is not too big. I can so everything on my bike and that is very relaxing. Riding from my home to work over the canals I don't come across any cars.
There are terraces everywhere and people sit outside on the front step of their building when the weather is good. That would be unimaginable in Switzerland. That would be too invasive; people could see what you are eating!
Dutch people are much more open about those sort of things, they are more self-assured and they don't worry as much as what other people will think about them. They are also big and talk loudly; they are always very present. The Swiss are more reserved, cautious and reluctant to reveal themselves like that – enjoyment is more internal.
If I compare Amsterdam to a Swiss city... Zürich is very peaceful and tidy; the people are subdued. No one speaks loudly or laughs in the bus. Amsterdam is much livelier.
Koninginnedag (Queens Day) is so Dutch: everything is possible and everything is allowed; everyone is together, there are no classes or social barriers anymore. It is a real national party. You can see the Dutch are very proud of their country. They wear orange clothes and paint the Dutch flag on their faces. That sort of nationalism would be unthinkable in Switzerland.
Swiss people are very (self)critical and serious. They analyse a situation first, pose critical questions and then give their opinion. This process is well thought-out and precise. If you say something, it has to be founded. People are very well read and if you assert something, you will often be asked: 'where did you read that?'
When I came here first people thought I was very serious!
I think Dutch openness has a lot to do with the situation and history of the country. Of old, the Netherlands has been more focused on the sea and far off countries than Europe. That has led to more open-mindedness.
The landscape also plays a role: it is so flat and the heavens are so high, leading to openness and progressiveness. The Swiss are more focused on Europe and the surrounding countries, and that leads to a more limited view. And the high mountains make this literally true as well. The mentality is more short-sighted and conservative.
As a Swiss person, I love that the sea is so close by here.
Dutch people divide up work and free time much more and don't necessarily have to finish off the item they are working on before clocking off. In Switzerland it is normal to be overworked without being paid overtime. People don't assume they are being exploited by the boss – you just get on with it. Though, you know, I think the mentality here is healthier.
Yet is it unbelievable how many people here are in the work disability pension system (WAO). There are so many overworked people here – I don't understand it at all. You have to be very bad in Switzerland before you want to get away from it all!
It is great that it is relatively easy to buy a home here. The majority of people in Switzerland live in rented accommodation in an apartment complex. There are so many rules in Switzerland and that makes it very expensive. For instance, the building has to be able to withstand earthquakes and you have to build a bunker under your house.
This makes Swiss houses sturdier and the workmanship is far better than in the Netherlands; no pipes over the walls, everything neatly painted, nice details. Here, functionality is more important.
My husband and I would not have had our own home if we had lived in Switzerland. This for me is a big advantage of living in the Netherlands. I enjoy living here and am also very proud of it.
When all is said and done I have make it in another country. I am raising my (Dutch) child here, I have friends here, and I feel at home here. I'm going to stay!
16 November 2005
Daniela Eichenberger 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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