Expat Voices: Hallie Engel on living in the Netherlands
After only three weeks in the Netherlands, American student Hallie Engel finds herself up against a phenomenon known as ‘bicycle hair’.
Name: Hallie Engel
City of residence: Amsterdam
Date of birth: 30/03/1981
Civil status: Single
Reason for moving to the Netherlands: to attend Amsterdam University College
Lived in the Netherlands for: 3 weeks and counting
What was your first impression of the Netherlands?
I first saw the Netherlands while studying abroad, and it struck me as a quaint country with one foot rooted in the present, and one in the past, with plenty of open expanses and hidden surprises.
What do you think of the food?
I think there is a vibrant dining scene in Amsterdam—so much ethnic influence due to the Dutch colonial legacy and immigration. I love chips at Febo as much as I do Surinamese roti and Turkish bread—Dutch multiculturalism makes for great eats. The adventurous diner can find some real treats here, despite the country’s reputation for dull food. Also, shopping for groceries in Chinatown is wonderful—there’s nothing like fresh Thai basil to spice up dinner.
What do you think of the shopping in the Netherlands?
Shopping in the Netherlands is an interesting experience. There are markets, boutiques, and chain stores at which you can find everything from mass produced fashions to handmade cheese. It definitely helps to shop around and seek out the best bargains, as prices can run high, but there are deals to be found. I’d give anything for a Top Shop and an Urban Outfitters store, though.
What do you appreciate about living in the Netherlands?
I enjoy living in a tolerant, progressive society where equality and social justice are valued.
What do you find most frustrating about living in the Netherlands?
Dutch culture can take some getting used to; things which might considered rude, like not apologising after brushing into someone, are alright here. I am also dealing with a phenomenon known as ‘bicycle hair’ which turns my carefully styled coif into a wavy mess after pedaling a few blocks in the wind.
What puzzles you about the Netherlands and what do you miss since you’ve moved here?
I moved here from the Middle East, which has a glut of cheap Indian food. Everywhere in Amsterdam serving cuisine from the subcontinent charges a fortune, and the authenticity figure is weak. As for what puzzles me, I’ve yet to enter the Dutch dating scene, so I imagine I have some confusion yet to come.
How does the quality of life in the Netherlands compare to the quality of life in other countries that you’ve lived in?
Generally, I feel the quality of life here is very high. I moved to Holland after living in a couple of very conservative Middle Eastern countries, and I enjoy having equal rights as a woman here, and the fact that people in this country can’t be exploited so easily as labourers in the Persian Gulf.
If you could change anything about the Netherlands, what would it be?
The height of the chairs in my university classes, for starters. They’re made for tall Dutch people, so my feet don’t touch the floor and it makes for a bad case of mid-class pins and needles.
What advice would you give to a newcomer?
Give it time. The Netherlands is fabulous, Amsterdam is amazing, but that doesn’t mean adjustment is instant or bump-free. You’ll have good days and bad days, and eventually, you’ll find your place here.
All photos © Hallie Engel
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