France to Holland: Blending the good with the bad
A 'love immigrant', Frenchman David Brunand enjoys the freedom of the Netherlands, not the prejudice some Dutch people have against his native land. But in describing the beauty of Amsterdam, he tells of his wish to stay.
Name: David Brunand
City of residence: Amsterdam
Date of birth: 20/04/67
Civil status: Living together
Employer: Self-employed (company: D.H.B. Office)
Position: Legal adviser (for Dutch nationals in France), French teacher and translator
In Amsterdam since: 1995
My girlfriend is Dutch and this is why I came to the Netherlands. I was working at that time in France for the Economic Affairs Ministry and if you had been working there longer than three years, you could take a year's leave with 85 percent of your wage.
I took advantage of this and went to the Netherlands to see if I liked it and whether there were work possibilities. I subsequently took Dutch lessons at the University of Amsterdam for nine months, four days a week, five hours per day.
In the meantime, I also discovered that there were sufficient opportunities for me to establish myself on a self-employed basis. People are very interested in France and I now provide French lessons to companies, but also Dutch citizens who, for example, want to buy a house in France.
I also give legal advice to people who want to buy a house in France because I studied law in Paris and have developed a successful business here.
A nation of traders
It amazed me how easy it was to set up business on a self-employed basis here. You are not obliged, as you are in France, to insure yourself or to build up a pension. You can operate on your own terms here. I have the freedom, for example, to save for my pension, but also to invest in real estate.
Dutch people are traders of old and they think it's great if you have your own company. But in France you are often seen as a bit of a scoundrel if you go it alone. People will scarcely believe that you earn your money in an honest way.
Trade does not have a good name in France and the smaller, self-employed people, who have made it with little education, definitely do not have a good reputation.
Money, so to speak, does not make the man in France, you are only thought of being brilliant if you are an intellectual. Only that will command respect.
A mixed blend
Dutch people are much more materialistic than the French. Happiness for the Dutch means material wealth. The advantage is that you can be very easily happy here.
French people are often unhappy because they think way too much: Who am I? Does God exist? Why do we live? Everything is all very philosophical. It is a pity that the French do not possess more of the Dutch materialist and practical mentality.
If you have learned Spanish for five years in France, for example, you would know everything about the history and art of Spain, but you still couldn't order a beer in the language!
But you experience richer and deeper discussions in France than is the case in the Netherlands, where money is often the topic of discussion.
I think I have become a mixture of these two sorts of mentalities: I am no longer afraid to say what I find materially important, that I am saving for a new flat-bed TV, for example. But I also happily engage in intellectual discussions, despite the fact that I don't venture to the dramatic depths as I used to.
Tales of city life
There is a striking difference between Amsterdam and Paris. In Paris, people observe each other a lot more and I don't just mean flirting, but simply … looking.
Here in Amsterdam, you can stay very anonymous and that's nice; you can be who you are and do what you want. Everyone is simply focused on their own material happiness and they don't immediately think badly of another person. That is also the individualism of Dutch people.
I often feel like I am 'the invisible man' here and if I am back in Paris, I am again visible!
But I cannot compare the cities much further, because Paris is much bigger. The quality of living is better in Amsterdam because the city is relatively small and there is thus less stress and everything is cheaper. But there are also the advantages of a large city.
Francophiles and prejudice
France is very attractive for a lot of people because of the good food, the beautiful weather and the landscape. There are real Francophiles here.
I nevertheless notice a dislike of French people. Many people think that the French are arrogant, not sympathetic and inhospitable. Dutch people often openly voice their prejudices about French people.
It borders on real racism at times with remarks such as the 'Franse slag' (to do something in a careless manner). French people are criticised quickly and I noticed at the time of French nuclear tests in 1995 and last year during the war in Iraq that I was taken to task about the actions of the French government.
But when I was with Dutch friends in Paris once, I watched very closely: they were not served in restaurants any worse than French people, it is a fable!
I think the roots of this are found in history, in the Napoleonic times. Napoleon did a lot of good, but the moment he sent Dutch soldiers to the Russian front, it was all over. He is regarded in a negative light here in the Netherlands.
It is also a language problem because many Dutch people do not speak French and therefore don't have contact with the people; there they draw the wrong conclusions.
Eating and drinking
Healthcare in the Netherlands is really inadequate. Research has also indicated that it is about average in European terms. But Dutch people think they have the best system. Doctors don't attend to patients very quickly or don't treat patients properly or don't prescribe. I know people who have suffered terrible things because they were not given any medicine.
I find that restaurants in the Netherlands are, on the whole, better than in France. I go out for dinner once a week and I have never eaten badly. Nevertheless, Dutch restaurants are more expensive. In France, you can still eat at a restaurant for EUR 20.
But I have almost never eaten well at other people's homes in the Netherlands. Dutch people don't know traditional recipes such as Coq-au-vin or Boeuf Bourguignon … there is just so little imagination here.
I like the bars here, they are always full, the décor is cosy and the atmosphere fun. In Paris you always have fluorescent lighting and you immediately see the dirtiness and other faults. Cafés in France are only considered as a place for an aperitif, you don't live there. Most of them close at 8pm and you go to friends or you have to organise something for yourself.
A beautiful city
Amsterdam is at its most beautiful in autumn if the weather is bad and everything is a bit grey. The light, the smell, the atmosphere … that suits here best. And then off you go happily to the pub!
For the time being, I would like to stay here. I feel so free in the Netherlands and the people get along so easy with each other, you can say everything, no one feels like they are better than the other and I can practice my profession.
But I might also go and live one day in Paris for a year, together with my girlfriend, which would be nice. It would also be good for her French. But there has never been any talk of us moving permanently to France, not even at the start of our relationship.
24 February 2005
Editor's note: Of the 20,000 Dutch soldiers serving with Napoleon's army in Russia in 1812, only a few hundred returned home. As Russian troops crossed the Dutch borders in 1813, a rebellion against the French broke out and the son of the late Willem V, Willem Frederik, became Willem I of a new Kingdom of the Netherlands.
Editor's note: For a detailed study of Dutch health in a European perspective, click here.
David Brunand told his 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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