The more Jenny Allen accustomed to Dutch life in the Netherlands, the less her friends back home could relate to the ‘oddities’ of her expat lifestyle.
Since moving to the Netherlands my life has changed rather dramatically and in more ways than I could have imagined. Certainly, I must admit, it has become clear I am not the only English girl to have left the UK for a Dutch man. While it is comforting to know I am not alone, it doesn’t stop that empty feeling I get when discussing my new life with friends back at home. Now it seems they no longer understand me, at least in these following 10 ways.
1. When are you coming home?
I receive a message from my best friend at least once a week asking me when I will next be coming ‘home’. Despite my best efforts to explain to her that the small, green county of Leicestershire is no longer my home, she fails to grasp the concept of home being anywhere else than there. Having lived within a 10-mile radius from her parents for most of her life, the idea of me calling Utrecht home isn’t real.
2. Do you still eat ‘normal food’?
I must admit, bitterballen, frinkandelen, cheese, and stamppot have been added to my list of favourite food comforts since my relocation to the Netherlands. While not being the healthiest of options, they are Dutch and delicious!
I’m not sure my mother agrees when it comes to fried snacks. That being said, it was rather amusing to see her reaction upon noticing the ‘food wall’ at Utrecht train station.
3. So you are working then?
Believe it or not, moving abroad does not take away the necessity of employment. While the glamorous idea of not needing to earn an income appeals to me on many levels, finding work abroad gives you a great sense of achievement.
Finding work in a new country was not easy, and much to my surprise, involved starting again at the ‘bottom of the ladder’. Fortunately, I do not face the multilingual battle that many expats encounter, rather I have to fight to find the daily opportunity to practice a few Dutch words and sayings. This being said, many of my friends still have a rather romantic image in their minds of me waking up with a fresh day ahead and plenty of time to explore the wonders of this flat little country.
4. The foreign man
Yes I am hugely attracted to my ‘Dutchie’, partly because he resembles the tall, dark and handsome stereotype of the foreign man, but mainly because of his individual personality and ability to make me laugh. I would like to say that our relationship is dramatically different to that of a ‘normal’ couple, although the evenings watching TV together and weekly disagreements about household chores remind me that the challenges of a multicultural relationship are actually rather minimal.
Of course I prefer my friends’ image of me on a beautiful boat, surrounded by roses, and being wooed by a foreign man. But the only real difference between the relationship I dreamed of as a little girl and my current reality, is that my partner does not have the strong relationship with my parents that I had hoped for. The geographical distance between my family and us is just too large, but we still enjoy the opportunities we do have when we visit my childhood ‘base camp’.
5. Cycling, everywhere
Oh how lovely it would be to have long blonde hair, beautiful clothing and a vintage Dutch bike, basket included. Unfortunately, my reality is rather different, consisting of wind swept knotty hair, a damp forehead and a rusty hand-me-down bike, used perhaps once a week.
I do not fit the Dutch stereotype, and as I do not live in a large city, I live a normal life of using the train and car more often to get around.
The Dutch truly are wonderful how they cycle as much as we picture them. Nothing quite beats seeing a beautiful lady on a beautiful bike, with two or three smiling blond children, and several shopping bags.
6. You don’t really need to learn Dutch do you? They all speak fluent English.
There’s no denying it, the Dutch are fantastic English speakers, which does come in handy, especially during your first few months as an expat. This does not mean, however, that a life without knowledge of the native language is easy.
I am at present buying a house with my partner. While there are several fantastic expat-focused mortgage advisors, notaries and other associated services, I decided that I would accept the challenge of attempting the paperwork and conversation in Dutch. It must be said my partner is wonderful and translates for me when necessary. The saying ‘being thrown in at the deep end’ is true; I have learned most of my Dutch from such situations.
Studying a language within a small group helps hugely in terms of boosting your confidence, although being brave enough to go it alone is the key and hey, if you make a mistake, the Dutch are friendly and kindly switch to English or teach you how to say it correctly in Dutch.
7. Did you see the new series on Channel 4 last night?
Simple answer: No, I did not. For me, Dutch television is not a great alternative to British comedy, soaps, dramas and series. A combination of American programs and talent shows seems to grasp the attention of my Dutch friends. I am yet to decide if my lack of interest in Dutch television can be put down to a language barrier or a simple dislike of the options available. I would be curious to hear how other expats feel about this.
8. “Can we stay at your place?”
“There’s a great gig on in Amsterdam in a few months time, could we stay at your place?” One alternative to watching television is of course to get out and explore the many beautiful canal-side restaurants, theatres and attractions. I wish I had more time to do so.
My friends on several occasions have asked if they could come and ‘crash’ on my sofa while enjoying a fun-filled weekend in Amsterdam. But I didn’t feel it was because they were interested to go exploring with me. The novelty of my home being used as free accommodation wore off quickly, I’m afraid. Now I prefer to reserve my ‘cosy’ little house in the Netherlands for those who come to see me. A weekend sitting outside drinking coffee and eating stroopwaffels with true friends sounds far more appealing than picking up after those who just ‘crash’ here.
9. So, you’ll be moving home in a couple months’ time then?
During my first few months in the Netherlands I had no idea how long I would be staying for. My partner became tired of hearing me say, “Yes I like it here but that doesn’t mean we won’t try life together in the UK one day.”
While deep down this remains true, after finding a job, making a comfortable home, and building relationships with new people, chances of going back to England have significantly reduced. I could go back and I am sure I would be happy, but I don’t feel the need to change life in the Netherlands while it is going well. I am fortunate; my family is a mere 50-minute flight away. I know for other expats, this decision would be more prominent.
10. You are different now.
I am never sure how to respond to this. The best reply is, “thanks I am differen’t”, I suppose.