Lizelle Smit

Expat Voices: Lizelle Smit on living in the Netherlands

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South African Lizelle feels safe but lonely in the Netherlands—even Afrikaans speakers find it difficult to converse and make Dutch friends.

Name: Lizelle Smit
Nationality: South African
City of residence: Wageningen
Date of birth: 9 January 1975
Civil status: Unmarried, in partnership
Occupation: Copywriter
Reason for moving to the Netherlands: My partner was transferred by his company.
Lived in the Netherlands for: 10 months

What was your first impression of the Netherlands?
My first impression of the Netherlands was that is it wet, dark and cold. Since then I’ve experienced a summer and now view the weather more holistically.    

What do you think of the food?
I find the masses of sugar and chocolate added to baked goods and used in spreads very strange. I also find horse meat for sale hard to stomach. Apart from that, I’ve fallen in love with poffertjes and erwtensoep, eaten steaming hot at the local market. I also like the wide range of smoked sausages and cheese. As for haring, I haven’t tried it and I don’t think I will. I don’t like sushi, so a raw herring won’t go down too well.

What do you think of the shopping in the Netherlands?
Shopping is varied and the selection is fantastic. Most little towns offer the necessities, while travelling by train to Utrecht for a major shopping spree is easy and fun. I do find prices high compared to for example Germany or the Czech Republic. But I’ve learned that shopping at real discount stores sometimes delivers surprisingly good quality.  

What do you appreciate about living in the Netherlands?
I enjoy the freedom of jumping on a bike, bus or train to get where I want to go. I like being less dependent on a car for transport. I also like the Dutch focus on recycling and the environment.  The Netherlands is also a great base from which to explore Europe and the rest of the world. I love the oddities of learning a new culture.

Lizelle with her superfiets
Lizelle with her `superfiets'

What do you find most frustrating about living in the Netherlands?
Although I speak Afrikaans (a language similar to Dutch), I still struggle to converse with people. I find it exceedingly frustrating making friends. I get the idea that although Dutch people are friendly, they don’t easily befriend foreigners. It will probably take a few more years before I have a girlfriend to join me on a shoe-shopping mission.     

What puzzles you about the Netherlands and what do you miss since you’ve moved here?
I sometimes wonder why everything has to be so strictly regulated. But then again I love the safe society all the rules create; it’s a nice change from living in South Africa. I do think all the rules and regulations create a simmering tension just underneath the surface of Dutch society, which explodes every now and then.

How does the quality of life in the Netherlands compare to the quality of life in other countries that you’ve lived in?
In South Africa I had a bigger house, bigger garden, more space and of course all my friends and family around me. I also had awesome weather and sunshine most of the year. But I was always concerned for my safety. Over here, space is limited but cleverly utilised. I do not worry about safety anymore, but I am lonelier than ever before. So with the good comes the bad. As with most things in life.  

Lizelle and kindermolens
Lizelle and some `kindermolens'

If you could change anything about the Netherlands, what would it be?
I would like to see Dutch people become more flexible and dynamic. I feel Dutch society has stagnated and become too comfortable with its perceived place in the world. I feel people in the Netherlands need new skills to face new challenges.

What advice would you give to a newcomer?
LEARN THE LANGUAGE. And laugh it off when you feel insulted by a blunt Dutch reply. 


All photos © Lizelle Smit

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6 Comments To This Article

  • George posted:

    on 29th September 2015, 13:53:38 - Reply

    To any one that can assist me regarding ,immigrating to the Netherlands from South Africa.
    I have a furniture business manufacturing patio furniture and also braais.
    It has now come to the point where I have had enough of this circus and everything that goes with it in South Africa.
    There is no future for business and us ,as a result of the economy.
    I have done some research and spoke to a few people but with no great success.
    I am planning to visit and look for a opportunity to relocate. I will be there for 2 weeks in which I need to gather as much info as possible.
    Can anybody help???
    You can mail me on

  • Barbara posted:

    on 5th November 2009, 00:36:41 - Reply

    I feel empathy for you because I had the same lonely feeling while living in Holland. I married a Dutch man and we lived there for ten years, leaving finally to go back to a friendly climate in California (I owned a home so it was easy to move). I miss Holland and all of the wonderful things, including the herring, but oh, how sad I was most of the time. I joined churches, I joined an art club, I did all that everyone said to do, but still, I was not gathered into the social elements. Being older, I understood a bit of it, but even my new family wouldn't speak English to me or help me with the new language. After a year of college to learn Dutch, with no help at all from his family or him, I gave up and settled in. Luckily, I found two lovely Dutch women, who helped me understand that it wasn't me, it was the Dutch attitude. I still love my two lady friends, and we are in constant contact. Enough that I will fly back next year to visit them, but not those who wouldn't bother to get to know me and know how difficult it was to leave EVERYTHING in America for my new country.
    Interesting, those same people come to California to visit now, talking perfect English and enjoying what there is here. As most of you know, Americans love accents, so my Dutch family and friends are most welcome by Californians. Hang in there, Lizelle, being young (I was 59) you will do a bit better. And please, do join the social groups the others have talked about. It really helps. I also noticed that the acceptance differed in various parts of Holland. My best friend lives in Utrecht and I went there quite often to feel wanted and accepted.
  • Rick posted:

    on 4th November 2009, 16:08:05 - Reply

    It is my hope that the lovely Lizelle will meet good people who will make her feel less lonely. My L ord, if I were living in Holland I'd do anything to get to know an outstanding woman like her. Holland is so lucky to have her!
  • ChristineH posted:

    on 4th November 2009, 12:46:24 - Reply

    Hi Lizelle
    Thanks for writing so candidly about your experience. I'm also lonely in Wageningen, and it's nice to know it's not just me finding it tough! I'm Australian, and have been here nearly 4 months working at the university. Send me an email if you would like to meet up for coffee/beer/talking about strange Dutchisms.
  • Lissa_nl posted:

    on 4th November 2009, 12:21:08 - Reply

    Hi Lizelle,
    I can totally identify with your observations. I'm living in a small town around Arnhem area and it's not exactly the social of mecca of europe :-)
    Having said that, I am part of an expat group which is fun and you can meet some nice people. If you're interested, email me and I will send you some info. And I am all about shoe shopping...
  • Rhonda posted:

    on 3rd November 2009, 11:35:04 - Reply

    Hi Lizelle,
    I found it so interesting reading your comments. Being a South African, I agreed with everything that you said. I've been here living in Apeldoorn for 4 years now and the thing that I still miss most about South Africa is my friends and family.
    If you need a shoe shopping buddy you can contact me anytime.