Expat Voices: Persephone Abbott on living in Gouda

Expat Voices: Persephone Abbott on living in Gouda

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Persephone Abbott, who came to the Netherlands as a student 19 years ago, married a Dutchman and developed into 'full adulthood' within the Dutch culture, ponders on why she still sees herself as an American.

Name: Persephone Abbott

Nationality: American

Country of residence: The Netherlands

Lived in the Netherlands: 19 years

City/town of residence: Gouda

Date of birth: 15 April 1967

Civil status: Married

Occupation: Music teacher, singer, writer

Reason for moving to your new country of residence: Studies


What was your first impression of your new country of residence?

I came not with a partner, not for a partner, but as a student. I stepped off the train from Paris via Rotterdam and saw the cement bunker that constitutes Utrecht Central Station and immediately thought I couldn’t possibly live in such ugly surroundings. Ultimately many years later having grown to appreciate the many sides of life in Holland, I choose to live in a small but historical city center.


What do you think of the food?

When I first arrived I had no money to think much good or bad of the food choices. I finely appreciated that the basic components to grocery shopping were very affordable for student life. I thought the combinations of sweet and savoury in meals that I partook of at Dutch homes (raisins in the spaghetti sauce for example) quite difficult to adjust to and although having lived here many years, I rarely cook the Dutch staples, of say stampot, myself.


Gouda: St. Jan’s church from the back with the monument to the Jewish population in the foreground. copyright Persephone Abbott


What do you think of the shopping?

One of the positive points to shopping in the city center of Gouda is that while the more well known stores or brands are easily available, accessible and crowd free in town, the opportunity to take the train to a more international city as The Hague, Rotterdam, or Amsterdam is a charming way to spend a day out.


What do you appreciate about living in your new country of residence?

I heartily acknowledge that my lifestyle in Holland is a healthy one, although not the most convenience orientated in terms of personal comfort, when compared to others. Riding a bike in the downpour to run errands can have its minus points but then in general I don’t spend hours trying to get over large amounts of distances in a vehicle for simple things. Everything is nearby, even the row houses.


What do you find most frustrating about living in your new country of residence?

Simple, good and cheap lunches that are warm served on a warm plate. I have never understood the lure of a sandwich.

What puzzles you the most and what do you miss the most since you've moved here?

I am an intentional immigrant. I eventually married a Dutchman. My evolution of my daily life has been here in Holland. I left the United States before I ever owned a car, a house, or any of the trappings that constitute an adult life. It puzzles me that I be ever seen as an American by others, and yet I am myself puzzled that I see myself as an American. Have I missed part of myself? I think not.


Gouda harbour: copyright Persephone Abbott


How does the quality of life here compare to the quality of life in other countries that you've lived in?

This would depend on the definition of the quality of life. I have a very high quality of life as an individual, a woman, an artist, a musician. This does not include fame or riches, it’s about being able to walk out my front door and enjoy my surroundings, having time for myself and others, entitled to solid health care, protected from ruination, and freedom to think progressively.


If you could change anything about your new country of residence, what would it be?

I would want the reversal of the privatization of health care costs, public transport, postal services, university fees back to what they were when I first came to The Netherlands.

What advice would you give to a newcomer?

The best story I ever heard from a woman who came to Holland, because she had married a Dutchman and was immediately in contact with Dutch family life, was this: “I used to sit on the floor in the middle of the circles, circles we sit all in for all family gatherings be it birthdays, anniversaries etc., and make everyone repeat and explain everything to me until I understood everything and I mean everything that was being said.”


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