Expat Voices: Susan van Heemst on living in the Netherlands

Expat Voices: Susan van Heemst on living in the Netherlands

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American expat Susan van Heemst still misses having space and privacy more than anything.

Name: Susan van Heemst        
Nationality: American
City of residence: Oosterhout
Date of birth: 18 October 1966
Civil status: Married
Occupation: Freelance web-designer/ freelance pastry chef / game review writer
Reason for moving to the Netherlands: My husband is Dutch and was offered a good job here.
Lived in the Netherlands: since 5 July 1998

What was your first impression of the Netherlands?

Cold compared to the Southern part of the US and very, very flat.

What do you think of the food?  

I find the food a bit lacking in inspiration and flavour.  I wouldn't classify the Dutch as adventurous eaters.

What do you think of the shopping in the Netherlands?

Luckily, the variety available throughout the country has slowly grown over the years and shopping here isn’t bad overall.  I still find customer service extremely lacking.

Susan and Jaap and their wedding
What do you appreciate about living in the Netherlands?
I appreciate that there is nationalised health insurance for everyone. There are numerous clubs, organisations, workshops, etc throughout the country; even in small towns, there is always something to do.  

The infrastructure of public transportation is well-developed.  Most of the time, you can travel anywhere fairly easily.

What do you find most frustrating about living in the Netherlands?

Dutch bureaucracy can be very frustrating. There is no room for adjustment within the system.  If your situation does not fall into the set rules, you will continually beat your head against the wall.

Culturally, I have found it frustrating that so many people want me to completely assimilate and to give up my own traditions, which I have grown up with, to "become Dutch".  So many times, have I heard, "You can't do it that way, because the Dutch do it this way".  I've had to find a balance between maintaining my own identity and adapting to another culture.

What puzzles you about the Netherlands and what do you miss since you’ve moved here?
On the one hand, you have a culture proud of their outspoken nature and liberal attitudes, while, at the same time, the Dutch will not speak up when they receive bad service/bad food in a restaurant.  I see so many examples of this contradictory nature.

In the beginning, I missed anything familiar and the 24-hour economy of the US.  I missed the food, shopping, availability of certain items, family, and friends.

Now, after living here for several years, I still miss having space and privacy more than anything, and quiet.   Most likely, I will never get completely used to hearing my neighbours through the wall; living in such close proximity to others.  Although I miss US foods and shopping, I miss my family and friends the most.  Paradoxically, now I would miss a great many things from here if I moved back to my homeland.

How does the quality of life in the Netherlands compare to the quality of life in other countries that you’ve lived in?
In many ways, my quality of life has reduced and life here seems more difficult than back home. It is certainly more expensive here than what I was used to back home. It doesn't mean that the quality of life is bad, it is just really different.  Nothing comes easily here. There are always multiple steps that you have to contend with to accomplish anything.

The quality of medical treatment in the Netherlands is way below that of my homeland.  Plus, it takes forever to even get bad treatment here.

If you could change anything about the Netherlands, what would it be?
I would lower taxes first!  I would also change people's attitudes towards foreigners.  While people in the bigger cities are more used to foreigners, it can be a very different experience in smaller towns.

What advice would you give to a newcomer?
Learn the language as soon as possible!  Also, try not to compare The Netherlands to your home country.  The holidays and traditions here will always be different.  It is important to find a balance between the traditions which you grew up with and those in your new country of residence.

Get out and explore your new world as soon as possible.  Don't wait until you know the language better.  Start as soon as you arrive and learn how things are done, where things are.  Talk to people, meet people.  Start building your new life.
Spring is here! by Susan van  Heemst
Living in the Netherlands is certainly challenging on many levels, but it can still be one heck of an adventure!



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1 Comment To This Article

  • Louise Naylor posted:

    on 25th March 2009, 12:58:07 - Reply

    I prefer customer service to be free from insincere comments. The food may not be as inspiring as the U.S., but there again check out our obesity problems compared to the U.S. The Dutch eat to live not live to eat and that is a GOOD thing. I must admit that when I first came here I was hugely underwhelmed by the supermarkets. A. Hein simply didn't have the choice of Sainsburys - it took me a few years to realise that Sainsburys overpackaged proliferation of produce is just the same old crap presented in 100's of different ways just to make you spend money. On visits back to blighty I am stunned by the 'choice' and shopping trips are more trance enducing than a bag of hypnotists. In such a state one could easily fall under the wheels of a shopping trolley pushed by an obese consumer of which there are increasing numbers. Let's face it no-one, apart from tulip fanciers, is in Holland for the scenery. We are here because the Dutch are about the most civilised race of people on earth. I don't agree with your statement ' If your situation does not fall into the set rules, you will continually beat your head against the wall'. If you are articulate enough the system and the people who work within it are reasonable and flexible. As long as you propose a good long session around a table (with plenty of coffee) to discuss everything exhaustively - you will be listened to and the rules will be changed or bent for you. I have proof. I AM proof of this. Holland is a fantastic place because of the Dutch. o.k. they don't kiss your *** every time you buy something from them, but you could see that as a good thing, if you wanted to.