Kerry O’Malley

Kerry O'Malley on life in the Netherlands

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Kerry O'Malley finds the Netherlands more like England than California, and can't help but miss the Californian sun, Mexican food and 24/7 shopping!

Name: Kerry O’Malley
Nationality: American
City of residence:
Date of birth:
14 August
Civil status:
Verblijfsgunning (will apply for Dutch passport in September 2009)
Management Assistant / Fine Art Photographer
Reason for moving to the Netherlands:
Dutch boyfriend
Lived in the Netherlands for:
2.5 years


What was your first impression of the Netherlands?
The NL is progressive in many ways and the landscape is beautiful.

What do you think of the food?

If I’m honest…it’s not tasty or appetising. I think of much of it as comfort food. Potatoes, meat and not many herbs/spices. Pannekoeken. Not too different from traditional British food. (I lived in England for five years.) It’s probably why there aren’t many ‘Dutch food’ restaurants in the world. Nobody pays for bland and boring .

What do you think of the shopping in the Netherlands?

Trying to shop on days that are not koopavond is not possible for me. I work until 16:30 or 17:00 most days. By then, the shops are closed. That’s something that takes getting used to. Shopping on a Saturday is NUTS here. Everyone who cannot make it during the week goes on Saturday and then the experience is unpleasant. Too many people in too small a space. Koopzondag should remedy that? It doesn’t. One Sunday in a month won’t do it. I come from the land of 24/7 and because of that I’m spoiled.

The fact that you have to pay to park everywhere you go is also a disadvantage. You are ‘nickeled and dimed to death’ here. I’m surprised that you are not charged to breathe the air.

What do you appreciate about living in the Netherlands?

A chance to say something positive! Ok…here goes…the culture (interesting architecture, art history and overall cultural history), the complex language, the fact that I get 9.5 weeks of paid time off and the close proximity to other European countries. Job security is also another issue. Where I come from, you can be told to pack up and get out within the hour. Here you are protected from that through law and it’s much harder for an employer to take away your livelihood in the blink of an eye.

What do you find most frustrating about living in the Netherlands?
People here have an ‘every man for themselves’ mentality toward strangers. I see it most in the food shops. They barge in front of you without saying ‘excuse me’ or ‘sorry’. I know that ‘sorry’ exists in the Dutch language but it is not used much.

Customer service is also not usually good. In restaurants they make you wait a long time to take your order and in the supermarkets they speed your food over the scanner not giving you time to throw your stuff into bags before they expect you to pay and get out. This is usually accompanied by someone standing right behind you breathing down your neck or glaring at you to hurry up.

Amsterdam's Dam Square

Amsterdam © K. O'Malley

What puzzles you about the Netherlands and what do you miss since you’ve moved here?
The current law of not being able to exchange an American driving license for a Dutch one unless under the 30 percent ruling is also ridiculous. This means that someone who is working here not as a resident can drive on the roads and not know the rules of the road AT ALL but a resident must learn the rules of the road and fork out hundreds of Euros to drive here legally. I’d been driving for over 20 years in America and still had to go through all of the bureaucracy and cost of getting a Dutch rijbewijs, while a colleague here on a one year work visa could cause havoc all over the roads without a problem.

Also, when foods are labeled as ‘American style’ and they’re nothing that I’ve ever seen in America. Hey, I don’t expect Americans to get the frikandel or poffertjes right either. I just find it humorous.

What I miss most is the good weather we have in California and Mexican food. There are Mexican restaurants here but they are not the same at all and are usually run by anybody BUT Mexican people. Cute!

How does the quality of life in the Netherlands compare to the quality of life in other countries that you’ve lived in?
I’ve found the NL to be quite similar to England in quality of life. People tend to work more to live than live to work here. Almost everything here is expensive. Housing, clothing, food…just as it is in many parts of England.

The amount of bureaucracy here is mind boggling. As an example, an incorrect bank account number was given to the belastingdienst to pay my income tax return into. It took no less than three phone calls to sort that out and over two months to receive my return money. I spend a lot of time praying that nothing goes wrong so that I don’t have to make a load of calls and/or write letters to have it rectified.

If you could change anything about the Netherlands, what would it be?

  • People would be more polite and appreciative of the small things people do for one another. Get rid of the ‘every man for themselves’ mentality.
  • Stores would be open later than 17:00 or 18:00.
  • Free parking existing near shops.
  • Behaviour of ‘the customer is king’ attitude would be adopted.

What advice would you give to a newcomer?
Be as flexible and open-minded as possible because the things I’ve stated in number 8 above probably won’t change anytime soon.

Learn at least some Dutch!

Volendam © K. O'Malley

Would you like to add anything?
Despite a lot of what I’ve mentioned, I do like living in the NL. I tend to go through phases of loving it, liking it and hating it. It’s a normal expat thing and I’d also expect that of any person immigrating to my native America.

I do speak Dutch and have studied it now for almost three years. I find that knowing the language helps a bit with integration and also think it’s useful to know. It’s an incredibly difficult language to learn. It’s confusing. So many exceptions to rules and bizarre expressions that are retained via memory.


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3 Comments To This Article

  • mistressmissy posted:

    on 10th June 2009, 12:36:43 - Reply

    Geoff people who say you should go home are not considering that your financial situation may not allow it. It costs money to move to another country, living expenses until you get a new job, get visas for your partner, etc. Many people probably would like to move but are saving money in the meantime for a better life.
  • Geoff Naylor posted:

    on 10th June 2009, 12:25:41 - Reply

    I've lived in Eindhoven for 23 years, Kerry, and I think your experience and observations of life here are spot on.
    Personally I like being here because it's not like where I came from (England). Sometimes it's better, sometimes it's worse. That's what you can expect when you move abroad.
    And as they say; if you don't like it, don't complain - go home.
  • mistressmissy posted:

    on 10th June 2009, 11:31:17 - Reply

    HI Kerry, A lot of what you have said I totally agree with, and I'd like to chat further. I'm also from California and miss the sun and good Mexican food and great service! Please send me a PM message by clicking on my username.