Author of the expat book and blog ‘The Amsterdam Confessions of a Shallow Man’, Simon Woolcot investigates what happens when you are married to a Dutchman.
The Shallow Man loves gadgets, indeed my bachelor pad has been compared by various delightful ladies over the years as resembling the showroom of an electronics store. Following an unsettling incident at my local launderette, I decided to invest in my latest toy, an all singing and dancing Miele washing machine that’s so advanced it does everything apart from call me on my mobile number to tell me to get off my perfectly formed posterior and remove the washing before it starts to smell.
My reason for investing in this state-of-the-art machine was that having left some clothes in my local wasserette for a service wash, I remembered that I’d left a fifty euro note in the pocket of a pair of jeans. (Yes I do own at least one pair). The next day I returned to the laundrette and upon asking if they’d found the money in my jeans, was told that it was too late and they had called the Police. When I asked why, I was told that it was due to money laundering.
The Shallow Man, formerly of London, and for over nine years, resident in Amsterdam, has become something of an expert in navigating the choppy and touchy waters of intercultural relationships with the Dutch. Indeed, having developed a reputation for selflessly putting myself in the line of fire in order to answer questions posed to me by my expat flock I’ve been contacted by the lovely Christiana Spasova. “Shallow Man, you’ve written a lot about dating the Dutch, but you’ve yet to share the experiences of someone who has married or is in a civil partnership with a Dutch person. Why don’t you write something about this?”
It happened in Zwolle
After jumping through many, many layers of bureaucracy, I finally settled here with my partner six months ago. We bought a house in the village in which he grew up and live only a few minutes walk away from his parents and he has many old friends living nearby.
Prior to moving here, I started taking Dutch lessons in Sofia, even though my job is in English and my partner also insists on speaking to me in English as well. This would be fine, however, his family, just as the Shallow Man wrote in his blog, either speak to me in Dutch and then when I respond in Dutch speak to me in English. His mother, then constantly makes comments how poor my Dutch is.
When introduced to people and I explain that I’m from Bulgaria, the reactions I receive are often totally rude. A message to Dutch people: not all Bulgarians are members of the mafia, involved in cloning PIN cards, nor are we gypsies desperate to overrun your country. I’m also not here in the Netherlands because Bulgaria is some kind of hell hole that people wish to escape from!
Bulgaria and Romania are different countries. When I meet a Dutch person in Bulgaria, I don’t ask them their opinion of the international ecstasy trade, so I don’t see why so many Dutch people assume that I’m the expert on Bulgarian and Romanian crime.
I’ve heard the saying that Dutch people can never be rude, and are just telling it like it is. Well that’s a very poor excuse for a lack of respect and manners. I used to get really angry about the negative comments people make about my country, now I follow the Shallow Man’s advice and respond with sarcasm. For example, “Yes I’m from Bulgaria, I’m with my partner for his money and am also on assignment here for the Bulgarian mafia. I’m so happy to be in the Netherlands, a country with flat screen television and toilets inside houses.” A couple of people even thought I was being serious when I said this. Go figure.
One more thing, there’s no such country as ‘Eastern Europe’. Just so you know.
Compromises necessary for a peaceful life in the Netherlands
My partner is a very well dressed Dutchmen, however since moving here, he has tried asking me to dress down a little as people in our neighborhood believe that I think too much of myself due to the following reasons:
- Wearing makeup;
- I wear skirts and dresses and high heeled boots and shoes;
- Regularly have my hair styled.
We have both compromised on some things:
- I bought a pair of UGG boots. UGG is short for ugly, but the girls in my neighborhood keep telling me what amazing boots they are.
- Deep fat fryer. I’ve never owned such a thing, but my mother in law was horrified that we didn’t have one, so to keep the peace I’ve bought one.
- Jeans. I’ve realised that on the rare occasions when I’m invited for a drink with my boyfriend’s sister, that I have to dress down, so wear my UGG boots with jeans.
In spite of Bulgaria being a much poorer country economically compared to the Netherlands, people dress a lot better there. Though sometimes they can also be at the other end of extremes, such as going to the supermarket wearing high heels and lots of make up. I agree with the Shallow Man that the Netherlands is definitely a country of people that dress poorly. I think that a lot of people really just don’t care about their appearance, which is a shame as the Dutch are naturally very attractive, which is why I’m living with a Dutchmen.
Quality food costs money
When my partner saw how much money I was spending on food, he was not pleased. He used to buy just about everything from the supermarket and lots of it was processed prepared meals. I prefer buying food fresh from markets. Once he tasted how good food tastes when made with fresh ingredients he slowly began to change his mind and complained less.
I’d heard about how the Dutch tend to leave the curtains open and thought it was an exaggeration. Well, not in the village where we live. When I first arrived I often used to walk out of the shower and across the main room naked, providing anyone walking past a good view. I decided that enough was enough and regularly have the curtains closed. This leads to comments from my mother in law who says to my partner, “I walked past your house earlier and the curtains were closed!” as if she thinks I’m killing someone or up to no good.
Guess who’s coming for dinner?
The relationship I have with my boyfriend’s parents is complicated. I’d met the parents when they came to visit my partner in Bulgaria. I get the feeling that his mother hoped that he was just having a fling with me and upon returning to the Netherlands would find himself a Dutch girl. I make a big effort to try and get on with them, even though every time I meet them his mother looks at me as if I’m a package from Zalando that she’d like to send back.
When I first moved here I organised a big meal and invited his parents. I made a great effort, started with a feta cheese and tomato salad, then made Moussaka as the main meal, followed by a homemade cheesecake. His mother turned her nose up at the salad and then mentioned that she found the moussaka too spicy. The father felt that the cheesecake from Albert Heijn was more to his liking. This was just them telling it like it is. To keep her and my boyfriend happy I’ve tried to master putting together stamppot boerenkool, something which my mother in law almost complimented me on.
The Netherlands is a beautiful country, and I do love the countryside and the pretty relaxed way of life, and I’ve met some nice people outside of the immediate family. Learning Dutch has also helped me a lot, having said that most of my friends are mainly expats I’ve met through work. My advice to anyone moving here to be with their partner is prepare yourself for challenges when dealing with the family.
I have been here in Amsterdam for around 15 years, and married a dutchman I met in London many, many moons ago.
The Shallow Man will pre-empt the inevitable responses that some will provide to this article. Yes the ladies in question will go home to Sofia and London, but only at a time of their choosing. No Dutch nationalists were hurt during the writing of this post.My husband is wonderful, has a very open-minded view of the world, and is funny and generous. It’s his family that causes me more concern. They are well-off, upper middle class, golf club, Aerdenhout types who find social status their holy grail. That’s all pretty normal, but it’s their profound Calvinistic financial tightness that continues to astound me. Every Christmas present is either from the check-out at AH or recycled from unwanted gifts. Sometimes if we are lucky we even get our own gifts. Dinner, when we are invited, is either a cheap fondue using unsuitable cheese or a thin soup made from a stock cube. Or horse meat slices, with the label torn off incase we notice, and bread.
Every Xmas they bring the smoked salmon which is always out of date, bought from Lidl the summer before. As the years have passed they have abandoned present giving all together (probably a good thing) and stuck to the soup. Not that expressions of love should necessarily come in the form of material gifts but when a free hamper from a well-known organisation where my father in law used to work is divided out and wrapped as Xmas gifts – a tin of frankfurter sausages for the vegetarian niece and a jar of peanut butter for the grandson with peanut allergy – I begin to wonder if enough loving thought has gone into these presents.
This Calvinism also seems reserved more for family. Golf clubs, exotic holidays, be it with a suitcase full of dried food, are fully enjoyed by my in laws.
Back to the Shallow Man
Some might say he’s a legend in his own mind, others call him a nuisance who should go back to London. Simon is a privileged Expat who came to Amsterdam for a six month assignment and has remained for nine years. He spends his time commenting on various aspects of life in the Netherlands on the Amsterdam Confessions of a Shallow Man blog, which started in August 2013 and has grown within a short time to reach over 2,500 readers per day. Photo credit (public domain): Pixabay (couple).
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