Amanda is a thoroughbred English woman who has been living in the Netherlands since 2000. She maintains a blog about expat life – the good and the bad and all the in-betweens – called A Letter from the Netherlands, also runs The Writing Well, a company that provides English language writing services – writing, proofreading, editing and copywriting.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: I am English
Q: Where are you living now?
A: I live in Zoetermeer in the Netherlands – nearly 20 km outside of The Hague.
Q: How long you have you lived in the Netherlands?
A: I have been in the Netherlands for 10 years now – eight of those in Zoetermeer; my first few months were spent in Voorschoten and then The Hague was home for 18 months.
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: I moved to be with my Dutch partner. I could move my Human Relations (HR) career abroad, but a move to England for him would have meant retraining so it was an easy choice in the end. I sold my flat, loaded my belongings in a borrowed trailer and got a ferry to Hoek van Holland.
Q: What do you enjoy most about Zoetermeer, how’s the quality of life?
A: I love the fact that everything is at hand – a few minutes in the car or within a 20 minute or so walk – shops, cinema, theatre, green spaces, sports and leisure facilities. We are also between Rotterdam and Amsterdam, and near The Hague, so ferry and airport and larger transport facilities are close by.
Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: I miss family and friends, more so since having children. I also miss light, well-stocked supermarkets!
Q: Is Zoetermeer safe?
A: As safe as any city is. I don’t feel particularly unsafe.
About living in the Netherlands
Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in the city as an expat?
A: The Hague, Amsterdam and Rotterdam are all expat hubs, but Zoetermeer is growing fast and may be added to the list in the near future. I have heard a lot more English voices around me in the last year, so there’s certainly more foreigners coming here.
If expats live in Zoetermeer, it’s usually because they have a Dutch partner so there is not one particular point of calling here.
Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation?
A: Good. Zoetermeer has a wide range of housing both for sale and for rent. There’s lots of ‘average’ houses here.
Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: Housing can be expensive; depending on where you live you can end up with a relatively high rent or a high mortgage for what feels like little living space. Still, this point is comparable with the UK.
I think it is more expensive to eat out back in England – at least, that’s the feeling we have when we are back.
Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: Expats in the Netherlands are fairly critical of the Dutch on a social level. The family is sacred here and that is evident in the workplace culture. Social engagements are also heavily based on appointments and not just popping round. Dutch circles can be hard to penetrate but I certainly do not experience them as unfriendly – far from it. I have to admit that my closest friends here are expats though.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends?
A: Not in Zoetermeer, no. Due to the lack of expat groups it was hard in the beginning as everything going on was further afield. Having children makes it suddenly easier to meet others. I have met people online on forums and the like and then met up in person.
About working in the Netherlands
Q: How does the work culture differ from home?
A: The Dutch work hard, but they place far more emphasis on work life balance than the British and Americans for example. Weekends and evenings are sacred times for family. I like this aspect of their culture.
The Dutch also like to be in agreement about things – meetings are therefore about getting everyone’s opinion and everyone expects to be able to offer an opinion and be listened to. ‘Consensual’ is the key word; a concept that can translate to ‘lengthy’ in many other locations.
Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?
A: The local school system in the Netherlands is more complicated than in some other countries as it is based on streaming pupils at an early age. There are also comprehensive international schooling choices across the country.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare?
A: Healthcare is good. Everyone is legally obliged to choose and arrange healthcare cover and contribute to the cost. In return, the services are modern and effective for the most part. Note that the post-natal system is something to write home about here (kraamzorg).
Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: Learn Dutch. Many expats don’t bother because the Dutch speak such good English, but they really do appreciate it when you take the time to speak in the native language. It helps you understand the culture more and there are some amazing words in Dutch.
~ interviewed September 2010