Interview with a Dutchie working with expats

What’s your name and where do you come from? Can you tell us something about your hometown/country?
My name is Anne-Woolfitt Scholten. I was born in Nijverdal, a very standard town in the eastern part of Holland, in the province of Overijssel. It is a rustic area with a focus on spending time with family and being outside.

Where do you live in the Netherlands? What is one of your favorite things about where you live?
I’ve been living in Hilversum for 13 years, with my (English) husband and two children. Hilversum is very centrally located in the Netherlands. There is very easy access to nature, but it is also easily connected to cities like Amsterdam and Utrecht.

What’s your job or business?
I trained in translation and teaching, focusing on Dutch, English and Spanish. I spent a lot of time abroad and worked in the travel industry and education. I started my own company 10 years ago, called TAALkameleon. I developed my own simplified, logical and structured approach to teaching Dutch and Dutch grammar and I have the privilege to have regular interactions and discussions with a variety of dynamic and interesting internationals from India, Russia, South Africa, Turkey, America, Spain, Canada, Israel, the UK, France, Brazil, Poland, Romania, Italy, Japan… In fact, they come from all over.

When was your first time in the Netherlands? What were your first impressions or what was special about that first trip?
I travelled a lot as a tour guide all over the world, and each time I came back to the Netherlands, it made me realize how fortunate I am to be part of this culture. I feel totally safe here as a woman. I can be who I am. Life is well organized, and I find I can trust people when they say they are going to do things.
Every week I talk to internationals who share their impressions of Dutch culture, and this gives me insight into what internationals notice about being here.
We often talk about politics and the fact there are so many different political parties.
They mention the ‘directness’ of the Dutch. If they can’t come to a meeting, or don’t agree with you, they will simply tell you. This can come across as being ‘insensitive’, but it’s really not personal at all, but you need to get used to that approach.
They observe that Dutch women often wear very practical clothes, with sturdy shoes and jeans, biking their kids around (one in the front, one in the back), rain or shine.
My students often comment that it is so refreshing to be here. You can be who you are, it is a very equal society, children get a lot of freedom and responsibility. There is a good balance between work and private life. It is refreshing to be in this context.

What is the nicest thing about the Netherlands? How does this compare to your country?
The freedom to be who you are, safety, and the fact everything is so accessible by bike, public transport and car. Even though it is a small country, the landscape has quite some variety.

Besides the weather, what is your biggest pet peeve about the Netherlands?
I’m not sure if this is just the Netherlands, but so many processes are now automated! You have to sign into multiple accounts to do anything, and this takes up time, is impersonal and often frustrating. The Netherlands used to be more focused on looking after the less privileged and it feels like we are steering away from that.

Do you have Dutch friends? How do you meet Dutch people?
I have international and of course Dutch friends. There is a huge network of sports clubs, choirs, arts and craft clubs. There is a network of voluntary activities, so there are groups you can join to meet people. Pottery classes, drawing courses, sports club, tennis clubs, cooking and sewing classes. So become a member of one of these local clubs, whether hiking or biking or making music. That is the meeting part. To become friends, you have to actively approach the Dutch and invite them for a cup of coffee, or to go for a walk, or invite them for a birthday party.

What do you like about Dutch people? What don’t you like?
I think Dutch people are very reliable and efficient. The trades people we deal with (boiler repairs, builders) just get on with their job without overcomplicating things. But perhaps I’m lucky with this.

Sometimes the focus may be on efficiency at the expense of spontaneity. Going out last minute may not fit into carefully and fully booked agendas. That can be quite annoying. Even with my good friends, I always send a message in advance rather than just knocking on their door.

What’s your best advice for new expats to make friends?
There are so many things to do in your free time. There is a network of sports clubs, arts and crafts clubs, voluntary activities. Join one of these groups to meet people.

Do you have a favorite restaurant in your city?
We love to go to Mout, a buzzing café/restaurant on the main square, with several different small restaurants, where you order off one menu.

What’s your favorite Dutch store?
I love Hema! I like all the basic necessities that they have, from socks and underwear, to pens, paper, electrical appliances, curtains, chocolate easter eggs, and small presents for friends. Every shop has the same sort of open feel, the design is good and the prices are reasonable.

What do you like to do on the weekends?
Going to the Saturday market in Hilversum, being outside, visiting friends or entertaining them. Sunday breakfast with self-made croissants. Going to our very old ‘sta’ (standing) caravan near Twiske (north of Amsterdam) where we wake up in nature and time seems to stand still.

Who is your favorite Dutch historical, cultural or famous person?
I’ve always been a big fan of Stef Bos. He is a singer-songwriter who is a master storyteller, touching profound emotions, who always seems to engage me with his wonderful music. One of my favourite songs is ‘Ik heb je lief’ (I hold you dearly), so please take a look at the lyrics and check out some of his songs.

What would you recommend a visitor to do and see in your city and in general in the Netherlands?
In Hilversum you should definitely go for a bite to eat at Mout. The film theatre is a nice place to visit, and the new Voorhoeve bookshop. Go for a walk on the moors or through the woods, easily accessible from the Mediapark or Sportpark stations.

Beyond the big cities, you should definitely visit one of the five Wadden Islands, to the north, such as Ameland or Terschelling. Go by train/bus and ferry, and then rent a bike to get around. And you should definitely visit Maastricht, partly because I spent ten years living there and love it, but also for its style, shopping, history and burgundy approach to life.

What is your favorite Dutch food? And what Dutch food do you dislike?
I love stamppot (mashed potatoes, vegetables and sausage), a sturdy farmers’ meal for cold winter evenings. Please don’t give me ‘haring’, raw herring with onions. They say one a day keeps the doctor away, two a day keeps everyone away. I’m not prepared to find out if that is true!

Do you celebrate Dutch holidays? Which one is your favorite?
We usually celebrate Sinterklaas with family, with witty poems to tease each other, and sacks of presents, eating chocolate letters and ‘pepernoten’, small ginger biscuits.

Where do you like to go out in your city? Like with friends or co-workers.
Apart from Mout, one of our favourites, we go to the Italian restaurant Tiramisu, and the fantastic multiplex Vue Cinema, and once in a while to a concert in De Vorstin (The Queen).

What famous Dutch place should new visitors or expat definitely go see?
You’ve got to see the Delta Works, at the Neeltje Jans centre in Zeeland, the huge defensive system that is keeping our feet dry. Once you see it, you realize how important water management is for the Netherlands. It gives you some insights into the history of the country.

Looking back, what do you wish you knew before you moved to the Netherlands?
My students often point out a couple of things. It is possible to learn Dutch, but it takes some effort. In a big city, make sure you have at least two (if not three) locks for your bike. You really have to follow the driving rules (speeding, parking, red lights), otherwise you will immediately get a fine.

What are one or two things you recommend to new expat here in the Netherlands?
Find a Dutch buddy to do nice things with. Try to see the arrival of Sinterklaas in your area (second or third weekend of November), since this will give you some insights into this important Dutch social event, which has been the topic of discussion in recent years. Eat a stroopwafel (steam-heated over a cup of hot coffee) or try fresh poffertjes (mini pancakes) from a market stall. And finally, why not try some fresh haring. Who knows, you may turn out to be even more Dutch than I am!

Written by Marla Thomson