Interview with an expat

Filippo De Pace

What’s your name and where do you come from? Can you tell us something about your hometown/country?
My name is Filippo De Pace, and I come from a small town in southern Italy. It’s the kind of place where everybody knows everyone.

Where do you live in the Netherlands? What is one of your favorite things about where you live?
I’ve been living here in The Hague, the heart of Europe, for 10 years already. My favourite thing about living here is that my family loves it. It’s easy, it’s safe, it’s easily accessible, it’s easy to participate in things for the kids, there are lots of opportunities for learning, for enjoying, it’s very expat-friendly. On top of that it’s safe. All these things together make this a great place to live.

What’s your job or business?
I am the CEO of CC7 Europe, a relatively new EPC+ company here in the Netherlands, backed by our parent company in China. We have been growing fast, as we started with just one person in 2021, and now have 120 employees, and we’re still growing. We’re a company with innovation and sustainability at our core. We create and generate business for the new era, whether that’s new materials, new energy or making the circular economy a reality for the chemical industry. We look at bringing solutions to challenges that affect us all, humanity as a whole. But we don’t do this in isolation: we work closely with major partners around the world to bring these solutions.

When was your first time in the Netherlands? What were your first impressions or what was special about that first trip?
I had visited the Netherlands on holiday a few times, but when I came to The Hague ten years ago for a family gathering, it started a series of events that ultimately led to me and my family calling The Hague home. On that day, over 10 years ago, by chance I stumbled into a company’s Open Day, where a relative worked. I got chatting with the CEO, he took me for lunch and then sent me a job offer two weeks later. I was not even looking for a new job at the time, but I took the opportunity presented and never looked back.

What is the nicest thing about the Netherlands? How does this compare to your country?
The pace of life … I came here from Milan where people run continuously, from morning to night and then again the next day. They run for transportation, they run for lunch, they take their coffee in 3 seconds. At first it was a shock to see people leave at 3 pm to collect their children. But I have grown to appreciate this rhythm of life, this better balance between home life and work life. It’s unique and attractive! Here the people are more relaxed, people look happy here. I was once one of those running people – I don’t miss that at all!

Besides the weather, what is your biggest pet peeve about the Netherlands?
I was so shocked when I first arrived here because supermarkets closed at 6pm! When was I supposed to go food shopping when I didn’t leave the office until 18:30. However, I now see it as part of this more balanced approach to life, and I’ve embraced it.

Do you have Dutch friends? How do you meet Dutch people?
I speak to everyone, and everyone speaks to me, so I’ve made many Dutch friends. At first I gravitated towards other expats, partly due to friends the children have made and also because there are so many other foreigners here in The Hague. I have become such good friends with my Dutch neighbours that many now have keys for my house.

What do you like about Dutch people? What don’t you like?
On average Dutch people seem happy and relaxed, but the Dutch can be very procedural which can translate into a lack of creativity, or a lack of passion for work. This can of course be a good thing from an efficiency perspective. For example, when I arrived, I loved that I got a welcome note from the mayor written in Italian, and when my son was born here, we also received a lovely congratulations letter, with all the practical advice we needed, such as the process for immunisations. But procedure is sometimes more important than results, it seems, and that I don’t like so much.

What’s your best advice for new expats to make friends?
Get out there. As an expat it’s so easy to participate. And look for a workplace that prioritises socialisation. As CEO I insist on making people feel welcome, including family, so we host cultural events for our colleagues as well as making our summer and winter events not just for employees, but for their partners too.

Do you have a favourite restaurant in your city?
Good food is very important to me, and you have to combine it with the perfect atmosphere. So, for lunch, I enjoy going to my local Italian, Donatto Delicatessen. For dinner I have two favourite places. My favourite place to take family is De Dagvisser, a really superb fish restaurant by the port. If I have clients to take out, then it is always Encore by Simonies at the beach. Perfect ambience, perfect food.

What’s your favourite Dutch store?
I have small children and so I find myself in Hema a lot, and I love it! They really have everything there and you should definitely try the red velvet cake, it’s delicious.

What do you like to do on the weekends?
The weekend is all about family. I take my children to their activities, sometimes get out on my motorbike and when I have chance I like to catch up on sleep.

Who is your favourite Dutch historical, cultural or famous person?
There are so many famous Dutch people that I can think of, and could choose, but in relation to my personal fascination in science, engineering and technology, it has to be Christiaan Huygens who was born here in The Hague almost 400 years ago. His impact on the life we live today is completely invisible to most people, but this guy and his mechanical and mathematical genius laid the foundations for communication systems which have a huge impact on our modern life.

What would you recommend a visitor to do and see in your city and in general in the Netherlands?
I would recommend the watersports that you can do around here. There’s a great kite-surfing school and sailing school here in The Hague. But if you visit in winter, although you can still do everything else, you can also skate on the canals. When we arrived here, we had not skated before and so the whole family took skating lessons and we were able to skate on the canals.

What is your favourite Dutch food? And what Dutch food do you dislike?
Stroopwafels I like a lot! They are my favourite by far. My kids also love kibbeling and they ask for freshly made, delicious kibbeling and fries.

Do you celebrate Dutch holidays? Which one is your favourite?
King’s Day is the best celebration. It’s a type of celebration we don’t have in Italy. It was really unusual for me to understand, this celebration of the King’s birthday; it really seems unique. It’s almost medieval and I like the idea that the Netherlands have kept this history alive, and everyone gets involved. My entrepreneurial kids really got into the spirit of it too by selling their old toys.

What famous Dutch place should new visitors or expats definitely go see?
There are so many places people should go to, depending on what you like. As an engineer I’d have to say get out and appreciate the incredible Dutch water management system, it’s a masterpiece. It’s so good they’ve exported the knowledge all around the world. My wife, however, would say you should not miss the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

Best-kept secret in your city?
Every year the Japanese Garden at Clingendael opens for a short period of time, and within that small window, there is sometimes a man who holds a tea ceremony and explains all about tea and how it should be prepared. It’s fascinating and a real treasure of a find! Also, the city farms here are surprising because this is a country where farmland is everywhere around, and yet they still make space for this within the city.

Looking back, what do you wish you knew before you moved to the Netherlands?
I wish I’d been aware of just how different the weather was, I was not prepared for that. In Italy we get around 200 days of sunshine per year, I do miss that. But luckily, we are now entering a beautiful spring and very quickly I have forgotten the winter. Also, in the Netherlands there are around 35,000 km of cycling paths – cycling is such a big part of everyday life for so many people here compared with Italy.

What are one or two things you recommend to new expats here in the Netherlands?
Arrive and remain open-minded and respectful. This is of course a recommendation whenever you move to a new country. Don’t close yourself off to all the amazing opportunities that are on your doorstep here.

Thanks for the interview, Filippo!

Interviewed by Marla Thomson