Interview with an expat

What’s your name and where do you come from? Can you tell us something about your hometown/country?
My name is Nikos Charalambous and I come from Cyprus, born in the town of Limassol. It’s sunny 300 days of the year, and good food flows endlessly from every street.

Where do you live in the Netherlands? What is one of your favourite things about where you live?
I live in The Hague. I love the nature here and the quiet, calm vibe that this city has.

What’s your job or business?
I am a musician. I mostly teach guitar lessons and play concerts.

When was your first time in the Netherlands? What were your first impressions or what was special about that first trip?
My first trip in the Netherlands was somewhere around 2010-2011. I came as a young tourist but also to visit possible music conservatories for my future studies. I mostly stayed around Amsterdam, as most first-time visitors do. What stayed with me after my first visit to the Netherlands was the amount of freedom and open-mindedness but also the sense of responsibility that Dutch people possess.

What is the nicest thing about the Netherlands? How does this compare to your country?
For me, it’s the abundant and diverse art scene this country has to offer. In comparison to my home country, the fine arts, music, dance, theatre and all other artistic disciplines seem to thrive here, as they are (usually) funded by the cultural sector of the government, and the general population seems to be highly interested in the arts. Another element in the art scene that I very much enjoy is the ease of exchange and flow within and among the scenes of other European countries, since there is plenty of freedom of movement in western and central Europe. This is rather challenging in Cyprus, since it is a small island.

Besides the weather, what is your biggest pet peeve about the Netherlands?
At times, the culture here in the Netherlands appears to be rather rigid and people tend to be reluctant to ‘bend the rules’ for the sake of flexibility and solidarity towards a fellow human being. This is particularly true in bureaucratic and healthcare contexts. This rigidity can sometimes feel unwelcoming and isolating. I’m still working on getting used to this aspect of the culture, even after 10 years of living here. On the other hand, I fully understand that this rigidity is part of what makes systems and infrastructures work so efficiently here. A double-edged sword!

Do you have Dutch friends? How do you meet Dutch people?
I do. Personally, I did not intentionally set out to meet Dutch people. It just happened that way, by doing things and visiting places I enjoy and eventually getting to meet like-minded people, some of whom happened to be Dutch!

What do you like about Dutch people? What don’t you like?
Perhaps controversially, I do appreciate the famous Dutch directness. I come from a country where people can suppress their opinions and feelings (out of politeness and/or social stigma) resulting in gossip, so being direct and honest in the moment is quite refreshing.

What’s your best advice for new expats to make friends?
I would repeat my ‘how to meet Dutch people’ answer. Know what you like, in terms of hobbies, activities, places, food, nightlife, nature spots etc. Pursue them, and the right kind of people are going to show up.

Do you have a favourite restaurant in your city?
So many different places to visit, but lately I have been loving Al Hayat and Menny’s Kitchen.

What do you like to do on the weekends?
It really depends on my energy. The nature of my profession doesn’t really allow me to view weekends as ‘days off’. Sometimes it could be doing nothing at all and becoming one with the couch. Other times it could be going to concerts, art shows, nature walks or a good coffee at a beautiful spot.

Who is your favourite Dutch historical, cultural or famous person?
Eddie Van Halen blew up the guitar world with his arrival in the US. I also very much admire the contribution Baruch Spinoza made to the world of thought.

What would you recommend a visitor to do and see in your city and in general in the Netherlands?
Take buses and travel to the end of the cities. Find random cafes in nature spots and let the wind touch your face. Don’t fall into the popular shopping traps and mediocre touristic experiences. For the city lovers, find out about ethnic food, in places such as Amier Restaurant, Xi’an Delicious Food, Blue Nile, Nefeli Deli, Saravanaa Bhavan and Ali’s. Check out events at Amare, Cloud Danslab, Nest, 1264, Zaal 3, Musicon, Murphy’s Law and Omniversum. For nature lovers, check out Haagse Bos, the dunes in Westduinpark and Meijendel, Scheveningse Bosjes and Madestein.

What is your favourite Dutch food? And what Dutch food do you dislike?
Please allow me to be neutral by skipping this question. Old Amsterdam cheese gets my mornings going though.

Do you celebrate Dutch holidays? Which one is your favourite?
I don’t.

What famous Dutch place should new visitors or expat definitely go see?
Bimhuis/Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ.

Best-kept secret in your city?
The rose gardens in Westbroekpark and the surrounding cafes in the park.

Looking back, what do you wish you knew before you moved to the Netherlands?
Sun and warmth deficiency is real, and it’s coming for you.

What are a few things you recommend to new expat here in the Netherlands?
Schedule, planning, proactiveness and time management will get you a long way.

Thanks for the interview Nikos!

Interviewed by Marla Thomson