An American expat’s journey

Column by Marla Thomson, edition 28 June 2019

I have been living in the Netherlands for almost three months now and my experience has been incredibly positive. I have become good friends with my landlady and her family, and have even been included in many of their family gatherings and outings. I have found the municipality, government offices and administration to be extremely efficient – just a few days before writing this, I received word that my twoyear residence permit was approved and waiting for me in Den Haag. And each day I feel more settled in and am becoming more familiar with daily life in the Netherlands. All this time, I found the Dutch live up to their worldfamous reputation of being friendly, patient, authentic and an all-around happy nation. This makes it very easy to take the first steps towards integrating myself into daily life, including the language, food and culture.

There is an abundance of discussion on how much Dutch do you really need to know, but from my experience in these two months living here is that I recommend knowing the basic phrases at the minimum. Yes, most Dutch people speak English, mostly at nearnative level, but saying “goedemorgen” (good morning), “alstublieft” and “alsjeblieft” (please/you’re welcome), “dank u wel” and “dank je wel” (thank you), knowing when to use the formal vs. informal, how to count to ten, and so on … will make a huge difference in how you experience living in the Netherlands. (I believe this to be true for all countries!) The Dutch are friendly, patient and kind-hearted – you will find trying your broken Dutch with the locals will be met with a smile, a nice chat and maybe a chuckle at your attempt to pronounce Dutch words – something the Dutch themselves acknowledge as being challenging! You will also be showing respect to your host country, which is always a good thing since you are an ambassador of sorts of your home country.

Beyond the basics, I’m finding the more Dutch you know, the faster and easier it is to integrate. In my particular situation, my landlady does not speak English. This makes learning Dutch beyond the basics essential, but it’s fun too! The amount of Dutch you should know also depends on what your goals are in living in the Netherlands. If you are here for a few years for a job, perhaps basic Dutch will be all you need. But if you are like me and plan on staying longer, or even working towards naturalization, being fluent in Dutch is essential. You will find that, while most people speak English, most of the bureaucratic information is in Dutch. However, in the beginning, when establishing your personal affairs such as bank accounts, try to make an appointment with an English-speaking representative or native speaker of your mother tongue if possible. Important business affairs, especially regarding your residency, should not be left to Google Translate! And like me, if you find yourself fumbling around with the language, rest assured that the Dutch are very understanding and forgiving and even will help you along at times.

When experiencing a new country, I recommend trying out as much of local cuisine as possible, and the Netherlands is no different! There will be some expats who comment on how the food or particular items are different than in their country (mayonnaise and peanut butter, for example, are very different here than in the United States), but this is what makes it fun and adventurous in my experience. Not only are some of the traditional Dutch foods wonderful – you must try “kroketten met friet”, Dutch-style croquets with French fries, or “bitterballen” with a beer – but also the ingredients you find in super markets are equally great. Since the country is so small and such a huge producer of food, it’s easy to get locallysourced foods to the stores quickly and relatively inexpensively. Most packing and even recipes seem to be serving two, so I do find myself going to the grocery store more often, but buying less (compared to the US, that has family-sized everything). There is so much to experience in the Netherlands – whether well-known tourist attractions or things you encounter when going about daily life here – but what will make it more fun and memorable is when the expat makes efforts to integrate themselves into the local culture. You will likely find, just as I have, that the Dutch are truly some of the friendliest, most authentic and happiest people around! ! Written by Marla Thomson Marla Thomson is a freelance writer and expat living in the Bollenstreek, Zuid-Holland. She write regularly for The Holland Times on Dutch culture, politics and current events.