Interview with an expat

Lisa Mathews

Where do you come from and where do you live in the Netherlands?
The first question and already a tricky one. Where do I come from? Well, I was born in what is now Zimbabwe, grew up in South Africa, moved to the UK for work, got posted to Singapore and then moved to Australia for a few years. I now find myself in Amsterdam, have been here just over a year and absolutely love it. I live in the bustling area of De Pijp.

What’s your job/business?
I work as a brand strategy director at Design Bridge, an international brand design agency. I could be working on a Russian chocolate brand on Monday, Canadian whisky on Tuesday, Dutch milk on Wednesday, French dishwashing tablets on Thursday, and a yet to be launched energy drink brand on Friday.

What was your first time in the Netherlands?
My first time in the Netherlands was actually my very first trip overseas from South Africa. I was 20 and overseas for a gap year and Amsterdam was my first stop. It was a complete eye-opener for somebody who came from the furthest tip of Africa.

What is the nicest thing about the Netherlands?
The Netherlands is incredibly well organised! Everything is generally very neat and tidy, the houses are well maintained, people take a lot of pride in their surroundings, there are great parks and outdoor spaces, the transport system is great and hardly delayed, and everything just works.

What’s the worst thing about the Netherlands?
There’s not a lot of bad to say about the Netherlands, but the one thing I really dislike is bad cyclist behaviour. A lot of cyclists obey the rules, but watch out for those running red lights or overtaking on corners. I’m surprised I haven’t seen more bicycle accidents – I’ve seen one and that involved a tourist who stepped out without looking and a local cyclist going way too fast.

Do you have Dutch friends?
I have a very good Dutch friend who I actually met at school in South Africa and we’ve kept in contact for what feels like forever! I’ve also made a new Dutch friend in our office who is super welcoming, hilarious and likes cats and champagne too!

What do you like about Dutch people? What don’t you like?
I like the super clear, straightforward and helpful tone of official Dutch communication, such as the letters you get from the Immigration service or tax office, and I do find most Dutch people straight forward and helpful too. It might sound silly, but I don’t like it when Dutch men wear red trousers or use wet look gel on curly hair. It just looks greasy mostly!

Do you have a favourite restaurant in your city?
My favourite restaurant is Pho King on Van Woustraat. It’s the most authentic and delicious Vietnamese that I have experienced outside of Vietnam. Great pho, great owners and, of course, great Saigon beer.

Where do you prefer to relax in your city?
I love taking long walks or bike rides down by the Amstel River, either heading to the city centre or the other way to Ouderkerk aan de Amstel. It’s super buzzy, there are loads of people going by in boats or on bikes or relaxing at the water’s edge under the trees or sitting at the bars and restaurants.

What’s your favourite Dutch store?
My favourite store is Shilla, a really good Korean and Japanese food store at Gelderlandplein mall. I always get seaweed, kimchi and dumplings there. I also love the little Plantenmarkt plant store at the Albert Cuyp market, it’s a treasure trove of houseplants and pots.

What do you like to do in the weekend?
My week is very deadline driven, so I love to switch off by reading or jumping on my bike to go and explore another little corner of Amsterdam. I love being by the water and so will follow any canal or river to see where it goes.

Who is your favourite Dutch person?
Hmm, I quite like the little girl in the Unox commercial! She’s a very cute nature-loving animated character who convinces her dad, who’s a butcher, to switch out the family’s traditional smoked sausage for a vegetarian equivalent. Good kid!

What would you recommend a visitor to do and see in your city in the Netherlands?
If you’re interested in architecture then Amsterdam is the right place to be. Besides the engineering feat that is a city built on wooden stilts on a swamp, there is an amazing selection of buildings dating back hundreds of years, contrasting with exciting modern buildings and, in between, the beautiful Amsterdam School of Architecture buildings from the 1920s and 30s.

What is your favourite Dutch food? And what Dutch food do you dislike?
My favourite Dutch food is actually Dutch chocolate milk, the iconic Chocomel. We even have it in our fridge at work! I don’t really like all the brown borrel snacks, which all seems to be deep-fried and unhealthy, although good bitterballen can be nice.

Do you celebrate Dutch holidays? What is your favourite?
Well, technically, it’s not a holiday but as festive as a holiday, and that is Amsterdam Pride. It’s one of the best days ever in the city when the colourful floats go down the river, and the chance for us all to express exactly who we are and celebrate being unique and different.

Where do you like to go out?
I like going to the beautiful art deco Rialto Cinema, which is 2 minutes’ walk round the corner from my apartment, or Cinecenter near Leidseplein to watch independent and art house movies. Both Rialto and Cinecenter have special expat screenings with either English-spoken movies or English subtitles.

What famous Dutch place should you really go and see?
The Nederlands Openluchtmuseum (Netherlands Open Air Museum) is an open-air museum near Arnhem with around 40 antique houses, farms and factories from different parts of the Netherlands, from different historical periods. You can go in and take a good look around. It’s like stepping back in time.

Best-kept secret in your city?
Well, it wouldn’t be a secret if I told you. But okay, by now you realised I really appreciate Asian food. If you want a really good ramen, then head to Takumi Ramen on Ferdinand Bolstraat. The black garlic ramen is outstanding (but you will smell very garlicky for a day or two!).

Interview by Caroline Spraakman