Interview with an expat

Dev Deshmukh

What’s your name and where do you come from? Can you tell us something about your hometown/country?
My name is Dev and I’m originally from India. I’m 23 years old, and I have lived in different parts of my country but also in other countries like the US. My home town Nagpur is the geographical capital of India and is also famously known as ‘The Tiger Capital of India’ as it connects many tiger reserves in India to the world. It’s also called Orange City due to its huge orange cultivation and lekker oranges 🙂

Where do you live in the Netherlands? What is one of your favourite things about where you live?
At the moment, I live in The Hague. I love The Hague as it’s a metropolitan city and has a big international population which really supports life as an expat. Furthermore, its proximity to the beach is a plus during the warmer months.

What’s your job or business?
I work as a business consultant for an e-commerce company in the SaaS (Software as a Service) world. I had my own e-commerce business in the past while I was a student and I joined my current company upon graduation last year.

When was your first time in the Netherlands? What were your first impressions or what was special about that first trip?
I came to the Netherlands in 2019 as a young and naive 19-year-old international student. It was my first visit to the lowlands and I still remember how excited I was about embarking on this new chapter. My first impressions of the Netherlands were really positive, especially the great public transport infrastructure and friendly people.

What is the nicest thing about the Netherlands? How does this compare to your country?
The nicest thing about the Netherlands is its incredible cycling infrastructure. It’s absolutely amazing how one can go for groceries, school, sports training and visit friends – all on a bike. In India, there is no dedicated cycling infrastructure like in the Netherlands and often cyclists come in very close contact with cars, which is not always safe and practical. However, the Dutch have made biking really safe, accessible and enjoyable especially with the many traffic laws that favour cyclists over other forms of transport (yes, cyclists rule this country). Dutch people have really embraced biking as a part of their lifestyle. In fact, unlike in my country, they don’t see biking as exercise but merely a form of transportation.

Besides the weather, what is your biggest pet peeve about the Netherlands?
I was quite surprised by how early shops close in the Netherlands, usually around 6 pm. I really had to get used to it in the beginning as this meant that as soon as I finished my university classes, I would be running to Albert Heijn to get some groceries. But I came to understand that this is part of creating that great work-life balance that the Dutch are known for. Now I’m used to it and it does not bother me as much as before.

Do you have Dutch friends? How do you meet Dutch people?
I have several Dutch friends and my girlfriend is Dutch as well. I made quite a few local friends while at university, either from group projects or while working part-time jobs. Dutch people tend to be a bit reserved in the beginning but once you take the first step and get to know them, they can be some of the closest friends you will ever have.

What do you like about Dutch people? What don’t you like?
I really like how honest and friendly Dutch people are. They genuinely want to help and will always share their honest opinion with you. At the same time, this honest and direct approach can be easily mistaken for rudeness. At first I didn’t like the directness and thought it was slightly rude. However, I understood that it’s part of their culture and over time came to appreciate it. Now I actually like the honest and direct approach that Dutch people take because you know exactly what they are thinking – there is no beating around the bush.

What’s your best advice for new expats to make friends?
My best advice for new expats is to not be afraid of putting yourself out there. Make sure to download the Meetup app and join one of the meetup groups that matches your interest. There is a wide range of interests such as sports, dance, reading, language learning, cooking, traveling, etc., and you can join the meetup that is closest to where you live. It is a great way to meet new people (who are also looking to meet new people) and make friends. Since there is mutual interest, you never have to worry about an ice-breaker! Most of the people I know, Dutchies and expats alike, have become my friends from the different football meetup groups I am part of.

Do you have a favourite restaurant in your city?
Our favourite restaurant in The Hague is the Vegan Pizza Bar located in the heart of the city. They have excellent plant-based pizzas and lasagna options and the staff is really friendly. Would 100% recommend this place! Especially try out their Carbonara pizza which is absoluut heerlijk.

What’s your favourite Dutch store?
It has to be Albert Heijn (one of the biggest supermarket chains in NL). I just love the variety and ease of grocery shopping. Also love the fact that you can stock up on vegetables and beer on the same trip 🙂

What do you like to do on the weekends?
I have quite an active lifestyle so I usually go for a run or walk in the forest. Additionally, I like to spend weekends exploring a new Dutch city. The last time, we took a day trip to Delft and it was wonderful, trying different cafes and restaurants and exploring the city centre on foot.

Who is your favourite Dutch historical, cultural or famous person?
My favourite Dutch person is Johan Cruyff, the legendary Dutch footballer who was, and to date is, one of the most influential people in the sport. He is regarded as one of the greatest players in history and as the greatest Dutch player ever. After his playing career, he turned to professional coaching and became the manager of clubs like Ajax and FC Barcelona. As a FC Barcelona fan myself, I consider Johan Cruyff to be a visionary who completely revolutionized modern football with his tactical philosophy and understanding of the beautiful game.

What would you recommend a visitor to do and see in your city and in general in the Netherlands?
I would definitely recommend anyone coming to the Hague to visit the Haagse Markt (the Hague Market) as it is one of the largest open markets in the Netherlands, where you can find fresh foods, clothing, home decor, jewellery, etc. I would also recommend visiting The Peace Palace and Scheveningen Beach, which is the most famous beach in the country. The Netherlands in general is much more than Amsterdam and has a lot of hidden gems such as Haarlem, Zaandam, Maastricht and Utrecht amongst others.

What is your favourite Dutch food? And what Dutch food do you dislike?
My favourite Dutch food is actually fresh patat (Dutch fries) with different sauces. Dutch fries are different from French fries in that they are a lot thicker and chunkier. Hailing from the land of spices, there are many Dutch foods that I’m not particularly a fan of, but I don’t like stamppot very much due to its bland taste.

Do you celebrate Dutch holidays? Which one is your favourite?
There are not a lot of Dutch holidays we celebrate. Besides Sinterklaas, I love King’s Day in the Netherlands – which is basically a big party joined by the whole country at the end of April. Everyone takes to the streets (in orange colour) to celebrate the King’s birthday, dance and drink all day. This is one of the coolest experiences you will have while living in the Netherlands.

What famous Dutch place should new visitors or expats definitely go see?
People who are new to the Netherlands should definitely visit the Jordaan and De Pijp neighbourhoods in Amsterdam. You can really experience Dutch culture with its ancient infrastructure, canals and open markets in these old and bustling neighbourhoods. Museumplein is also a wonderful place to explore art from world-renowned artists like Van Gogh.

Best-kept secret in your city?
If you have pets, there is a hidden gem in the Hague called Happy Critters. It’s a pet store where you can buy all things pet-related such as food, treats, toys, beds, etc. Also, the owners are very friendly and knowledgeable in this field; they are always willing to share insights and help out. As a bonus, they give your furry friend a treat while leaving the store 🙂

Looking back, what do you wish you knew before you moved to the Netherlands?
One thing that I wish I knew was how welcoming the country is towards international people. As a foreigner, it is easy to worry if (and how) you will settle down in a new country. However, the Netherlands really embraces internationalization and multiculturalism so as an international you do not feel alienated. Also, the Dutch are excellent English speakers and are known for their high tolerance and progressiveness.

What are a few things you recommend to new expats here in the Netherlands?
Having lived in the Netherlands for over 4 years now, I would definitely recommend new expats to not be afraid to take the initiative to meet new people. In the beginning, everything is new, so it can be easy to feel isolated. It’s important to find a social circle. Furthermore, my biggest advice would be to get a bike right from the start. The Netherlands is heaven for biking and you can only experience true Dutch culture like a local while on a bike 🙂