What is your name and where are you from?
My name is Marla Thomson and I come from Boston, Massachusetts, in the US.
What is your business or what do you do? (i.e. study, internship, etc.)
I am a freelance writer, editor and publisher. I am also dipping my toes into (very light) forex trading.
When was the first time you were in the NL? Was it fun? Was it an adventure?
Wow, the first time I was in the Netherlands – I think I was 13 on a Girl Scouts trip. We stayed in a hotel very close to the Red Light District in Amsterdam. That was a shock! We visited the Anne Frank House – this was back when it was still just another house on the Prinsengracht and you walked through the front door just like you were walking into a house. We also visited Madame Tussauds which was really cool for a bunch of 13-year-olds.
How long have you been writing for The Holland Times?
I’ve been writing for over four years. I actually started writing when I was still living in the US.
What attracted you to be a contributor to The Holland Times?
I knew I was moving to the Netherlands, so I started contacting expat publications to see if they had writing opportunities. The Holland Times said they did and the rest is media history!
What is the best thing about writing for an expat magazine with such a wide circulation?
I really like sharing all the things that I love about the Netherlands and helping other expats out with living here and understanding how things work. It also great that the readers aren’t only from the US and UK, so it’s fun to write for a broader English-speaking audience as well.
Do your friends/family in your home country read your articles?
My parents try but they are older and don’t have a computer, much less navigate the internet to read the Holland Times. I do share work with my friends and on social media.
What subject is your favourite to write about?
Recently I’ve been writing a series on Modern Dutch Heroes. After living here for several years, I’m starting to learn more about the lesser-known people who have made huge impacts on the country and the world. Other than that, I’m a political science nerd. I like to learn and write about Dutch politics and systems of government.
Is writing a hobby or an aspiration for you? Do you write for your regular job or studies?
Writing is hobby and a source of income for me. I’m currently writing a book on how Americans can get a two-year residence permit for the Netherlands (like I did) and an accompanying blog on getting acclimated.
Who is your favourite writer? What genre do they write in? Or are they a journalist, scholar, etc.?
My favorite writer of all time is Ernest Hemingway. For journalism, I really like Thomas Friedman, Paul Krugman and Charles Blow (all from the New York Times). If you like non-fiction with a hint of Tom Clancy/James Bond woven in, I recommend From Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas Friedman.
What do you like best about the Netherlands?
Living here is easy, pleasant and always surprising. The country is beautiful with a rich and interesting history. And just about every aspect of living has wonderment – literally everything from water management to music festivals to how they celebrate holidays to how things just ‘work’ here. And everyone (for the most part) always says nice things about everything.
What do you like least about the Netherlands?
The Dutch aren’t the best bakers. The good thing is that most of the bread in the bakeries and grocery stores is made and baked fresh, with fresh ingredients and not a lot of additives or junk ingredients. But still it seems they bake their baked goods at too high temperatures, because bread, cakes and pastries are a little on the dry side. Maybe that’s why the Dutch drink more coffee than any other nationality in the world!
What do you recommend a new expat or visitor to see here in the Netherlands?
Of course Amsterdam and some of the other well-known places, but beyond that I really recommend people visiting the coast. The Dutch coast is one of the most beautiful beaches in the world (this is per National Geographic, not just my bias!). Not only the sea and the beach, but all along the coast are the dunes that help protect the land eastward from getting flooded (since a lot of the Netherlands is below sea level). If you visit the coast from Noordwijk up to Egmond, you’re also in the tulip region, if you’re visiting in last March to early May.
Best kept secret in your city?
I’m hoping to find out! I just moved to The Hague two months ago, so I’m still learning all the hidden gems and things ‘off the beaten path’. I previously lived in Noordwijk, where the best kept secret there is that Freddy Heineken is buried in the village cemetery. His family still has an estate there – complete with a Heineken green roof.
I also think that Noordwijk’s beach is a little under the radar since it’s between Zandvoort and Scheveningen, but for me it’s better. It has fewer people (except in June and July) and not being near any industrial port areas, you get more nature views and walks. The Noordwijk beach has also been awarded the ‘Blue Beach’ designation year after year, meaning it meets high eco-friendliness, cleanliness and safety standards – so perfect for the family.
Looking back, what do you wish you knew before you moved to the Netherlands?
I wish I would have gotten my Dutch driver license when I first got here. Americans have 60 or 90 days to change over their US license to avoid the long and expensive process of getting a driver’s license here. With corona hitting ten months after I moved here, it would have been nice to be able to rent a car during those months to travel around.
What are one-two things you recommend to new expat here in the Netherlands?
Remember that this is not the country where you came from. People do the same things here as they do in your home country, just a little different. People also talk about ‘Dutch directness’, but honestly I haven’t experienced it. Even if you do, just try to have fun with it and remember that Dutch people almost never mean anything negative.
And learn the word ‘lekker’! They use it for so much here – food, the weather, a cozy sweater, a tasty dish, so much!