Interview with an expat

What’s your name and where do you come from?
Hey there! I’m David from California. I grew up in San Francisco and spent 10 years in Los Angeles. Fun fact about San Francisco is that it looks like a square from above: 7 x 7 miles (11 x 11 km).

Where do you live in the Netherlands? What is your favorite thing about where you live?
I currently live in Amsterdam; before that I lived in Maastricht for one year. My favorite thing is walking along the canals at night, it’s like walking in a fairytale. I lived in Centrum during Covid and looking back I feel fortunate to have lived there at such a unique time without tourists.

What’s your job or business?
I work in Learning & Development. It’s a function within HR that works on the growth and development of employees – think manager/leadership/team/employee development.

When was your first time in the Netherlands? What was special about that first trip?
I studied abroad in Spain in 2010 and traveled to Amsterdam with a group of friends. I remember being the typical tourist and almost being run over in the bike lane. Now I’m the one shouting at tourists to get out of the bike lane! But it was a really fun trip; I was mesmerized by the beauty of the architecture (I still am).

What is the nicest thing about the Netherlands? How does this compare to your country?
I’ve come to love the “doe normaal” (act normal) mindset of not showing off. This is drastically different compared to US culture, where one is taught to stand out. I used to work in Hollywood and in the tech scene in San Francisco where you see people “showing off” at the highest level, while I felt grateful to be surrounded by some of the most career-driven people I’ve ever met. It felt like a big comparison game. My identity was attached to my work, and I always felt judged by it (and to be honest, I also judged others). Here in the Netherlands, I don’t feel that pressure. My identity isn’t attached to work as much as it used to, though I still very much have that American work mentality ingrained in my head.

Besides the weather, what is your biggest pet peeve about the Netherlands?
Customer service. Especially coming from the US and having worked in customer service, I do find the level of customer service in the US to be more service-oriented. Now, I know everyone has a different preference for what “great” customer service is; I’m just used to service being faster and more attentive (time is precious).

Do you have Dutch friends? How do you meet Dutch people?
Yes, I’ve met some through work and through friends.

What do you like about Dutch people? What don’t you like?
I’ve come to appreciate Dutch directness; it’s all about honesty. I don’t like scheduling lunch 3 months in advance (kidding but not really). I do enjoy planning for important events but appreciate the spontaneity of just doing something the day of.

What’s your best advice for new expats to make friends?
I work for an international company with a lot of expats, and I’ve been grateful to have made friends through work. Also check out MeetUp to find local groups and events. Join a language class, in-person if possible. Get out of your comfort zone and just get out. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and express your interests too. For example, I was able to find basketball groups by just asking around and letting people know that I enjoy playing basketball.

Do you have a favorite restaurant in your city?
Heertje Friet (fries).

What’s your favorite Dutch store?
Albert Heijn. I went there every day during the Covid lockdowns just to walk around and amuse myself. I love their bonus and 35% off deals – I guess I’m very Dutch in that sense (being frugal).

What do you like to do on the weekends?
Hanging out with friends. Traveling; I love being able to hop on a plane and get anywhere in Europe within a few hours. Reading nonfiction. Making YouTube videos. Getting lost wandering around the city – I love walking.

Who is your favorite Dutch historical, cultural or famous person?
André Rieu! I’d never heard of the guy before coming to Maastricht to study, but he’s a big deal in Maastricht. And I started listening to his music while studying. He also seems like a nice and friendly guy; I’d love to have dinner with him one day and hear about his life story!

What would you recommend a visitor to do and see in your city and in general in the Netherlands?
Most people will just visit Amsterdam, but if you have time, get out of the city. Visit some of the smaller towns like Delft or Leiden or Maastricht. If the weather is fine, cycling is the best way to see the country. Rent a bike and cycle south along the Amstel River towards Ouderkerk. My favorite bike ride is cycling north towards Marken. Take the ferry from Amsterdam central to Noord and cycle towards Durgerdam and then towards Marken.

What is your favorite Dutch food? And what Dutch food do you dislike?
Dutch fries with joppiesauce. Dislike? I’ve tried herring and don’t think I will go back.

Do you celebrate Dutch holidays? Which one is your favorite?
I like King’s Day; not so much the partying but the flea markets. I just think it’s so cool to see families and children selling anything and everything in parks and in the streets. I haven’t bought anything (yet), but I could walk for hours just browsing. It’s a beautiful sight to see.

Where do you like to go out in your city, with friends or co-workers?
Usually the West side, but there isn’t a particular place. I’m still exploring and getting to know the city. I moved right before Covid so I still feel quite “new”. I usually enjoy exploring different restaurants with friends, so that could be anywhere!

What famous Dutch place should new visitors or expats definitely go see?
Do you know about the Dutch islands? I spent a few days on Texel, and it was a beautiful experience to cycle around the island, down a Texel Skumkoppe beer watching the sunset, and stargaze at night.

Best-kept secret in your city?
Amsterdamse Bos (Amsterdam Forest). It’s three times the size of New York’s Central Park, and it feels like a true escape away from the city while being in the city. I go there quite often to just “get away.”

Looking back, what do you wish you knew before you moved to the Netherlands?
I remember my first “Dutch” meal in the Netherlands. I just got off a plane from California and went to Orientation Day for my Master’s program at Maastricht University. It was lunch, and I was starving. I raced to the cafeteria where bagged lunches were lined up on the table. I grabbed my sandwich but realized something was missing…I went back and tried to exchange it for another sandwich. I was denied and told that the slice of cheese between two slices of brown bread was my “sandwich”. I wish I would’ve done some research and managed my expectations! But hey…it’s a great memory looking back now.

What are one or two things you recommend to new expat here in the Netherlands?
Keep an open mind. You will experience culture shocks and things different from where you are from, and that’s part of the experience. It may very well be difficult at the beginning – change is difficult. Building a new community is difficult. Adapting to a new culture is difficult… but you’re not alone. It’s OK to feel the lows along with the highs; it’s all part of the experience so have fun with it!
(Oh yeah…invest in a good rain jacket – you’ll need it!)

Written by Marla Thomson