Interview with an expat

Where do you come from and where do you live in the Netherlands?
I grew up outside Chicago, and was living in Austin, Texas, before we moved here. I’ve been living in Utrecht for the past 6 years.

What’s your job/business?
I am a Continuous Improvement Analyst at Jacobs Douwe Egberts.

What was your first time in the Netherlands?
April 2012. I already knew we would be moving here and I wanted to visit with my mom, so that she knew that I wasn’t moving to the moon.

What is the nicest thing about the Netherlands?
Outside of the fact that it’s a tolerant, (mostly) stable and fair society with a strong social safety net for those who need it? The bike paths are great! I love riding through the countryside, visiting various villages without having to share the road with cars.

What’s the worst thing about the Netherlands?
The weather. One of my friends warned me when I got here that the grey would get to me, and it does.

Do you have Dutch friends?
Absolutely! It does help to be married to a Dutch person, but I’ve made some Dutch friends on my own as well. It’s tempting to stay in an “expat bubble” since as expats we’re all in the same boat, but I’ve tried to resist that temptation. Having Dutch friends is a very important step in being settled here – it’s the difference between living “in” The Netherlands vs “on” it.

What do you like about Dutch people? What don’t you like?
Dutch people are very pragmatic and direct. While I don’t always love the directness, it’s better than ignoring problems, so it’s a net benefit. But yeah, the directness did take some getting used to.

Do you have a favourite restaurant in your city?
I really like Blauw, an Indonesian restaurant. We love going there for the rijsttafel, if we have friends in town or something to celebrate.

Where do you prefer to relax in your city?
I’m fantasying about the time before lockdown… I like to walk to the city center along Griftpark, stop by the Bakkerswinkel for coffee and pastries and end the day at Tilt – a small neighborhood bar that’s at a three-way intersection. It’s a nice place to sit outside, drink Belgian beers and people watch.

What’s your favourite Dutch store?
I really like Giensch, a fun clothing store in Utrecht.

What do you like to do in the weekend?
Generally, if the weather’s nice, a good bike ride, walking or sitting outside at a café. Otherwise, going to a movie, staying in and reading or seeing a concert.

Who is your favourite Dutch person?
My wife 🙂 I really like Thomas Erdbrink, a journalist who did Onze man in Teheran on VPRO. He also works for the New York Times. He has an engaging, friendly style and his show allowed me to see into a culture I know very little about.

What would you recommend a visitor to do and see in your city in the Netherlands?
Climb the Dom tower for a beautiful view of Utrecht. Go to one of the restaurants on the canals on the Oudegracht. In the past, these restaurants were warehouses where boats could easily unload their goods. These former warehouses have been converted to cozy and cavernous restaurants.

What is your favourite Dutch food? And what Dutch food do you dislike?
Besides poffertjes? Rundvlees en stoofperen. I hate witlof. It’s something you either love or hate, and I hate it.

Do you celebrate Dutch holidays? What is your favourite?

Where do you like to go out?
God, I miss being able to go out! I love the Ledig Erf neighbourhood. There are fun shops and cafes, and the Louis Hardlooper, an old-school art house where someone gives an introduction to every film.

What famous Dutch place should you really go and see?
Why only one, and why does it have to be famous? My favorite not-famous place is Texel – you can take a ferry for 5 euros round trip, rent bikes for less than 10 euros, ride through the nature reserves and end up at the beach.
I do think everyone should see the Anne Frank Huis. The Kröller-Müller is my favorite museum in the Netherlands. It’s a bonus that it’s in De Hoge Veluwe, a beautiful national park.

Best-kept secret in your city?
It’s not a secret, but walking along the Singel, away from the city center. It’s not as busy, the streets are quieter and I can pay attention to the charming, largely residential buildings. It’s even better if it’s dark outside and drizzling. I like to pretend it is 200+ years ago. If you ignore the cars along the street, it almost seems possible.

Interview by Marla Thomson