Bikes, Culture, Dutch, Family, Netherlands

A Letter from my Future Expat Self

September 1999

Dear Amanda,

In an unexpected turn of events you will move to the Netherlands in a year’s time. It’s a country just across the North Sea, but don’t be fooled by the short distance: it’s a different country for sure.

Remember when you were holidaying in Turkey and kept hearing what you thought was a strange dialect of German? Well, that was Dutch, and now you need to learn it. It’s actually not the same as German at all and by the time you have immersed yourself in the Dutch language your German language skills will have gone out the window. Similarities sure, but absolutely not the same.

So, if you want to be taken seriously and feel even a teeny bit integrated in your new home, you need to learn Dutch. Get cracking. It’s not the easiest language for a Brit to learn because some sounds just don’t exist in the English language. This is why you’ll avoid saying where you live for the first three months you are in the Netherlands – Voorschoten will be impossible for you to say correctly until you master the ‘sch’ sound, similarly you’ll avoid telling people about any trip you make to Scheveningen.

Whilst you get the basics covered, don’t worry because Dutch people speak brilliant English, and will attempt to practice with you at every opportunity. In 2013 somebody will come up with the idea of a badge that lets Dutch people you want to speak Dutch with them and not English, but that’s way ahead of your time. Therefore you will have to act as if they haven’t spoken English at all and continue in Dutch as best you can. Keep at it, after a few years the Dutch will stop talking English to you.

And whilst we’re on the subject of practising, find someone with a bicycle you can borrow. Yes, a two wheel pedal yourself type bike. The Dutch cycle everywhere and as you currently don’t, starting now will avoid you making a fool of yourself when you buy a bike in 2002. Even the expat woman who will become queen in 2013 thinks nothing of hopping on her bike to open some park or building. Get on your bike.

There are those that will tell you moving to the Netherlands is easy, that it’s like living in England. Those people never moved to the Netherlands. They settled there for a while and stayed in an expat world. Moving there permanently is not easy. It is foreign. It is abroad. It is an alien culture. Of course, there are harder places to adjust to, but you will experience culture shock. There will be days when you feel so lonely you’ll want to throw the towel in. There will always be a reason to turn back, abort your journey, pack your bags and book a single ticket back to England. But don’t. Hang in there. You’ll get through everything thrown at you. Good days will start outnumbering the bad days and eventually you’ll have worked yourself right through the culture shock spectrum. You’ll wake up one day and realise you’re home.

One day you’ll have a husband, three children and a family home. You’ll have been open to a home birth without pain relief, your children will go to local Dutch schools, you’ll talk almost exclusively daily in Dutch and you’ll have the career you always dreamed of (not much time to do it in but you can’t have it all). You’ll realise you’re an expat at home.

I promise you it’s the right move to make. Don’t doubt it.

Good luck!

Lots of love,

Amanda

P.S. For future reference, when your future mother-in-law asks you if you have ‘E K Ya’ in England, your answer is “yes but we call it Ikea”. Don’t shake your head and look at her as if she’s from another planet.

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10 thoughts on “A Letter from my Future Expat Self”

  1. Thanks Molly!

    Aniska – the Dutch really say it like that! And when I initially said no to here she started to describe the shop… and I thought wow, sounds cool. Then the penny dropped when Sweden was mentioned!!!

    Never give up!!!!!

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  2. Amanda – this is the first one I have written in 13 years – and with hindsight it should have been at least an annual occurrence. I wish I'd recorded how those first few years felt because they were tough!!!! Thanks for stopping by.

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  3. Beautifully written, I love this idea, though I wouldn't know where to start with my life! I can't imagine learning Dutch, it sounds soooo difficult. Kudos to you for persevering in the country that speaks the best English in Europe (I think?)

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