An American in Holland… this time it’s not me! Meet Jules who blogs over at Outside Looking In. When the burnout of her studies and the thought of staying at home became too much, this Philadelphian hopped a plane to come stay with her (you guessed it) Dutch boyfriend.
How long have you been living in the Netherlands and what brought you here?
I’ve been living here for 3 years now. I burned out of my graduate program, and basically called my boyfriend up and asked, “Can I come and stay with you?” Two weeks later, my cats were microchipped and vetted, and I was on a plane.
Do you plan to stay in the Netherlands, move back to your home country, or try somewhere else?
We’ll be staying here (by which I mean the Netherlands) for the forseeable future. I’ve been taken in by all of my boyfriend’s friends and family, and have started laying down my own ties here. Plus we’ve adopted a third cat who does not travel well, to put it mildly. So, yeah—we’re staying here.
What do you do during the day (job, stay at home mom, entrepreneur, student, etc)?
I work in a lab. For the sake of my job I won’t say more than that. But I’m also looking to start up a freelancing editing business on the side. I know nothing of freelancing, so right now it’s just doing a bit of prodding and poking and seeing if I get any bites.
What’s the most notable difference between your home country and the Netherlands?
The bike lanes! I didn’t have a car when I lived in and around Philadelphia, so I biked just about everywhere, and I cannot count the number of times I’ve almost been killed there, by either errant drivers, stupid lane markings, and trolley tracks (especially when it rained). I think I lost a few years of my life to that. I’ve even been hit by a car—fortunately the car wasn’t going very fast and I was able to turn away from the hit at the last second, but even so, riding a bike in the US is like running with the bulls. And frankly, I think Pamplona is safer. I think the main reason I like living here so much is because bikes are much better-accepted than they are in the States. Plus the infrastructure is there for safer riding.
Where is your favorite place to visit in the Netherlands?
Not Amsterdam, hehe. I’m more of a nature-person, and the area around Nijmegen is a wonderful place to explore. The Ooijpolder, which is a wildlife preserve and uitwater (a floodplain, so that if the Waal floods the waters go there rather than over the dike and into farmers’ homes) is home for several gorgeous waterfowl in the winter. Millingerward is also a designated nature preserve—just make sure to wear your boots when you go. There are several good spots to see waders, and during the winter you can see hordes of people lining the Ooijse Bandijk (yes, I had to google this) to watch the geese. In the woods to the south (Heumenbos, I think it’s called) there are several different warblers and woodpeckers, and during the autumn the place is crawling with mushrooms—one of my favorite subjects for photography. I really want to go to the Veluwe someday.
Give us one thing you love about the Netherlands and one thing you loathe…
I love (and love to poke fun at) what I call the “Dutch hive mind”. The Dutch hive mind is, I am convinced, is what keeps this country together. It’s a subconscious understanding of all of the complicated rules and regulations that govern life here—park your bike here, don’t ride your bike there, put your trash here and make sure it’s neat. It manifests in some pretty interesting ways; for example, when I was in Renesse with my former lab for a weekend, we stayed in a pension house where you could prepare your own meals. Nobody ever stood up and said, “OK, you do this and you do that.” It just happened. Same thing of the cleanup afterwards—suddenly everybody would stand up and clear their place and someone would load the dishwasher and someone else would wipe down the tables, and nobody ever told anyone to do anything. The funniest part about the national penchant for cleanliness and order is that for some reason, it simply does not apply to dog poop.
The one thing I loathe is making phone calls. I make a fair number of phone calls and I’m never sure which language to use when the secretary picks up. I mean, I can ask for people by name and explain myself in simple terms in Dutch, and even understand most of their replies. But then they ask me a very complicated question and then I have to answer in English, and then they get confused and then I realize what it is they asked (after I’ve already answered) and then the whole thing devolves from there.
What’s one thing you’ve had to adjust to since coming to the Netherlands and how did you adjust (or are you still working on it)?
Stores not being open on Sunday. You’d think that I’d be used to it by now, and I am better about getting groceries on Saturday. But if there is a koopzondag then I’ll get lazy and not get everything on Saturday. The problem with koopzondag is that not every store partakes in it, and sometimes the store I intended on visiting on Sunday is not, in fact opening that day. I had gotten better about it, but then I took an apartment closer to where I work to avoid a daily 5-hour commute. Keeping track of which koopzondag I can go shopping on just makes my life that much more complicated.
Do you have an embarrassing moment since you’ve moved that you would like to share with us (an unfortunate language blunder, or a funny getting-back-on-the-bike story)?
When I was commuting between Leiden and Nijmegen every day (2 hours each way), I eventually learned that the 6:24 train out of Nijmegen would get me to Utrecht just in time to catch the 7:26 to Leiden. The train would typically arrive in Utrecht at aound 7:23, or 7:24, and of course the platforms for the arriving and departing trains were at opposite ends of the station, so it would be a mad dash down the stairs, through the tunnel, and up the stairs and onto the train.
This one time, the arriving train pulled into Utrecht at 7:25. I’m thinking, Well, it’ll be a close one, but I think I might just make it. As soon as the door opens I’m out like a shot. Down the stairs. Past the people. The tunnel is clear. Up the stairs. Almost there. The whistle blows—
And then I trip and fall flat on my face.
When I look up again the train is moving away from the platform. And I decide that it’s a cookie kind of day.
What’s the best piece of advice you received that you would like to pass along to anyone coming to the Netherlands?
Talk less and listen more. A bit of advice that most people everywhere could use, especially if they’re in another country. I sometimes walk past Americans grumbling quite loudly about how confusing everything is. I fight the temptation to laugh at them, and then move on.
Do you have any blogs or websites that you would like to recommend?
I’m a fan (not in the Facebook sense) of Invading Holland, but I don’t know of an expat who isn’t. I love the website Birdpix—the photography there makes me green with jealousy every time I see it. The KNMI website is invaluable—there’s a lot of text on the site, but the pictograms are all you really need to know when it’s not going to rain. Marktplaats.nl is a key, key website for us—when we need something that we don’t want to (read: can’t afford) pay retail price for, that’s the first place we check to see if we can’t find it. Maastricht Minutiae is a pretty cool blog—Amanda and Dan go check out the places I never have time to. And a friend of ours, Bouke Vlierhuis, will be launching his own blog in the near future—he’s a writer and/or poet. For now, you can see his writing on fictionaut.com, under the name P. Jonas Bekker (all those vowels are a bit intimidating for Americans!).
Images courtesy of Jules
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