Sunday, June 14, 2009

Heather in the Hot Seat - Interview with an Expat

The Interview with an Expat series is back after a small interlude. If you would like to be interviewed too, please get in touch. Meanwhile, it really is a pleasure to introduce Heather....

Heather is a Canadian living in Amsterdam. She is also the author of the popular blog Life Abroad, where her insights into life in the Dutch capital, as well as her stunning photography, have been entertaining us for just over a year. Here are Heather's thoughts on life as an expatriate in the Netherlands.

How long have you been living in the Netherlands?
Since May 2008

What brought you initially to the Netherlands?
I was taking a year off from academics after graduating university, and my boyfriend sold his website to a Dutch company. It was the perfect opportunity to accompany him to the Netherlands and have a great adventure!

What is your profession?
Right now I work as a nanny in Amsterdam. I’ve worked bartending, waitressing, and as a hostel staff member during my time here. In the fall I’m heading back to school for an MBA.

What is the main difference between your country of origin and the Netherlands?
The geographic distances are so close here. In Canada, if you drive for 8 hours, you can still be in the same province. In the Netherlands, you can circumnavigate the country! It is remarkable to drive around and visit such unique towns, and even leave the Netherlands to visit other European countries, just for a day-trip. I definitely think we’ve gotten into the Dutch mindset about distances though. If something is a 20 minute drive, we think it’s “far”. In Canada, it can take us that long to get to the local grocery store!

What was the most surprising adjustment you needed to make when moving to the Netherlands?
It may seem small, but I was surprised about the grocery-shopping situation. Back in Canada we drove to the grocery store, where we stocked up on a week’s worth of groceries, and piled it into our huge fridge. Here, I go to Dirk or the Albert Cuyp Market at least once a day. My mindset has changed when it comes to buying food. Whereas in Canada I would buy things in anticipation of needing them, here I wait until I have nothing left before restocking our teensy tiny fridge. I also buy a lot more fresh foods and skip the frozen stuff altogether.

What would you miss most about the Netherlands if you were to leave tomorrow?
Definitely the abundance of great restaurants and cafes. I enjoy trying out new restaurants all the time, and love the amount of international cuisine found in Amsterdam. I don’t think we’ve been to a “chain” restaurant the whole time we’ve been here! I would also miss just sitting out on a sidewalk cafĂ© having a “cupje koffie” and people-watching. Amsterdam has a unique laid-back coffee culture that we just don’t have where I’m from.

What do you like least about the Netherlands?
Not understanding the language completely. When I walk into a store or a restaurant, I sometimes don’t know that someone is talking to me. Normally I’m very friendly, so it’s been hard feeling like I’m ignoring or being rude to people, when it’s entirely unintentional.

What is your favourite Dutch word?
My favourite Dutch word is gezellig. I love what it stands for.

How would you describe the Dutch people?
Dutch people are attractive, well-dressed, and approachable. They’re generally very friendly and open, and extremely helpful when you require information or assistance on any subject. We’ve found that people go above-and-beyond to answer the most basic expat questions we have, such as where to buy lactose free milk and what we should expect when buying a car. Of course they are also very straightforward, but I really enjoy this aspect of Dutch culture. In Canada people are so polite, almost to a fault, that sometimes you don’t know where you stand. You always know with a Dutch person.

Do you have any blogs or websites that you find enjoyable about the Netherlands for people living here?
There are so many great Dutch expat blogs, and we’ve really become a tight community of blog-friends. Some new additions that I think are great are The Blue Suitcase ( and Amsterdamned ( My introduction to expat living and my go-to source for all Dutch information is still Isabella’s A Touch of Dutch (

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