Friday, August 21, 2009

An Interview with an Expat - Keith Jenkins in the Hot Seat

Keith Jenkins came to the Netherlands from his homeland of Malaysia nearly two decades ago. He now has Dutch citizenship, and quite rightly no longer considers himself an expat here. He is the creator of the Velvet Escape blog, a beautiful travel blog which is definitely worth checking out.

Here's Keith's take on life in the Dutch capital.

How long have you been living in the Netherlands?
I wanted to say “Too long” but that’s unfair. I really enjoy my life here and I feel very blessed that I had the opportunity to settle down in Amsterdam. It’s my home now. Answer to your question: 18 wonderful years.

What brought you initially to the Netherlands?

Like many before and after me… Love! I met my partner in Malaysia (where I’m from) and after two years of hundreds of letters (there was no email back then), phone calls and the occasional visit, I decided to move over and give it a go. I enrolled at the University of Amsterdam where I studied Dutch first (they have a fantastic Dutch language programme), then Politics/Economics for four years; graduated with a Masters degree in 1996.
Moving here has certainly been the biggest adventure of my life!

What is your profession?
That’s a question to which I have yet to formulate a proper answer. I worked as a relationship manager, equities analyst, and then as an investment proposals manager in asset management at ABN AMRO Bank for a total of ten years. The bank was taken over and I opted to leave. I travelled around the world for five months, thinking I’d be able to get a new banking job when I returned. Alas, the financial sector collapsed when I was halfway through my trip. I returned to Amsterdam and there were no jobs so I decided to turn to what I enjoy doing: writing, specifically, travel-writing. I launched my travel blog ( on 30th December 2008 and I’ve been having a ball with it since.

Marketing the Velvet Escape name on Twitter and facebook really got me interested in the workings of social media and its boundless possibilities. So, I now have an offshoot business: social media advisory for (predominantly travel-related) small businesses, called Velvet Connect. I advise these businesses how to effectively market themselves by engaging with and building a community via various social media platforms.

What is the main difference between your country of origin and the Netherlands?
The weather! Malaysia is hot and humid all year round. I love the four seasons here. One thing I can’t stand is the wind though. Rain, snow, hail, whatever… I can handle, but not the wind!

What was the most surprising adjustment you needed to make when moving to the Netherlands?
Phew, that’s a tough one. I would have to say the one cookie per cup of coffee/tea custom. I was like.. just hand me the cookie jar will you! ;-)

I guess another adjustment was the language. I must commend the instructors at the University of Amsterdam. They drilled us continuously on speaking without an accent and getting our grammar right. After a year, I was speaking and writing Queen’s Dutch. Consequence: my classmates at uni either admired me (for my language prowess) or thought I was a snob (for speaking almost faultlessly). I had to adjust to that too, though years later, when I joined ABN AMRO Bank, my accentless Dutch proved to be a big asset.

What would you miss most about the Netherlands if you were to leave tomorrow?
So many things. Most of all, I would miss the gorgeous canals. I would also miss the fact that this country is so well organised.

What do you like least about the Netherlands?
The strict opening times. Coming from Malaysia, which has certainly embraced the 24-hour economy, I’m still miffed that I can’t simply pop over to the local supermarket if I’ve run out of sugar at 10pm (there are no night shops near where I live) or on Sundays. When is 7-11 going to make its debut here?!

Another aspect that really gets to me is the fact that I have to make an appointment each time I need a doctor (which thankfully is not often!).

What is your favourite Dutch word?
‘Gezellig’!! No question about it. I fell in love with the word as well as its meaning the first time I heard it.

How would you describe the Dutch people?
The Dutch speak their minds (which I’ve grown to respect). There’s no beating around the bush here, which is great. No nuances, just in-your-face, straight-to-the-point opinions. Sure saves loads of time though! They’re also incredibly ‘nuchter’… umm, that means something like ‘grounded’ or ‘sensible’, I think. I also love the fact that the average Dutch person speaks at least two languages.

The Dutch are also a fun/party-loving, bike-crazy, football-mad, proud, business-minded and travel-hungry people. I’m constantly amazed that for such a small country, with only 16 million inhabitants, it’s global footprint is enormous. Just think of the multitude of Dutch multinationals, its rich history in global trade (and colonisation), its outstanding sporting achievements and the fact that Dutchies really travel the world (they’re everywhere!).

Do you have any blogs or websites that you find enjoyable about the Netherlands for people living here?
I have a few I check once in a while. These include , and

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