Being a new expat in NL (and learning Dutch!)

I’ve noticed that a few of my new followers are also new expats… so first: Welkom in Nederland en welkom op!

Zaanse Schans

I’ve lived in the Netherlands for nearly two years now and jeeeeeez has it flown or what!? It seriously feels like I moved here a couple of months ago. I was reading another expat blog over the weekend, someone who has actually only been in the Netherlands for 2 months. Stories of rude direct Dutch people, language confusion, homesickness and missing certain things from home (mostly food!) It really stuck a chord with me… brought back all the feels… but it also let me know how damn far I’ve come. 2 years… woah!!

One thing before I start:

“The term “expat” derives from the Latin prefix ex (out of) and the noun patria (home country, native country, or fatherland). In today’s globalized world, as the reasons for going abroad become more diverse, it’s no longer easy to find a concrete definition for this term. That said, the word “expat” is generally used to refer to people who temporarily or permanently live in a different country than the one they were born in or whose nationality they have. Expats usually choose to leave their native country for a career boost, or to fulfill a personal dream or goal, rather than as a result of dire economic necessity.” (InterNations)

So just to set the scene: as expats we’re already lucky, privileged, whatever you want to call it. I just wanted to point out that I’m not whining about how hard, lonely or what a culture shock it is moving to the Netherlands… I’m really not. Comparatively, we expats have it so easy!

But back to being an “expat”

I’ve been in your shoes, really I have. And sometimes it’s tough, especially if you don’t speak Dutch. Before I moved here, the Dutchie and I would come to the Netherlands for family holidays, to a Center Parcs or something. We’d spend 3-4 days in a holiday home with his family – so me and seven Dutchies. (That should be the title of a Tarantino film.)

Seven Dutchies speaking Dutch 24/7 and me having no idea what was going on most of the time!

It was horrible and I cried. (In the bathroom, obviously, so no one knew – not even the Dutchie.) This happened for a good few years in a row, my Dutch got better each year of course, but still – all those people talking Dutch for days on end – not fun if you don’t understand everything!! It stopped when I moved to Holland. When I actually moved here, I kicked my learning up a gear. I took a local course (something I couldn’t do in England). I got my hands on everything Dutch I could and immersed myself as much as I could. (Despite still working in English.) Anyway, I wrote a whole post about learning Dutch for beginners so check that out if you haven’t already.

I also wrote a post about learning Dutch being fucking hard and sorry to break it to you… but it is.

However… it’s also really rewarding. Some people are assholes – and they’d be an asshole in any language. But other, nice people, will be really encouraging of you learning Dutch (especially as “everyone” speaks English – let me just call bullshit on that one by the way!! NOT EVERY DUTCH PERSON SPEAKS ENGLISH – and even if they do… maybe they don’t want to speak to you in their non-native language.)

You are living in their country after all. Try to learn Dutch. What’s the worst that can happen? You might get upset, or cry or someone might laugh at you.

I’m actually laughing at myself now for how ridiculous I can be sometimes. Getting offended because someone corrects me… yes, it’s hurtful at the time, but ultimately: they’re trying to help.

So… laugh at yourself, or have a little cry. Whatever makes you feel better… we all have bad days. But then: put your big girl panties back on and get on with it!!

I speak Dutch now, to a reasonable level (as in: I can get by in supermarkets, bars, restaurants etc and have a basic conversation with you)… but I still have the occasional blip. I was paying in a restaurant last weekend (which should’ve be a breeze for me) but the waitress had a really strange voice/accent – I couldn’t understand ANYTHING she was saying!! I kinda just smiled and nodded and felt like a complete IDIOT (two years!! two frikkin’ years!) but y’know. Shit happens.

You’ll get there. Practice is key… I swear my Dutch is going backwards as I don’t practice enough! (I work in English and the Dutchie and I speak English to each other… which is so stupid, I know!)

My sister has a very good quote for this: “If it is important enough to you, you will find a way. If it is not, you will find an excuse.”

So: I’ve picked up Duolingo again and the Dutchie and I are going to do “Nederlands uurtje” a few times a week. (We’ve tried speaking Dutch the whole evening before and it just gets too frustrating… so an hour is a good compromise.) I’m also trying to get enough people on the speaking course at my local college – I signed up to a Dutch speaking course in January to further improve my Dutch, but it was cancelled because they didn’t have enough people. So I’m going to rally up some friends and see if I can get this Dutch-learning-train back on track.

What are you doing to learn Dutch? Any tips?

Veel plezier in Nederland en succes met Nederlands leren! 

Hayley x


  1. This is my story to a T. I’ve been here 2 and a half (going on 3) years now and I can get by perfectly well. I can follow conversations, watch TV, even read a newspaper article, but I’m still struggling with my confidence in putting together sentences the right way round. Simple things like those you mentioned (supermarket, restaurants etc) are a breeze, but the second someone says anything unexpected/out of the ordinary my brain seizes up and it takes me a minute to understand what’s happening.
    (side note: We have just booked our wedding venue and I was very pleased with myself because the entire meeting was carried out in Dutch, without a hiccup!)

    I’m also joining a large (Limburgse!) dutch family and spent the first year down there, where the language is completely different. I’m hoping I’ll catch up soon and by next year hope to be close to fluent-ish…
    My Dutchie and I also do “Dutch Days” although rarely make it past a few hours, I’ll suggest the “Nederlandse Uurtje” to him instead!

    Glad to know it’s not just me!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yep, I think that’s half my problem… because I can get by (sounds like we’re at a similar level in terms of understanding etc btw) I’ve been focusing on other things recently. As with most people, I’m constantly spinning plates and my Dutch plate has definitely fallen and smashed into a million prices 😉 Funnily enough, my level of understanding has stayed the same but my speaking is really suffering. But definitely back on the wagon!!

      Amazing that you did your whole venue booking in Dutch! It’s things like that which make you realise how far you’ve come, right? When’s the big day? 😀


  2. I’ve been spending too much time playing with Spanish on Duo and not Dutch. Of course, I just discovered the other day that if you turn on the Spanish keyboard on your iPhone (or at least on mine), it will take dictation in Spanish AND autocorrect any mistakes. (Which is good, because I skip accents like crazy!)

    What’s your handle on Duolingo? I’d like to follow. ^_^


  3. YESSS Nederlands uurtje!! It starts off so awkwardly every time, but after about 10 minutes you get into a groove and it gets so much better! Need to do one or two before a family party next week…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. we’re both english so not great for my dutch but after 12 years i feel okay about my level, still beat myself up regularly, still have conversations which involve a lot of intelligent looking nodding and still ask my kids if it’s a de or het word, i will never get to grips with those pesky little words but mostly it’s okay. And you’re right not everyone speaks or chooses to speak english, in fact my neighbours refuse to, at first it was annoying but now i’m grateful. I give drama lessons in english in secondary schools (am willing to travel if anyone wants some) and pretend to the students i don’t speak dutch, can be quite eye opening when they think you can’t understand them. I still get heimwee and miss my mates but i think that’s natural and a self pity indulgence eveyone once in a while is fine.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I just love your blog! I am a Dutch expat living in England and it is so funny, you describing our Dutch habits. I agree with you, Dutch people are not rude, they are direct. Isn’t it funny that what we miss most usually involves food. I miss ‘stroopwafels and ‘knabbelnootjes’ and ‘sate’, although all are now available in the UK. My mum and dad did not speak English, so I did a lot of translating then.But my brother and his wife speak English, their children speak English, my best friend and her husband and children speak English. I gave my husband, who is English, a book with the title ‘Dutch in 3 months’, that was in 1977 and he still does not speak it! It is obviously more difficult to learn it when not living in Holland and only going over there twice a year. Good luck with your Dutch. I am sure you will be fluent in another year or so! Alie

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I haven’t seen the book for years, it is probably in the loft! But there can only be one book called ‘Dutch in 3 months’, surely! As I am writing this, I thought I can write this in Dutch to you. Ik wens je een Vrolijk Pasen! Alie (Eerste Paasdag en ook Tweede Paasdag)


  6. Hi, I read your blog, and like always enjoy it immensely.
    The following sentence really struck me: “I was paying in a restaurant last weekend (which should’ve be a breeze for me) but the waitress had a really strange voice/accent – I couldn’t understand ANYTHING she was saying.”
    I have been Dutch my whole life and I happens to me at times that I do not understand people speaking Dutch. Because they have a strong accent, or mumble, or whatever. So please do not doubt yourself, it happens to the best of us;-)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I was about to reply the same, some Dutch accents are terrible to understand. I once did an internship at Disney in Paris and got a Dutch guy on the phone that I just could not understand at all (and I’m Dutch). In the end I needed to translate from this sort of Dutch to a French doctor and vice versa and the French doctor spoke with a Parisian accent. It was very challenging 🙂 I really respect expats that make an effort to speak Dutch it is not easy so keep making those mistakes it is much better than not trying at all

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Reading this has motivated me to pick up my Dutch language books again. My Dutch is ok but no where as good as it should be for how long I have been here. I still get confused few times a day by my Dutch family-in-law who treat me like I was born Dutch.

    Great post. I recognise a lot of it from my own experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Definetly gonna follow you! Same here, but I’m from Germany so I understand at least a bit of Dutch, since I also grew up next to the border and studied german language, because there we had to learn medieval german and dutch is basically medieval german. They have a lot words incommon like “vrouw”. But me and my Dutchie we also speak english all the time, which also fucks up now my german, because sometimes I have now the english words stuck in my head and can’t remember the german words 🙈 Currently I’m looking for a job in NL, after two years of weekend relationship, it’s time for the next step 🙂 But I also can relate to the language barrier, my dutch is good enough for smalltalk and I try to communicate with his sister, but she doesn’t speak english so well. So ja, she doesn’t even try to start a conversation with me, that mostly comes from me. Luckily his parents speak german totally good, especially his father, so on that side I’m safe. Last weekend we where all together in Port Zelande and at Breakfast/Lunch/Dinner I felt again like a ghost cause everyone talked dutch, which I mostly understand but it’s still not good enough to participate in the talk. But it’s so nice to read, that you felt the same. In our first year of relationship I really cried a lot when we had weekends with his family and I was just a ghost. It’s gets better now, but it’s still sad that some parts of his family don’t even try to talk to me.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Kind of a comparable situation, maybe. Here I’m the dutchman living in Germany – my wife is German. We actually have been doing this for years: she speaks German, I speak Dutch. At one point, you’re so used to hearing the language all the time it becomes a part of you. For me (I also work in German, which is a big plus in that respect), it means I’ve actually partly lost my mother tongue after 4+ years of living in Germany. Crazy.
    (also, it’s really funny to observe the reactions of the people around you, for instance in the supermarket, of hearing people talk two each other in two different languages at the same time)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Confusing other people is the best part! 😀 We where in Renesse a few days back and my dutchie talked dutch to the waitress, while I replied in german (in Renesse the assume that you are german). But together we spoke english and she really was confused how to talk to us. That was actually pretty funny 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Hi Haley,
    First of all, I love your blog! That is why i am so far back in your posts haha. Do you still have trouble with speaking Dutch? I work at a school for expats where they can learn Dutch. If you want to, visit our website some time!


  11. I first thank you for your blog… I’m from san Diego, California just moved to Holland 2 months ago and would love to connect with your Dutch learning course. That would be amazing. Ive used dulingo but I need more interaction. I totally relate to this. Any help would be awesome.


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