Expat Advice

When you moved to the Netherlands what is the one thing you wish somebody had told you about?

Dutch windmills

(It’s not all tulips, clogs and windmills.)

The idea for this post came from an expat group I’m in, so the question was originally: When you moved to Hilversum, what is the one thing you wish somebody had told you about?

But actually, many of the comments weren’t Hilversum based, they were just general tips for surviving in the Netherlands. So I thought I’d share them with you. Real tips from real expats living in this funny little country called Holland the Netherlands…

1. “Bring cold and flu meds and loads of strong pain killers just in case, because paracetamol just doesn’t cut it sometimes.”

2. “If there isn’t a queue don’t try forming one! Otherwise you’ll be waiting all day – follow the Dutch lead.”

3. “Watch out for mopeds & pindakaas is not peanut cheese but peanut butter!”

4. “The most important one – the online takeaway ordering service: Thuisbezorgd.nl!”

5. “I wish someone had told me (still would love to hear the logic behind it) how cars from the right automatically have right of way even when it makes absolutely no sense.”

6. “One thing I didn’t think about was the weather differences. I packed shorts and t-shirts, no real jackets. I wish I had brought warmer clothes for cooler temps.”

7. “That customer service is a rare find here!”

8. “That credit cards are rarely accepted as a form of payment. Or VISA debit.”

9. “Download a parking app for your phone – it makes life much easier!” (Try yellowbrick.nl or parkmobile.nl)

10. “It’s a ghost town on Sunday!!”

11. “There are many different rules for pets – in particular dogs. Dog tax. Rules for poop and leash etc. I only found all this out after someone said the dog tax inspector was knocking on doors.”

12. “Where is the nearest A&E? What’s the emergency number? (112) And the non-emergency number? (0800 8844).”

13. “Public transport apps / links to NS.nl and 9292.nl were a lifesaver.”

14. “The blue parking spaces at the supermarket, and where to buy the blue time thingy.” (Blue spaces are temporary parking spots and you need a parkeerschijf – a parking disk to indicate what time you arrived. Available from HEMA, Bruna and Halfords stores and at many petrol stations.)

15. “Dutch rudeness directness. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it.”

Can you tell that the last one was me? 😉

When you moved to the Netherlands,  what is the one thing you wish somebody had told you about?

Hayley x

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Just call me Tante Bitterbal

Tante Bitterbal

I have a confession to make: I have a superpower. It first started when I was aged 17, on the bus to college. A friend of a friend began sitting next to me on the bus – a very friendly chap – but even at the time I could tell that his bubbly personality was all bravado and he had more issues than de Volkskrant! (The original line came from my best friend: “He has more issues than The Beano!” The Beano is a long-running British children’s comic, 1938-present.) But anyway, I digress.

After about a week, he came out. I was the first person he told he was gay, despite him having a group of close friends at college and being pretty close with his family.

Since then, people have been regularly telling me their deepest darkest secrets and / or their life story. This is never coaxed or encouraged by me, it’s just like I have ‘confession’ tattooed on my head or something.

I knew there was a reason I should do this blog (semi-)anonymously! So that I can tell stories like this, but never give anyone’s game away.

Sometimes they are friends, sometimes strangers. Once, in England, our hot water tank was broken so I called a plumber out. Whilst clambering in the cupboard, I saw him deliberately pulling his hot pink lace thong up above his jeans so that I would see it. Then he went into a whole spiel about how he was going to a Moulin Rouge / Tarts and Vicars party in a couple of months’ time so he was just ‘practicing’.

I think sometimes people want to confess to ‘random’ people first, so that they can gauge reactions and practice ‘coming out’ before they do it for real to their friends and family. Luckily for him, I don’t judge and I wasn’t offended or horrified by my 50 something year old, married, plumber wearing women’s underwear. I just wanted him to fix my hot water tank.

Another guy told me his entire life story on one of our first meetings, on New Year’s Eve, before we’d even got drunk. I could have named all of his previous girlfriends, which ones he was in love with, his difficult relationship with his family and his struggles with depression. In that hour, I probably knew more about him than most of his close friends did.

Maybe I have an honest face, or a non-judgmental face at least… because people just want to tell me things. Another man also showed me that he was wearing female underwear on our first meeting (what is this thing with people showing me their pants!!), seriously, I’d known the guy about 10 minutes. He’s now transitioning.

And it’s not just men either. I mean, girls like to talk… that’s a given. But women I have just met tell me everything too!

I know about infidelities, people who are silently struggling with depression, marriage near-misses, secret credit-card debts, failed pregnancies, abortions and struggles to conceive. I know about relationship issues that even the partner doesn’t know about, problems in the bedroom, eating disorders, drinking and drug problems – you name it – someone has told me their secret. And I don’t have enough friends for them to all be this fucked up – many of these are strangers or friends of friends who I met at a party once.

Lately, since writing this blog, I’ve become somewhat of a go-to expat agony aunt.

Previously, my ‘thing’ was just about people opening up to me. Not necessarily about me giving them advice, they just wanted someone to talk to, someone to listen.

Now I’m getting emails and Facebook messages asking for advice. It can’t be my ‘honest’ face as I don’t plaster selfies all over my blog (that would be my worst nightmare!)

I have no idea what it is, but I’ve had people asking for job advice, relationship and long-distance relationship advice, housing advice and even advice on how to publish a book! (Huh??) Other people just write and tell me about themselves and their situation and thank me for writing the blog.

I’m really flattered that people want to tell me about themselves, about their lives and ask for advice – I think it’s really sweet that people would even think of coming to me! But the advice part I do struggle with sometimes… a) I really don’t feel qualified to answer some of the questions and b) I don’t always feel like I can give advice to people I’ve never met. But I do respond to every email and I try my best to at least offer some words of wisdom.

I love all of the messages, emails and comments I receive. I read every single one… and where possible… I try to reply to those which require a response. So please keep ’em coming! If you want to spill your guts to someone, I’m your girl! (Apparently!)

Except if your comment is “Suck on my hairy balls.” (That really happened.) The guy gave no reasoning, no explanation. Just – “Suck on my hairy balls.”

Then I have no words for you.

So tell me, what’s your superpower?

Hayley x