So I am now over the 6 month mark of my residency in the land of bikes, tulips and directness. Considering the fact that I got my first contract in December, I’ve not used my free time wisely! My Dutch is still at the ‘Sorry, ik spreek geen nederlands’ stage and have I written any blogs?! No. I have not. But here we are – the 6 month review…
I’ll start at the beginning. Becoming a resident in The Netherlands was surprisingly easy (for those countries in the EU – made it just in time! If you haven’t registered to vote, do so!), although I have heard of others’ difficulties as you do need a rental contract or letter from your landlord/housemate declaring your address. Fortunately I had this so the process was rather quick and painless. What was’t so painless was paying over €1000 for health insurance. It’s mandatory in The Netherlands to have it, and you are required to pay it as soon as you become a resident. It makes you realise how much we as a nation take the NHS for granted. How much things cost become much more evident when you have to start paying for things as basic as contraception or a blood test!
Opening a bank account was surprisingly easy too. As I wandered into the bank I couldn’t help but think of Gringotts, with the grand entrance and rich façade. To be honest, the Dutch are probably as protective of their money as the goblins… I read in the news a couple of weeks ago about a man who had crocodiles guarding his stash in Amsterdam! Upon registering as a resident, you’re provided with a BSN number (NI equivalent) so as long as you have this, your rental contract/letter and an employment contract you’re good to go! (Again, I can imagine the difficulty if you don’t have a job – I was lucky that I had something in the pipeline, even if it was only a 0 hours contract that didn’t start until December!)
So within 2 hours I’m an official Dutch resident complete with bank account. There’s one more must: a bike. Luckily a friend gave me hers. She was hit by a car whilst cycling and never got back on it, leading me to believe that the bike was cursed as subsequently I fell off within 24 hours of having it! (Us Manx folk are very superstitious – it had absolutely nothing to do with the tram tracks…)
As a languages teacher I am ashamed of the fact that my Dutch isn’t even at the basics stage, although I can now distinguish individual words instead of hearing some ducks at it. This makes going to the market a rather stressful affair, particularly because I try to do it in Dutch (albeit broken) and whenever I do stall holders tend to laugh or, as has been the occasion once or twice, tell me off in response to my ‘Sorry ik spreek geen nederlands’!
Now. The Dutch are very direct people. They pride themselves on it. However to British people it’s just damn rude. I appreciate honesty but tact and diplomacy go a long way. Fortunately I’ve lived around Europeans long enough to harden up which is a good job too because I’ve been told off by several Dutch women since my arrival! I avoid one in particular at the market but sometimes she’s the only one with avocados – maybe I’ll brave it when my Dutch is better, but for now I’ll go without my beloved guacamole.
All in all my experience moving to The Netherlands was a welcoming one, though it hasn’t been all plain sailing along the canals… See my next blog for some of the highs and lows of an Expat life!