Monday, May 4, 2009

Isabella's Meme for Expats

Blog author Isabella has since last week a challenge for other blog authors who place comments about her posts. She asks us to answer questions about "before" and "after" moving to the Netherlands. Here below you can see my answers:


- Before you knew you'd be coming to the NL, for whatever reason you originally came to the NL, truthfully how much did you know about the country ?

Everything I knew about NL was due to my own research. As soon as I started learning English at a second language at 12-13 years old, I started correspondence with a Dutch girl (then also a 12 year old). We were born in the same day and month, believe it or not ! Our mail change consisted of few simple sentences written on beautifully decorated paper letter about our small lives. I actually still have some social contact with her and visit her maybe twice a year in Schagen. We also have ocassionally some contact via telephone and e-mail. I was always curious about other countries and cultures, I have a huge passion for languages and history. So I never skipped NL from my informal "research".

- Did you learn about the NL in school when you were growing up ?
When a child, I had probably during my Geography lessons only one morning about the Benelux. About their economy strongly based in services, aging of the population, language spoken, welfare system, main cities, shared past history, old masters in the painting etc..

- Do you have family who is Dutch or Dutch heritage ?

- Were you aware the language the Dutch spoke was Dutch and not German or any other language ?
Of course !

-Have you ever lived outside of your home country for longer than one month prior to living in the NL ?

- Had you learned to speak any other language than your own, even if only partially so, before coming to the NL ?
Yes. I finished studies in English at IBEU before going to university and in my early twenties I completed the French course of Alliance Fran├žaise (and then Cours de Civilisation). I actually use both languages plus Spanish (learned in "Molinos de Viento" in A'dam) in my work.

- When you learned you'd be coming to the NL, did you feel it was important to learn Dutch ?
Absolutely ! But it was easier said than done.

- Did anyone prepare you with info of any type before you came to live in the NL, did you attempt to find info on your own, or did you come to the NL without preparing ?
My then boyfriend (and actual husband) bough a language course for me called: "Just enough Dutch", with emphasis in the pronunciation and memorizing some "formulas" to ask about information (in the bakery, in a hotel, etc.). I also bought a book in the Dutch consulate in Rio, but was extremely boring old fashioned course concentrated in grammar. I read in Brazil "The Undutchables" which I found funny but also bitter and more a cynical caricature of the Dutch and their habits. Nowadays, I find it a brilliant book ! When I arrived here I also read "The Low Sky" from a Dutch author, and also "How to be Happy in Holland" from a Hungarian author. All the books in English, of course. That there are so many books and blogs with tips for foreigners on how to adapt here, it makes me wonder... well, take your own conclusions !

- How did you family & friends react when they learned you'd be moving to the NL ?

Mixed feelings. Some friends thought it was a radical decision and probably they wouldn't see me anymore in the future. My parents liked my actual husband a lot, but were not sure if our relation would work out nor that I would adapt. The years passed by, I visited Brazil with a certain frequency, my parents came here several times... Their perceptions have changed. They could see that my relation was stable and that NL was a (relatively) safe, nice, positive country.

- What did you think would be your biggest challenge living in a foreign country ? Or did you feel you would face any big challenges ?
The stereotype and prejudices people have about a Brazilian woman moving into the NL with a Dutch boyfriend. Dutch and Europeans in general do not know much about Brazil. In a personal level: the Dutch language (it is not a language, it is a secret code). You have to be born here in order to know if the definite article is going to be "het" or "de". Most dictionaries do not point it out. I also dislike intensely cold rainy weather. Lately, almost every year I get sick during winter and have allergy to pollen in spring. Rain in my opinion is only good for the agriculture and winter could last only one week during Christmas.


-Upon arriving, can you remember the overall impression you had in the 48 hours ?
I first lived in Hiversum for three months (autumn) when I came to live here. I thought the weather was like an eternal autumn, lots of rain. I didn't see people on the streets, except in the center of Hilversum. I thought Dutch people were very private. Also very suspicious of non-European foreigners.

- Tell me about your bicycle, if you have one. Is it borrowed/rented or do you own it ? Have you ever had you bike stolen ? Feel free to mention and elaborate about any thing special concerning experiences you have/had with your bike.
The first attempt to ride a bike in the NL was in de Van Woustraat, Amsterdam, without a brake. You should use the pedal, which is a very old fashioned thing. You should quickly jump into the bike and use the pedal if you need to brake. I gave up after five minutes, I thought I could die. Then I bought a second hand heavy bike, with brakes, which I love. I also have a "mother-bike" with mini chairs and a basket. I used a bike during my whole pregnancies. No, I never had my bikes stolen because I do not use them in big cities.

- Name three of your favorite things about the Dutch culture which first come to your mind.
Commitment, punctuality, honesty (among many others).

- Of the things you never knew before coming here, what have you learnt about the NL ?
That you should learn as much possible from the country you are living in: read newspapers and magazines, go to watch cabaretiers, visit other cities. Try to adapt. But of course you can keep -and you should - your cultural traits, such as food for example.

caipirinha's as seen from story from

- Culture shock. Does it ring a bell ?
Oh, yes. I thought I wouldn't suffer much with it because my lifestyle was very western, but I underestimated it. Europe is not multicultural - never will be. Misconceptions about Brazil are huge. The Dutch society is very egalitarian - which is a good thing. And not only financially egalitarian: it means that they do value similar, homogenous habits as well - but on the other side they get suspicious of different ones. And I come from a culture where everyone wants to be different. In Brazil there are many immigrants, many social/educational/economical differences. Contrasts in Brazil are huge - although the economy is booming. And "act normal !" is a rule here and things have to be previsible and strictily calculated ! They also always search for consensus (afgspraken maken) and live by the Dutch logic (the logic of the cloggies is in the "Undutchables" book brilliantly called "clogic").

-How far have you come with learning Dutch ?
I can talk to people and gather information. I watch TV, I understand their jokes and love reading books and magazines in Dutch... But I do struggle a bit when writting about two things: prepositions and the usage of the definite article (het/de). I also have a south American accent. And the first years I struggled with the gutural "g" - not anymore.

- Has your view on politics or world issues changed from how you previously viewed things before living in the NL ?
Yes. The NL is tightly connected to USA politics without many questionings, which is a dangerous thing. In this country they are very mild with punishment of criminals, it seems they just get ticked in their hands. Serial rapists get a couple of years in jail. "Legal" and "illegal" have different meanings here. And that TBS'ers here can get temporarily free days, I think unacceptable.

- Coffee-shops and smart-shops. What is your opinion ?
I tend to agree with what H. Pals said in her blog Life Abroad. But how to regulate the production, consumption and the selling of drugs is a controversial thing and too complex. One successful model cannot be just transported to another country. There is a cultural factor in it.  So there is a different background in this context. Again: it is too complex.

- Since living here, have you learned anything new about yourself ? Or perhaps have you learned anything else new ? A new hobby or a new way of life ?
Definitely ! I learned a lot about myself. Things I would never know about me if I was my whole life living only in Brazil. I had to get out of my comfort zone and references. You always learn many new thing about yourself, human psyche and life in general when you live in another country. I also learned that most people (here or in Brazil or wherever) are a product of a society and generally do not question long established values. Most people are also scared for changes in their routine or national values. Nowadays I also value much more some Brazilian traits: openess for foreigners, flexibility, the spontaineity and warmth of relations. Yes, I have learned a lot from living among the Dutch. But they have a lot to learn from Brazilians as well. 
Isabella: I found your questions well elaborated and pertinent. It was fun doing it and also reading the other expats' blogs and/or answers.

Note: all photos here in this post are from EPOCA magazine, otherwise stated. The photos of cd covers I"ve made them myself.


A Touch of Dutch said...

I love it! Thanks for doing this too :-)

And the "het/de," I agree, hands down! I have it with a few words. For example, when I want to call something a 'thing' in Dutch [ding], I can never remember if it's one thing, it's 'het ding.' More than one, whenever it's a 'het' word, always becomes 'de' when plural [de dingen/the things], but I fear I will forever be stuck with ding. I did it again this morning, needing help lifting a few things on the driveway from a neighbor. I said "... zware ding," which is totally incorrect. I corrected myself immediately with zwaar ding...

Anita said...

Ha-ha-ha ! There is a way around that. Just say: "Wat zwaar !" or "Dit is zwaar !". Or: "Jeetje ! Dat was zwaar, zeg !". I also say sometimes "contributie" (that has a financial sense) instead of "bijdrage". Or: "ik heb honger" instead of "trek". And so on. But the Dutch do make many mistakes when speaking English, because they think with their "clogic".

Life Abroad said...

Hi Anita,

I loved reading your Meme and reflecting on how some of your experiences are similar to my own here. It still helps me to read what other expats are going through. How long have you been here in the Netherlands? That's awesome that you have a "Mommy bike". I always wonder how women cart around their children in those HUGE bikes...very talented indeed!

Thanks for linking to my blog in this post, however I think the link is to someone's blog in Finland? Mine is :)

Thanks for sharing this, I really enjoyed reading through it!

Anita said...

Hi there Heather !
Every experience is different and unique. I am here for more than ten years (I arrived in Dec. 1999). But many times I feel like a blue parrot disguised with a penguin tuxedo... A "moederfiets" has no mistery, it is very easy to manage since the first second. I will be posting more about bikes, so keep tuned ! By the way, the link to your blog "Life Abroad" is correct !

Dri Viaro said...

Oi, to passando pra conhecer seu blog, bjs boa semana

aguardo sua visita :)

Anita said...

Oi Dri, quanta honra ! Ja te visitei sim, varias vezes. Eu sempre fico um tempo lendo antes de colocar um comentario. Vou me tornar uma seguidora do seu blog agora. Passa sempre por aqui pra praticar o ingles, encher as vistas com as fotos e dar uns pitacos !