Thursday, February 25, 2010

Interview # 8: Suzanne Miller

I have met Suzanne in the blogland (she has a photo blog) and had this idea of having her for an interview. I 100% agree with her about "Dutch Life" - except for stroopwafels 'cause I do not have a sweet tooth !

Please introduce yourself
Suzanne Miller, born in USA, in Europe since 1999, Amsterdam since 2005. Ever since I saw Amsterdam in 2000 I wanted to live here. Finally, circumstances allowed me to make the move.

And did you have to change your profession after arriving here ?

My husband and I have started a shop in Oud West, La Naranja, where we sell fine art from various artists, and traditional craft from Las Alpujarras, a little-known string of mountain villages in Andalusia. It was not easy, as Americans, to start a shop in Amsterdam, and we've truly poured everything we have into this enterprise. We got very lucky in finding a big space on Bilderdijkstraat with a beautiful historic storefront, which I think will be the next "9 Streets" type area. The 9 Streets started as a neighborhood of funky cool little shops, but I think it has out priced itself. Now only jewelers or eateries or chains can afford to go in there. On Bilderdijkstraat there is a growing collection of vintage and second-hand shops, La Naranja is between Jutka en Riska, which is very well known for Vintage clothing, and Turquoise, which has more oddities and trinkets. Around the block is Designers for Less, which has great gently used labels. The street is slated for renovation, and I believe it will really take off after that. It's just on the edge of the Helmersbuurt, which is the hot yuppie neighborhood at the moment. The other advantage the Bilderdijk area has over the 9 Streets is accessibility. You can easily get here by tram or car, which makes a big difference to people outside the center.

What do you like most about your "Dutch life" ?

I adore Amsterdam and I am fascinated by Dutch society and culture. I'm always trying to identify what sets the Dutch apart. I perceive an intelligence here that I find exceptional, and that, accompanied by a gentle spirit and sheer beauty, makes for a very intriguing personality.

I love that it is so easy to be healthy here. I ride my bike as much as possible. I am a huge AH grocery store fan. I think that place is amazing. They make it so easy to eat well.

The Dutch are very modest about some of their culinary accomplishments. When I had my first stroopwafel koekje I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. I made it my goal to find the best ones in Amsterdam, which I think are from the Van Muyden bakery chain! My next goal is to find the best appelgebak. It's a tough job, but somebody has to do it.

What do you miss the most from your homeland ?

My friends and family. Being away from them is the most difficult part about being an expat(Anita's note: true Su, I agree with you). Aside from people, I miss the stellar American restaurant service; 7-11 convenience stores and a classic American burger!

After years living in the NL, how do you see your birth country now ? With different eyes ? When I left the USA in 1999 Bill Clinton was still in office. The Bush presidency, Iraq invasion and Obama presidency have all happened since then, and the USA is a different country than what I left. My family and friends are in the USA, but my life and future are here. I do not feel very attached to the USA. I am very disillusioned with it. I believe in our Bill of Rights and our original Constitution, but I see a country that has fallen very far from those ideals. In the Netherlands, people are not in jobs they hate because they need the health insurance. People have enough vacation. They have enough time. When you have time you think things through and make intelligent decisions, and that is what I see here. I see a society and a country that is not rushed, and that is functioning on carefully considered decisions. And I see a populace that is very hard to fool. (Anita's note: Hard to fool ? I do NOT agree with you on that Suzanne ! See the blunder with Swine flu and Uruzgan... )

Cultural shock ?

The lack of service-oriented employees has been the most frustrating thing to deal with in the Netherlands. Examples ? The topper was when we walked into a rental car place to get a van for the day. We were the only customers in the entire establishment. There was a clerk behind the desk. He said he would be with us in a moment, and left us standing there watching him for ten minutes while he finished his coffee and pastry. Then, with no apology for the delay, he waited on us. In the USA, he would very likely have been fired for keeping us waiting while he snacked right in front of us.

What have you learned about yourself after all these years living outside the US ?

That language need not be a barrier to human relations, and that people are people, everywhere you go. Most people are good, and most people want the same basic things out of life. Sign language is more universal than you might think, and a sincere smile will get you just about anywhere.
Note: except for the last photo (with a stroopwafel, taken from the net - couldn't find the author's name) all the photos in this post were made by me at Suzanne's shop La Naranja, located on Bilderdijkstraat 198, 1053LE Amsterdam. Or check: . I am curious how Americans living in the NL relate to Suzanne's opinions and whether they will make any comments... Thanks a lot for your interview Su !


Debbie said...

What an interesting interview. Thanks for sharing.

Liana said...

amei essa ideia da entrevista. parabens pela ideia e por compartilhar! realmente assim vemos as diferencas entre os lugares e as semelhancas das experiencias quando se mora fora :)

EFRUTIK said...

I really enjoyed the post thank you both Anita and Suzanne! I am always intrigued by people who voluntarily make the move to another country and completely different culture. As an almost 23 year old I also hope to make that sort of a bold move soon. Best!

Suzanne said...

Thanks for your interest, Anita, and for all the great pics of La Naranja! Your blog is a great source for Dutch info, I'm a regular reader now, keep it up!

Leti Locatelli said...

What an interesting interview, Anita! And congrats to Suzanne for her spirit! I must say that I fully agree with her about the "going to heaven" impression when she tried stroopwaffels for the first time... i felt exactly the same when I did it !!