Shaakira, a South-African living in Amsterdam, shares why she’s still waiting to feel like a Dutch local.
Many, many moons ago, when social interaction was still allowed, I used to love going to Meetup. Meetup, the app, is a really great way to join different interest groups with the aim of fostering friendships, growing skills and furthering interests.
At the best of times, I’m a total extrovert and love making new friends. My main Meetup interest groups were expat-orientated, and I would attend various evenings to have a drink and meet new people.
I recall meeting someone once, and as we made our way through the small-talk checklist (where are you from? What do you do? Blah blah), the favourite: “How long have you been here” came up.
“Almost a year” I replied. “And you?”
“Over two years now,” replied my new acquaintance, Alex from the US.
“Woah. You’re basically a local!” I joked.
Well, the joke is on me, because I’ve lived in the Netherlands for nearly three years now … and I certainly do not feel like a local. Here are a few of the reasons why:
I’m a perpetual student of the language
I am a language lover and have been an ardent student of the Dutch language. Or at least…I was? At some point, I fell off the horse. Of course, I’ve tried to get back on the paard, but also the other day I ordered my coffee in Dutch and they replied to me in English so like…? Qu’est que le point?
I’m still trying but admittedly I lost some motivation when trying to understand past tense vs. present perfect tense (amongst other mind-boggling rules), so for now I’m happy with my charming mix of English and Dutch when going about this land.
I’m still learning the cuisine
There’s more to the Netherlands than just cheese and milk…and bread, okay? It doesn’t stop at stroopwafels, kaassouffle’s (or is it kaassoufflen?) and bitterballen either. There are so many other local foods like zuikerbrood, eierkoeken and mustard soup that I am still trying to get my tastebuds acquainted with.
Yesterday was my first time heard the term “Lekkerbek” which it seems is basically some sort of fish dish. Much like the curfew, my list of foods to try just keeps getting extended.
I should really learn the national anthem
Is there any greater sense of national pride than singing the national anthem with your fellow countrymen?! I don’t know the anthem (yet) and I’m not Dutch either (yet) so I’ll have to keep you posted on this.
I should really have more local friends
… or should I? It’s no secret that the Dutch, whilst lovely people in general, are reluctant to open their closely-knit friend groups from pre-school, primary school, high school etc., for just any old expat.
Whilst I have made Dutch friends, I wouldn’t consider myself part of a 100% Dutch friend group. I befriend a lot of expats — we make spontaneous plans for coffees, walks and two-people dinners (corona-compliant, of course) — but whilst my door is always open to new friends, the Dutch seem to remain somewhat reluctant to enter.
I should really know the local…things
The things… the things! You know the things. Like those little cultural nuances that really just come with living in the country for long enough. Before corona, this used to be concerns like “when to give three cheek kisses?,” and “what cake do I bring on my birthday?”.
Currently, this is looking more like knowing exactly when there will be another press conference, what sort of weather I can expect this time of year (or does it just change annually?), when does the tax year start/end, and exactly when the sun will appear and then disappear.
So I’m not a local. I’m not! Nearly three years later and I still sort of love being an expat. I love the differences (and the similarities) between my own nationality and those I get to enjoy here in the Netherlands.
Do you feel like a local in the Netherlands? Tell us why, or why not, in the comments below!
Feature Image: Sandro Gonzalez/Pexels