I moved to Amsterdam in: September 2009 and I have been living here ever since, with a break of 9 months when I lived in Madrid (from June 2012 to March 2013).
Before that I lived: for 6 months in Vienna during an Erasmus semester (at Wirtschafts Universität) in 2006.
The reason for moving here is: I wanted to study in an international environment (again) and I have applied for an MSc in Business Studies at the Universiteit van Amsterdam.
If I were to describe my city in one word that would be: easy – it’s easy to live here. Everybody speaks English, no need to learn Dutch; it’s easy to get around and you get to learn the city and the nice places pretty fast; people are so relaxed, they sing/whistle/hum while biking to work; in general everybody is very open and friendly…it’s easy!
First thing an expat needs to know when moving here is: how to bike. It is very difficult to live here if you don’t bike. Biking in Amsterdam is just amazing, it gives you so much freedom to explore the city, to experience the beautiful canals and parks, to exercise while going to work, to a restaurant, out clubbing…or just about anywhere. You can even take your bike in the metro or trams.
The language issue: I speak a bit of Dutch. As I was speaking German before arriving here, it helped me figure out words and some phrases. I also took some classes and I now understand pretty well most of the conversations around me. However, it is not easy to speak Dutch in Amsterdam. All Amsterdamers speak English and if you try speaking Dutch…well, you never get the pronunciation just right, so they just find it very funny that you try but then they just prefer to switch to English so that the conversation can continue more fluently.
Since I moved here I stopped: wearing high heels. Let’s face it, when living in Amsterdam, you need to be practical. You will bike and walk a lot. Plus when you go out to a club, there’s going to be a lot of beer being spilled over your beautiful heels and a lot of heavy Dutch men and women stepping on you. Some of my nice heels got a bit damaged because of these experiences, so I started to avoid wearing them. But then I see them in my wardrobe and I miss the feeling of walking on high heels. So once in a while I still indulge myself and wear heels on my bike….or carry them in my bag and wear them at work.
Since I moved here the new thing I started doing is: checking the weather daily and learnt a lot about wind speed, humidity and rain probabilities. I even have a mobile app that predicts rain probability in the next 2 hours. You can check the amount of rain per each 5 minutes. It is very handy when you have to leave the house and it is raining…you check it and then you see that in 10 min it will stop raining…so you can better wait until then
My biggest lesson learnt in the Netherlands is: everybody’s opinion counts and you should speak up. I love how un-hierarchical the Dutch environment is, especially in the professional life. Here, it is highly encouraged to have an opinion and to express it, sometimes even if it contradicts your boss. If you have the right arguments for it, he/she will appreciate you as a strong professional. I have learnt that as a manager, you can always ask your employee what he/she thinks, how he/she would approach the issue and even ask for the employee’s feedback on the manager’s work or behavior.
Some weird habits of the locals: the Dutch have a lot of weird habits. For example, the Dutch can only have one warm meal a day and that’s dinner. And that’s almost holly to them! Their lunches are always composed of a lot of bread with a thin slice of cheese or even more “tasty” butter and chocolate sprinkles!!! And when they see you eating a warm dish for lunch, they almost blame you like…mm..that’s too much warm food, “are you going to eat a sandwich for dinner or again a hot meal?!” It’s like your stomach will explode if you eat 2 warm meals a day…
My biggest cultural shock: seeing Dutch ladies leaving their houses straight out of the shower. They don’t take the time to dry their hair (even if outside its freezing), step out of their houses, jump on the bike and just go straight to work…
My funniest / weirdest / scariest experience: happened today! When you get your first bike, you learn that you need to lock it very well as bikes get stolen on a regular basis in Amsterdam. So of course…my bike got stolen about 3 months ago. In the meantime, I bought a new red bike, which I love. The funny story is that today, as I was in the tram going to work, looking out the window…I get to see my bike on the corner of a street. Of course, being in the tram and already late for work, I couldn’t do anything about it. Later during the day, I got back to the street corner where I saw the bike…and it was still there. Still I did not have the courage to just “steal it back”. So I left a note for the “new” owner and hopefully he or she will call me to give me back my bike…wishful thinking??
What I miss the most from home is: my family and friends, of course. But what I miss mostly about it is the easiness of interacting with them, the comfort that you find talking to a person who knows you for your entire life, who knows your good and bad sides and still decides to be your friend. Even if you haven’t talked or wrote in years, it still feels like you just met yesterday and you pick up that relationship exactly from where you left it. When you’re an expat, you learn how to meet new people, you learn which are the topics that will spark a discussion and you have a lot of social interaction, but it takes effort. You need to invest time, to do a lot of chit-chatting with tens of other expats, until you will maybe find one friend that will become a true friend.
I get very homesick: when I get lonely…or when I realize that if something bad happens to me or my family we are not together one for another.
I go home as often as: every 3 months so, I am lucky in this aspect. Besides not so expensive and long flights, I am even luckier to have a job that sometimes requires me to travel to Romania…so you can imagine how happy I am to do a business trip…home.
I keep in contact with my friends and family: via Skype, Viber, Whatsapp and Facebook, which are my friends…connecting me to my family and friends. I am truly thankful for this technology. To be honest, it would have probably been 1000 times more difficult to live abroad without these online tools.
My favorite dish/local food is: Winkel’s appletaart. It is the best apple pie anybody has ever tasted before. I assure you that all my friends who have tried it loved it. It is famous in Amsterdam as the city’s best appletaart; and all restaurants, bars, cafes sell appletaart, so it is a big competition
My favorite places in town: In general, I would recommend a lot of restaurants. Even though Dutch cuisine is not at all spectacular, the variety of food you can find in Amsterdam and the quality of some of its restaurants or cafes is very high.
My favourite place to go out is Paradiso, a club in an old church and a landmark in the music industry with artists such as Rolling Stones or Nirvana filming or recording here. But I also like going out to Trouw one of the best party places in Europe, Roest in the summer with their nice city beach and Café Brecht for a nice afternoon with friends. For an even more alternative feel, you can explore Amsterdam Noord where there are a lot of artsy people, a monthly flea market and some cool places to hang out with friends.
If you’re in Amsterdam for the first time, the best experience is to rent a boat and just cruise the canals and see the Dam’s life from water’s level. If you don’t feel that adventurous, you can always just enjoy the views of the canals, have a pizza and eat it while sitting on the edge of the water…of course, if weather allows it.
PS: there are so many other beautiful places in Amsterdam…these are just a few.
I get around the city by: biking almost all the time. When it’s too cold or rainy, I use public transportation (metro and tram) to go to work….but still bike in my free time, no matter the weather.
Street fashion: the Dutch street fashion is in general….boring. Most Dutch women wear a leather jacket, jeans (preferably white or light-colored) and brown boots. Sounds stylish, right? 🙂
Dutch men have a lot of gel in their hair (bleah!) and wear jeans and some very ugly (and usually also very old) brown shoes.
But the best is when the Dutch ladies or men decide to have a bachelor/bachelorette party and they dress up in these very strange outfits, only made to embarrass them…
Thankfully, there are a lot of expats that add flavor to the street fashion and you get to see some interesting outfits now and then.
My view on people: it is a bit difficult to become close friends with the Dutchies. In general, they are very friendly and open people and you will not have problems having chit-chat conversations with them. But building a true friendship is difficult as you need to build a lot of trust, plus most of them already have a big group of close friends that they know since childhood…so you can imagine it not so easy for you to fit in. Best approach: get a Dutch boy/girl-friend. But I have made a lot of new friends in Amsterdam. For me, it was easy, as I met a lot of people during my student year and there are quite a few of the internationals who have decided to stay here just as I did.
Being an expat: it feels that you are different, but in Amsterdam there are so many of us, that you somehow feel you belong here.
In 5 years, I see myself living: no clue…I imagine that I would move to different countries and not stay in the Netherlands forever. But who knows, maybe in 5 years I am still here, or in Australia or in…Romania? I let the future decide.