I'm an Englishman in his early 30s with a well documented reputation for accident proneness and bizarre situation finding. I moved to Holland in the summer of 2001 to start working as a designer in the computer games industry. Originally this was ...
Where are you from, Stuart, and what are you doing nowadays?
My name is Stuart and I originally come from England. I grew up in South East London until I moved to the Netherlands in 2001, shortly after finishing college. I now work as a games designer for Guerrilla Games in Amsterdam.
Why did you choose to expatriate to the Netherlands?
I didn't really choose. It was completely unintentional. It's not even the case that I originally planned to move to another country and somehow ended up in the Netherlands. I was not even considering going to another country. What I mean is, when the process started I had no idea I'd be leaving London.
I'd been out of college for almost a year and was looking for a job in the games industry. I'd not been having much luck until I came across a rather cryptic job advertisement in a magazine. It had no address, no phone number, no real details at all, only a .com e-mail address. It all seemed a little shady at the time to be honest. It was entirely possible that the whole thing was some kind of front for an organ harvesting scam but I decided to risk it and applied anyway. When I received a reply a few days later there were two surprises.
(1) At no point did they inquire about the condition of my internal organs and (2) they were offering to pay for my flight to the interview location in Amsterdam... The Netherlands. I was not expecting that at all.
I went along anyway. I'd never been to Holland before and I was basically being offered a free day trip. I was never expecting them to actually hire me, but they did. I've been working there ever since.
As a British national, what where the procedures you had to follow to move there?
Not much, luckily. I was able to just show up with my passport and start working. I know a few people from non-European countries who had to go through a lot of red tape for visas, work permits and stuff like that. All I had to get a tax number, medical insurance and a Dutch bank account, but that was all easy.
The only minor problem I ran into was that no one told me you had to register at the city hall of which ever city you lived in. I didn't find out until after eight years of living in the country (which technically means I was not living in the country at all). It didn't cause any problems though. The Dutch government were very laid back about it when they found out. I think they even thought it was funny.
How long have you been in the country?
Almost fifteen years now, which is not bad considering I only came over for six months originally.
What has attracted you to Friesland?
I've lived in a few parts of The Netherlands: Amsterdam, Haarlem, Rotterdam, but now I'm living up North in the province of Friesland. I arrived in the Netherlands in my early 20s, so I was attracted to the big cities and the nightlife (plus, in the case of Amsterdam, it was closest to my work). Then I met my Dutch wife and we spent a lot of time up in Friesland. We liked it so much we decided to move there recently. It's a great place to relax and raise our daughter.
What has surprised you the most at your arrival?
When I first arrived, I had no idea what I was doing. I was quite naive to be honest. I'd never lived on my own up until that point either so at the same time as trying to work out a strange new country I was working out how to be fully independent (I managed to give myself food poisoning in the first week). Apart from that there was not one big thing that surprised me on my arrival but there were lots of little strange and unfamiliar things.
The first big thing that really took me by surprise happened almost half a year after I arrived. I'd not heard about the tradition of Sinterklaas and suddenly found myself face to face with a group of his helpers the Zwarte Pieten (Black Peters). I had no idea what was going on.
Was it difficult to find accommodation there? What are the types of accommodation which are available there?
I was very lucky. It was always easy for me to find accommodation. For my first few months in the country, I was able to live in a company-owned apartment for free. After that, every time I had to move another friend of mine was looking for a new flat mate. Then I met my wife and moved in with her. I was always living in apartments until our most recent move to our house in Friesland.
Is it easy for an expat to find a job there?
I work as a designer making computer games. It's my job to design gameplay, the way the player interacts with the game and the environments with in which they do it. It's not an easy industry to get into (especially working on big budget games) but our company does hire a lot of people from different countries. The majority of the studio is still Dutch but there are also a lot of other people from countries all over the world.
How do you find the Dutch lifestyle?
I really like the pace of life here. Things are a lot more laid back which is great. I like being able to cycle around the city. You would never be able to do that in London without ending up under a truck. Before I moved to the Netherlands, I had not been on a bike since I was 13. Now it is a part of my everyday life. I just miss having some hills to speed down but on the positive side there are no hills for me to struggle up so it all evens out I guess (Holland is a very flat country).
I find the locals very friendly too (so friendly in fact that I married one of them). Some people sometimes describe them as blunt and sometimes this can be true, but I just think they are more honest and that can be very refreshing. I like the Dutch a lot.
Have you been able to adapt yourself to the country and to its society?
I have adapted and (thanks to my Dutch family-in-law) I take part in a lot of Dutch traditions (such as Sinterklaas). There is always a small element of being an outsider but that simply comes from not have a full grasp of the language yet (even after all this time). It's not a huge problem though and it allows me to have fun making jokes about Dutch/English culture with my Dutch and expat friends.
What does your everyday life look like in Friesland?
I travel from Friesland to Amsterdam four days a week for work, which takes about two hours each way. Most people think I'm insane for spending so much time on the train (and maybe they are right) but I use that time to do a lot of my writing and other side projects. At work, a lot of my time is spent designing gameplay and level layouts. During my lunch break, I'll often go out and explore the city. On Wednesdays and week-ends I spend a lot of time playing with my daughter and going out for walks in the country side.
Any particular experience in the Netherlands you would like to share with us?
Yikes. That's a tough one. I have so many experiences. Is there a word limit on this interview? I've been trapped in a lift for over four hours, I've been to more than my fair share of Dutch Circle Parties, I've seen unicorns in Rotterdam Zoo and I've been mistaken for special needs because of my terrible Dutch (to name but a few).
What is your opinion on the cost of living in the Netherlands/your city? Is it easy for an expat to live there?
The Netherlands is not a very expensive country to live in but it depends where you want to live. Rent in the center of Amsterdam can be very expensive, but if you live somewhere else nearby (outside Amsterdam) it gets cheaper. It's a similar story for Rotterdam. In Rotterdam, we had a small two-bedroom apartment but for the same price in Friesland we have a new three-bedroom house with a garden.
How do you spend your leisure time?
I spend a lot of time reading and writing.
Your favorite local dishes?
A lot of the Dutch dishes are very potato based, so I'm afraid they don't win against Chinese and Indian food but they do snacks amazingly well (dangerously well in fact). Stroopwaffles are amazing wafer things with caramel in the middle and don't get me started on fried things like Bitterballen.
What do you like the most about the Netherlands and Friesland?
I love the contrasts. Amsterdam is amazing because it's a very old city filled with museums, art, architecture and culture, but it also has a wild modern side. Then there is also the contrast of the busy city and where I am living now in the quite country side. I love both.
What do you miss the most about your home country?
My family and friends. I still get to see them a lot either by going back over there myself or them coming over here, but I always wish I could see more of them.
What has motivated you to write your blog "Invading Holland"? How does it help?
The blog came about in a strange way because I am quite accident prone. I also have a very special talent for ending up in some of the strangest situations you can imagine. Adding an unfamiliar country into the mix meant I suddenly found myself with a lot of very amusing and very weird stories to tell.
When I discovered blogging, it seemed like a brilliant place to share those stories (along with some of my tongue-in-cheek observations on the Dutch culture). I never expected it to become as popular as it has. Thanks to the blog, I have been interviewed in one of the biggest newspapers of the Netherlands, I've been on the radio (originally as a guest but asked back as a co-host) and I've even been on Dutch television. I have no idea what will happen next.
I get a lot of enjoyment out of writing my blog and I feel very lucky that people also get enjoyment out of reading it too.
Would you like to give any advice to soon-to-be expatriates in the Netherlands?
Give it a chance. It's a great bit of advice that I received from a friend when I was at a low point in my new expat life. I'd only been in the country for three days and was feeling very home sick. We were on the phone and I was telling him how I was thinking about giving up and coming home. It was his advice that made me stay and start enjoying life in Holland. Although to be fair the words he actually used were, "Don't be a twat. You've only been there for three days. You can always come back later you idiot."
What are your plans for the future?
Finally learn Dutch.