One evening, while propping up the bar at one of the shallow man’s favorite locals in the Pijp, I struck up a conversation with a couple of Dutch girls. Actually, to tell the truth, in the manner, that only Dutch girls can, I was approached by them and upon realising that I was from the UK, was then subject to a thorough if not friendly interrogation. Questions such as “what are you doing here?, how long have you lived here? when are you going back? do you speak Dutch?” and the most telling question which was “do you feel Dutch?”
Ignoring the temptation to tell them that I’d felt a few Dutch women and if that counted, I specifically asked them to explain what does feeling Dutch mean? They tried but couldn’t really explain the answer to their question. The Dutch government on the other hand, not only believes to have defined what being Dutch means, but have even created a series of tests covered under the law of Inburgering. A program of tests and courses which are supposed to ensure that the participants are become experts at what being Dutch really means and are able to integrate fully with society. Which brings me to the subject of todays post.
The shallow man, recently started a series of articles about the experiences of Expats who have moved to this wonderful country to be with their partners. I have carried out interviews with a number of Expats and they have some interesting stories to tell. Todays post tells the story of an American lady who has lived here for eight years, her perspectives on life in the Netherlands and Inburgering.
Inburgering and an American in Amsterdam
The civic integration act of 2007 put in place a law which requires non-EU residents of the Netherlands to undergo a series of courses, ultimately leading to Exams that will enable them to remain resident, hence the term Inburgering. A cynic might say that the real purpose of the act was for Rita Verdonk, who was the minister responsible for integration during the time the act was being put together, to appeal to reactionary voters on the far right, and to make life as difficult as possible for allochtonen, pesky foreigners from countries whom the Government wanted to discourage settling here.
It would have course of broken many European laws had the Dutch government of the time applied the law only to Turkey and Morocco, something that was seriously suggested at the time. So the law had to be applied universally to all non-EU countries.
Eight years ago, Sara, a lovely lady from John Irving country, New Hampshire in the US met, fell in love and moved to the Netherlands to be with the man who later became and still is her Dutch husband. Upon arriving here, she dutifully followed the law and spent a year on an Inburgering course and took the necessary exams which she passed with the exception of the cultural test which she failed by one point. Since then, she has become a fully self supporting member of Dutch society. Has a good job with a major American corporation, pays her taxes and is of course married to a Dutchman, dus, fully integrated. The tale should end there, happily ever after, etc, however, her local gemeente has contacted her and told her that she faces a fine if she does not retake the cultural exam.
It’s beyond the rationale or logic of the shallow man as to why someone who is fully integrated into Dutch society, faces a fine, for not passing an exam whose purpose, allegedly, is to ensure that immigrants become fully integrated. I am however, a shallow man, so perhaps I’m missing something obvious. I’ll now hand over to the lovely Sara who will provide her insights on life in the Netherlands.
The Lion doesn’t sleep tonight
When I first moved here and was living with my husband, one of the things that really freaked me out at first was that every Friday night he went out with his friends. In the US it’s just not normal for a married man to be out till the early hours, in fact if a man does that, he’s usually a bit of a sleaze. To make things worse he was going out with a mixed crowd that included women. I gave him hell about this, but he stood his ground and I learned in the end that this is completely normal here. Both having female friends and going out on a regular basis. I think it was a big deal for me at the beginning also because I was new here and hadn’t made my own friends yet. I look back at this and laugh now.
Holidays and working environment
When I started working here I was shocked at the amount of holiday that comes as standard. In the US the norm is two weeks. It annoys the hell out of my colleagues in our US head office that I appear to be off all of the time, especially as every year I carry vacation days over. This makes for such a better quality of life. I also love the Dutch management style. Here, my experience has been that it’s quite normal to have lunch with Directors and VP’s, they have no problems mixing with junior staff. This wouldn’t happen in the US where we are much more aware of hierarchy. There’s also a lot more respect for peoples private time, and no expectation of working excessive hours. I leave work every day on time and am very happy about that.
Happy multilingual children
Kids here are great! In the US we are paranoid about Paedophiles and go everywhere with our kids. When I first came here and saw parents letting their young kids just go to the park unaccompanied I was appalled, but then this is something that I’ve learned to love. I also find that children here really know how to communicate with adults. The shallow man tells me that there have been a number of surveys showing Dutch children as being the happiest in the world, I’m not surprised.
Being from the US where now Spanish is being taught in some schools as a second language, I’m so impressed with all these kids who not only speak Dutch and English, but also often speak German and French. My nephew of my husband speaks five languages fluently at the age of fifteen. The education system here is amazing.
Don’t mention Obamacare
Being American, I’ve followed the Obamacare controversy with close interest. The fight to give all Americans basic health insurance, something which we in this country take for granted. When I lived in the US, even though I had full medical insurance, it wasn’t unusual to pay out up to two thousand US dollars a year out of pocket expenses for prescriptions. I was and continue to be astounded that the Dutch health insurance, which costs a fraction of similar schemes in the US, provides coverage for just about everything. Prescriptions, hospital stays, referrals to specialists, all covered. I don’t think that you Europeans realise how lucky you are.
Just get over it
Ok I’ll admit that when I first moved here I used to complain about the lack of choice of products in the supermarkets compared to the US where you have so much more to choose from. So yes, as the shallow man kindly put it, I was a whining expat saying “why can’t I get this or why can’t I get that?” but you know what? I learned to get over it. The real choice in supermarkets here is of things to put on bread, which makes my hubby very happy. I’ve learned to adapt and make the best of what’s available here. The only thing I really miss is NyQuil but hey, I’m still alive right?
So after eight very happy years here my final comments would be that the Netherlands is becoming more americanized, something which has plus and minus points. Service has definitely improved in many places and shops have longer opening hours which is great. My only negative experience here is dealing with Dutch bureaucracy and Inburgering but beyond that, as the shallow man likes to say, I’m as happy as a banker at bonus time.
The shallow man would like to thank Sara for her contribution to this article and wish her luck with the retake of her civic exam.
No rules are rules, bureaucratic types were hurt during the writing of this article.