Canadian expat Natasha continues to learn more every day from living and working in Amsterdam, Holland

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Natasha Cloutier

March 06 2007

-Where were you born?
Greenfield Park, Québec, Canada

-In which country and city are you living now?
Amsterdam, The Netherlands

-Are you living alone or with your family?
Alone

-How long have you been living in the Netherlands?
Seven years

-What is your age?
37

-When did you come up with the idea of living in Holland?
I decided to leave Canada for The Netherlands in 1999. I had finished my university studies and realized that I really needed a change of scenery and a new challenge. The stressful working conditions in Canada (lower salaries than in the US and no job contracts) were a big part of my decision. Being eligible for the youth exchange program between both countries made me choose The Netherlands as well as having made friends there during many visits.

-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
Getting a work permit was difficult because no one really knew about the exchange program, even though it was a government program. The paperwork and the money got completely messed up and nobody gave a damn. The exchange program facilitated getting a work permit and a resident’s permit, but the bureaucracy was one big uphill battle. The rules changed that same year making work through a placement agency illegal. In a way, I was lucky.

-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
I was obliged to show I had medical insurance, which was cheap and easy (Blue Cross) and getting it in The Netherlands was easy enough.

-How do you make your living in Holland? Do you have any type of income generated?
After terrible experiences working for three companies, including one which exploited expats by paying them less (when I left three people followed), I started my own copywriting and translation business in 2000, which is doing fine.

-Do you speak Dutch and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
I speak Dutch fluently and 90% of the time. I also speak English, French and Russian, so learning Dutch went well. I think it’s necessary to speak the local language after you’ve been here for many years (more than three, I’d say). I have a serious lack of respect for long-term expats who can’t be bothered to learn Dutch or anything about Dutch culture. Because of this I tend to be very careful when I socialize with expats.

-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
As a French Canadian, I miss being in my own culture sometimes, but less and less every year. I do miss my friends and family.

My favorite things to do are pretty much the same as in my home country: seeing shows, DJing, eating out, shopping, cycling, traveling. My hobbies are mobile as is my work.

-Do you have other plans for the future?
I’m trying to move more into the music business and have been trying to visit as many European countries as I can. I’m currently trying to get my Dutch driver’s license and plan to ask for a Dutch passport and have dual citizenship.

-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
After years of living in subrented apartments, which is illegal here even though everybody does it, I finally rented an apartment directly from someone. It’s expensive, but not as bad as what most expats have to pay.

-What is the cost of living in Holland?
Lower than London or Paris, but worse than Brussels. And worse than anything I can imagine in Canada.

-What do you think about the Dutch?
I like the locals now that I understand them better, but there are many things I just don’t get. However, I don’t have to do what I don’t like to fit in because I don’t fit in! I went out of my way to socialize with the Dutch and it’s paid off.

-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Holland?
Working and doing business is my main reason for being here. I’ve learnt more here than I would have in Canada. I enjoy dealing with level-headed people for a change, even if this means they can be distant and superficial. In my country I was a minority and here I’m just a foreigner, which is nice. I can do as the Dutch when I want to and be a foreigner when I want to. Social situations are more difficult because the Dutch are weary of foreigners in general. I find the Dutch distant as compared to French Canadians. They have to warm up to you whereas in my culture that’s a given, and distance is created afterwards, if need be. I’ve heard people from many nationalities say the same thing. The Dutch have a bad relationship with food and pleasure, two things that are very important to me. I also believe Dutch society has a skewed view of itself and the media proves me right almost every day.

-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Holland?
Don’t assume anything or take anything for granted.

-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Holland?
My blog about Dunglish: Dunglish
My French retro webradio: Radio Oh-la-la
My company blog: Chez Natasha
My Dutch odd news site in English: 24 Oranges
Great swinging parties: Amsterdam Beat Club