-Where were you born?
I was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and grew up in Brazil, Pakistan, Japan and France. My mother is Brazilian of Japanese origin and my father is French but grew up in New York, so it's always been a bit tricky for me to say where I really come from .
-In which country and city are you living now?
I now live in a small village in the outskirts of Maastricht, South Limburg, the Netherlands.
Are you living alone or with your family?
I live with my Dutch husband and our three children.
-How long have you been living in the Netherlands?
I’ve been living in the Netherlands since November 1991, and in South Limburg since April 1994.
-What is your age?
I’ll turn 41 this year.
-When did you come up with the idea of living in the Netherlands?
My Dutch husband and I met in Israel. We chose to live in the Netherlands because we thought that it would be easier for both of us to find work here than in France. Before he traveled to Israel, my husband had worked for the Dutch employment agency and was confident that I would be able to find a job here even without speaking Dutch.
-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
When we first arrived in the Netherlands in November 1991, I didn’t have any problem obtaining a visa and a working permit. But after a short stay abroad in the winter of 93-94, we found out that many of the rules had changed and we had a much harder time getting myself a working visa, in spite of the fact that I was an EU citizen and that I was married to a Dutch person.
-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
No, I can’t remember that this was any problem.
-How do you make your living in the Netherlands? Do you have any type of income generated?
When I first arrived in the Netherlands, I worked via various temporary work agencies in the city of Amersfoort. In the first few months, contrarily to what my husband had thought, I was not able to find any work without speaking Dutch so I worked as a cleaning lady (“interieurverzorster”) while taking intensive Dutch lessons. As soon as my Dutch reached a sufficient level, I was able to accept various administrative positions, also via temp agencies. When we moved to South Limburg, I worked as a three-lingual receptionist for a local company and then as an executive assistant for the Maastricht School of Management. I now work as a freelance editor for the European Journalism Centre in Maastricht.
-Do you speak Dutch and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
I started learning Dutch as soon as I arrived in the Netherlands back in November 1991, not only because I was interested in learning a new language, but also because it was important for me to know my husband’s language and to be able to communicate with his family and friends. I first took an intensive Dutch course for foreigners, and later studied Dutch at high school level (Havo level) together with native Dutch students. Although an amazing amount of people in the Netherlands understand and speak English, I believe that it is very important for foreigners to learn Dutch, especially if they have come here to stay. I enjoy being able to read the (national and local) papers and communicate with everyone.
It is interesting to be exposed to local customs, such as the Carnival celebrations here in South Limburg. I feel that I have adapted fairly well to Dutch customs and to the Dutch way of life, although I still do the dishes the French way (rinse them before drying).
-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
Yes, of course I miss my family very much. There are many special moments I would like to share with them, especially since I have children.
I am a member of the local gym. There are countless opportunities for all sorts of recreational activities in South Limburg: hiking, sailing, running, biking, etc. I also enjoy living close to Germany and Belgium (less than 30 minutes away from Maastricht).
-Do you have other plans for the future?
No, not really. I like living in South Limburg. The Randstad (the area around Rotterdam, The Hague, Amsterdam…), where the expatriate community is much larger, doesn’t attract me very much: very flat and overpopulated.
-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
Housing in the Netherlands is much more expensive than in France. Houses are fortunately more affordable in South Limburg (average price under EUR 200,000) than in the Randstad or around Utrecht (between EUR 225,000 and 250,000). For more information, see this.
-What is the cost of living in the Netherlands?
It’s becoming difficult for people to live on a single salary. Clothing and food are not very expensive but mortgages are. And taxes are very high.
-What do you think about the Dutch?
I find Dutch people extremely social, open and friendly. They’re also generally very interested in other cultures as long as they don’t feel threatened by them. It’s very easy to start a conversation here. I love the way people, even total strangers, address me with the informal “jij” in the shops, at my children’s school, at the gym. It sounds very friendly and makes me feel young and well-accepted.
-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in the Netherlands?
Positive: Things are generally well organized. Most people are conscientious, reliable and respectful. The Dutch are quite pragmatic about life, and this is what makes them more tolerant about many social issues.
Negative: High level of pollution. Nature is often sacrificed for economic interests.
-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in the Netherlands?
Learn the language as early as possible and read the papers. I think that there are many good journalists here.
The Dutch can sometimes be very direct, sometimes even sarcastic… this can be a bit disorientating at first… but don’t take it to heart and try to see that these character traits can also be useful.
-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about the Netherlands?
Crossroads: an English-language web magazine for expatriates in Maastricht, published by the European Journalism Centre and edited by me
International Women’s Club South Limburg: a friendly social club for expatriate women in South Limburg.
Expatica: daily news and feature articles in English for expatriates in five European countries, including the Netherlands
DutchNews: daily news in English
Radio Netherlands: daily news and features in English