Angela: Amsterdam Oriole
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Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Amsterdam, etc.
My name is Angela Williams. I'm from Herefordshire in the UK. In London I got my arts degree at Goldsmiths University. After that I travelled overland in Africa and returned to London and worked in Covent Garden and Baker Street in various odd jobs. In 1986 I moved here to live with my Dutch husband. Since then I've worked as a puppeteer, chauffeur, secretary and most recently I teach English as a second language. I'm also a published writer of mainly short fiction.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
In 2012, I decided to start blogging. I was having coaching sessions with a friend who was training to be a professional coach. I'd hit a difficult period in my creative writing, and she suggested writing a letter/email to a friend whom I felt very at ease with, just telling her about what was going in on in my life at that time. I wrote the email, and then thought it was interesting enough to become a blog post. My email to the world, I suppose you could say!
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
Yes, this blog post was about a particularly beautiful day in September: Woman in blue reading a letter. Since I've been blogging I see my home town with fresh eyes, almost as if I'm new here after all these years! The light was incredible that day, reminding me of a Vermeer painting. I blog under the pseudonym Susan Carey.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Amsterdam differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
I most definitely experienced culture shock. The Dutch can be very forthright, and come across as rude in the way they speak their minds. In the UK we dislike saying no but the Dutch don't have a problem with it. I can't say I'm much more used to it now and the disinterested attitudes of some shop assistants, still leaves me flabbergasted. Unlike the UK and the US this is not a service-minded culture. That being said, since the recession there is an improvement in service in restaurants. They can't afford to be indifferent to customers any longer!
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Amsterdam? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
No, I wasn't prepared. I had idealised the country I was moving to, in much the same way one eventually idealises the country one leaves behind. Not only did I have to get used to a new culture and language, I also had to cope with a particularly difficult phase in my life without a support network. Looking back I don't see what I could have done differently. I learned the basics of Dutch before I moved here and that was tremendously helpful. My husband is a teacher and helped me improve my Dutch by encouraging me to read aloud.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Since I've been teaching English I've had lots of funny things happen in class. One that stands out is when one of my female students announced she had to leave class early because she was going soliciting! In Dutch, soliciteren means looking for work, or going for an interview. My student wasn't aware of the other meaning in English...
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Amsterdam?
- Learn some Dutch basics at least.
- Try and make Dutch friends as well as seeking out other expats.
- Don't be offended if people behave in a way you perceive to be rude. On the whole it's just a cultural difference, and not directed at you personally.
How is the expat community in Amsterdam? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
There is a very vibrant and varied community of expats here. In the eighties, when I moved here there was no such thing as social media so back then it was a lot more difficult. Nowadays, you can find like-minded people with a few clicks of your computer mouse. I recommend groups such as Elynx, the British Society of Amsterdam and Meetup.
How would you summarize your expat life in Amsterdam in a single, catchy sentence?
Oh, that's a toughie, but after 26 years of living here, I'm still in love with the place! I think that says it all.