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Melissa: UnClogged in Amsterdam

In our InterNations Recommended Blog section we let you take the spotlight! Expat life in general is, of course, a perfect breeding ground for great, user-generated reads, and life in Amsterdam makes no exception. Take your time and browse the great blogs showcased in this article!

Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Amsterdam, etc.

I'm an American expat/freelance journalist now based in what is, for me, the world's most livable city. Having spent half a lifetime in sunny Southern California, I wanted a change. I knew I wanted to move, but where? I'd been through America, Mexico, Guatemala, Europe and the South Pacific, but no place had entranced me sufficiently to pick up my L.A. roots. Until 2007. That year, I toured Italy on a bike, visited my son (then studying art in Florence) and paid a random visit to Amsterdam. Instantly, I fell in love. Everything from the fairytale beauty of the Dutch capital to its tolerant vibe, quirky residents, rich history, bike culture, diverse population and magnificent architecture captured my heart. That nearly everyone speaks English made things easier, but there were still challenges. I became a resident in 2010.

When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?

I've been a professional writer since earning a degree in English from UCLA many moons ago. Blogging gives me a forum to share my experiences and explore my passions, which include everything Dutch, writing, cooking, traveling and cultural exchange. I came away from Travel Blog Exchange 2012 (TBEX) in Girona, Spain knowing I wanted to shift my blog focus from international travel to my own backyard and expat life in Amsterdam.

Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?

Personally, I like them all, but I'm biased. The most popular include:

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?

Everything from Amsterdam's wet climate to Dutch language, holidays, food and transport differs from what I was accustomed to in Southern California. Just acclimating to new currency and measurement systems was a transition. While it was easy to buy clothes more appropriate for Dutch winters than t-shirts and flip-flops, cultural shock intensified when it came to reading my mail, paying my bills, buying food and even dealing with neighbors. Now that I know a bit of Dutch, things are more comfortable.

Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Amsterdam? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?

After I decided to move, I spent considerable time in Amsterdam, in different seasons and locations. If I had a do-over, I'd have studied the language, residency requirements and support systems more intently before making the move.

Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?

Con Man #2 was Dr. Perfume, a Dutch Aroma Jockey I knew for three years before he moved into my new apartment. The deal? Free room + board in exchange for helping me set up house and deal with Dutch authorities. Andy introduced me to Amsterdam nightlife and many trendy clubs. Alas, the winter morning he locked me out on my balcony while he dismantled the home theater system he'd installed, then walked out with €2,500 was not the sort of help I'd envisioned. Tracking Andy down was not difficult. "Oh yea, the smelly guy," shopkeepers responded when I showed them my phone photo. Turns out, Dr. Perfume rarely took a bath, even though a nice one was at his disposal. I had him arrested at Supperclub.

Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Amsterdam?

  • Study the language; it's key to assimilation and understanding your new surroundings.
  • Learn about residency requirements and required documents; although I had my original birth certificate, it wasn't enough. I needed something called an Apostile Birth Certificate, certified by a notary. I plowed through significant red tape to get it.
  • Don't expect your new home to be like your old one. Like anything else, there will be pros and cons to living in a city with a culture other than your native one. Embrace the adventure and be ready to modify familiar ways of living, working, playing and going places.

How is the expat community in Amsterdam? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?

Although I've met friends through groups like Couchsurfing and EatWith, many of my relationships here have been transitory. Although it's easy to talk to strangers here, especially since virtually all speak English, it's more challenging to establish tight, enduring friendships.

How would you summarize your expat life in Amsterdam in a single, catchy sentence?

Rain or shine, every day I wake up in Amsterdam is a gift from the heavens!

Salil Padmanabh

"At the InterNations events here in Amsterdam, I've come to know so many friendly expats. Both Indians and expatriates from other countries. "

Isabella Martinez

"For my little daughter I've been looking for a good language teacher who also speaks Spanish. I've finally found him on InterNations."

Global Expat Guide