Thursday, 11 February 2016

Are You a Sucker for Dutch Sugar?

Sometimes the translation from a Dutch menu into an English language menu doesn't go quite right... this one made me giggle.....

Mind you, now I'm looking at it I'm not at all sure about the multigrain cheese stick either.....

Feel free to share the best translation hiccups you've noticed below in the comments! 

Monday, 8 February 2016

A Harry Potter Birthday Party

Last Friday the day my eldest had been looking forward to since his birthday finally arrived - his birthday party. This year the theme was Harry Potter.

(Click picture for link)
We've been reading the Harry Potter series books in English together for about a year now, having just started the fourth one, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. My son loves them. I surprised myself and found that I love them too. Prior to last year I had never read a Harry Potter book.

When we decided on the Harry Potter theme it didn't click straight away that my son's friends would know the Dutch versions of everything but probably not the English ones. And that means that some of the characters have different names: Dumbledore is Perkamentus; Hermione is Hermelien;  Ron Weasley is Ron Wemel and Vernon Dursley is Herman Duffeling. The snitch is a snaai and even Hogwarts changes and becomes Zweinstein. Another twist of expat life when you're least expecting it! It went ahead in English - but the films were watched dubbed in Dutch.

The week leading up to the party I landed in bed with flu and my husband was still battling the mother of all ear infections that had had him consulting an ENT specialist in our local hospital. We mumbled about postponing. There were tears. We backed off. And it went ahead......

It all started with the invitations of course and my son and I thought this was just perfect for a Harry Potter party....

The table was set with a gold and black theme, scattered with gold stars, adorned with candle sticks, and we hung lantern and spider decorations from the ceiling (all purchased from  Tuf-Tuf).

We also bought little candle holders, aged them with paint, and hung them from the ceiling with fish line so they looked like they were floating once the lights were out. All these supplies were bought at our local DIY store.

And of course there were owls..... (cage from Xenos).

and my husband crafted beautiful wands with chopsticks, a glue gun and wire ..... (see tutorial here)

And we had a potions shelf with Skele-Gro and other interesting concoctions....Interestingly enough, this sparked a suggestion from my wise ass nine year old that maybe I should use Skele-Gro to grow an extra arm as I am always highlighting to my kids that I only have two hands.......

As the children came in they joined in with an ongoing game of Lego Harry Potter which kicked the party off nicely with lots of laughter. The game seems extremely hard to get hold of - we ended up at a local Lego shop called Zevenspoor where the price was reasonable too. When they had finished playing that we got out Bean Boozled  (Amazon UK link) (also available in Xenos including refill packs).  This involved lots of running to the kitchen and spitting out jelly beans into the bin....... some of the flavours are truly vile. And I mean VILE.

Click on picture for Amazon US link

And of course there was some food of the edible variety too. At my son's request there were hapjes, so bits and pieces. We'd also agreed that he'd have a birthday cake on his actual birthday and cupcakes for his party. You can find instructions for the broomsticks here.

I had added a couple of sparklers but as soon as they had gone out 'Harry' was trying to get them on again with a quick wave of his wand and a cry of, "Lumos!"

We had a Honeydukes too with sweets the children could pick out, much to their delight.... Printable candy labels came from here.

Once the children had eaten, waved their wands about and turned each other into frogs, statues and zombies, done a word search (which turned extremely competitive!!) they sat and watched the first Harry Potter film, which was one of the highlights for my son as it was the first time he had seen the movie.  Some of the children then went home, and those who were staying for a sleepover magicked on their pyjamas and settled in to watch the second Harry Potter film.....

It was all in all a successful party - my son was actually quite depressed on Sunday that it was all over. There was lots more we could have done (see my Pinterest board for more Harry Potter Party ideas) if we hadn't been ill, if we had wanted to turn it up a notch, but for my son it was the perfect party! In fact, we've kept all the props we used because I have a feeling this won't be the last time Harry Potter makes an appearance in our house - my five year old was blown away by the theme too....

Over to You: Ever thrown a Harry Potter party?  Are your children Potter fans? What are the main characters called in your language?

Friday, 29 January 2016

Why The Dutch Refuse to Queue Like the English

Many years ago I read Watching the English by Kate Fox. It's a fascinating read if you are English, spend time with English people, or you just want to get to know us English folk a little better. There was a lot of penny dropping going on during my scurry through the chapters, lots of thigh slapping and "So THAT's why"...... in fact it's probably time for a reread as the book has been revised and updated!

The English, as a nation, are polite. Very very polite. It makes dealing with some of the more blunt Dutch manners even harder for English expats than some other nationalities. However, an American reader got in touch about the annoyance he feels at the lack of queue etiquette in the Netherlands. Ahh, I thought, a pet topic of mine! I am English, therefore I queue.

Even after 15 years living outside of England queuing is ingrained. It runs though my blood. If someone around me contravenes queuing etiquette I tut very loudly indeed - and if the crime warrants it I am not afraid to simultaneously roll my eyes. I know, don't mess with me in a queue.

So this is how queuing works: Queuing is done patiently, joining the line of people in order of arrival and staying in that order until entering the premises or beginning the activity you are queuing up for. Sounds simple enough right?

Take the example of waiting for a bus. If adhering to accepted queuing rules, English people get on the bus in the same order they arrive at the bus stop. So if you arrive last, you are at the end of the queue, and if there are no seats on the bus that means you are the guy standing up clinging on for dear life to one of those rubber handles that dangle down. Logical huh?

Not in the Netherlands. Many, many, many moons ago, I used to get the bus to work. Every morning I had used my quota of tutting and eye rolling for the day by the time I even got on the bus. First to arrive at the bus stop most mornings gave me the RIGHT to get on the bus first. Right? No. The Dutch way to enter a bus is by means of everyone charging and scrambling over each other to get on the bus and screw the order you arrived at the bus stop in. If that means arriving first but being the moron to spend the 30 minute bus journey standing up whilst hurtling down the motorway at 100km per hour then so be it. I believe the same Dutch queuing method can be found across the country on train station platforms too.

The other strange thing about Dutch queuing is how lines are formed in the most obstructive manner possible for passers-by. Take cash machines for example. Instead of forming a sideways queue, along the wall of the building (usually a bank) and out of harm's way, a Dutch queue stretches outwards directly facing the pinautomaat blocking pathways, bike paths, roads or motorways - whatever happens to be near the cash machine. It seems that the obstruction and inconvenience caused by the queue must be optimal in order to be able to call the line a successful one. (Notable is that lines for cash machines do adhere to 'taking action in the order people arrive in' rule.)

Dutch queuing behaviour had long baffled me until I read this headline in the NRC many years back:

"Brit op Titanic was te beleefd" 

Translated this means "Brits on the Ttitanic were too polite". I read on, and in short, from research undertaken by the Universities of Zurich and Queensland, the British men on board the sinking Titanic were too polite for their own good. By standing patiently in line to let women and children go first, whilst their American counterparts fought to get to the front of the queues to get on lifeboats, British men had 15% less chance than the Americans of surviving the disaster.

So there you have it. Disregarding the rules for queuing saves lives.
So next time you are shoved aside to get on a bus or train remember this: the lack of Dutch queuing etiquette has nothing to do with the absence of manners or politeness, it's is actually a result of some inherent survival instinct - which is incredibly important when boarding a bus or train, or paying for your shopping in the Netherlands.......

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Expat Life Linky January 2016

It's time for the first Expat Life Linky of 2016. As ever, joining in is the easiest expat related thing you'll do....

  1.  Choose the expat or travel related post you want to share with the world and add the linky badge (below) to it to help spread the word. It can be an old or new post.
  2. Add your post link to the InLinkz tool below. 
  3. Leave at least one comment on any of the other posts linked and share one other post on any social media using #ExpatLifeLinky. If you tag me I will share, tweet, pin your post: @AmandavMulligen on Twitter or  on Facebook at Expat Life With A Double Buggy or Pinterest

Next month I'll share my three favourite link ups. I also share my favourite posts on Twitter and the Expat Life with a Double Buggy Facebook page and pin link up posts to my Pinterest board.

Expat Life Linky


Monday, 18 January 2016

Dutch Women Do Get Depressed

All the studies and blog posts you read say otherwise, but I can assure you that Dutch women do get depressed.

Go on, Google it, type in "Dutch Women Don't Get Depressed". I'll wait. You see, if you believe what Google comes back with you would think that Dutch women float around the Netherlands with huge grins on their faces whilst their extremely happy children skip along next to them holding their hand.

Oh sure, Dutch women have a lot to be delighted about. The majority works part-time so has time for leisure activities - like sitting on cafe terraces sunning themselves in the summer months, sports and volunteer jobs. They don't stress about careers - how they see themselves is not tied to the role they place in the workplace. Dutch women are not prepared to give up time with their families to climb a workplace hierarchy they have no interest in. The Dutch economy is a developed, relatively rich one and wealth is spread around more evenly than in many other countries. Dutch women are on the whole well-educated.  They have personal freedom and much choice as to how they live their lives. So, yes, Dutch women have a lot to be happy about - and that is reflected in the surveys and studies that hit the headlines every so often.

However, there's another side to all that delusional happiness that the press would have you believe rages in the Netherlands amongst the female population. Dutch women are actually people too. They have issues. They have problems. Gasp! I know. Shocking huh?

Yes, Dutch women can balance five children and a bunch of flowers on their bikes, but many have to expertly balance many other aspects of their lives too - just like women in other countries throughout the world.

Some Dutch women have marital problems and go through divorce.

Some Dutch women are in abusive relationships.

Some Dutch women work out of necessity to help financially support their families, even when it makes the act of balancing the care for their children and work a precarious one. For some Dutch women working full-time is not an option because the cost of child care nullifies their efforts in the workplace.

Some Dutch women battle with difficult schooling decisions for their children.

Some Dutch women care for children who are sicker than any mother can bear.

Some Dutch women are signed long term off work for medical issues.

Some Dutch women are under such stress trying to keep all the balls in the air it's palatable when you talk to them.

Some Dutch women have burn outs.

The reality is that Dutch women (and men) do get depressed. In fact, research a couple of years ago indicated that the rate of clinical depression in the Netherlands was the highest in Europe.

However, I think the way problems are handled here in the Netherlands makes for a rosier picture than in other countries. I am thinking along the lines of work life balance culture, the absence of financial restraints for support, the social benefit system and the role of local communities.

Firstly, culture. Interestingly, a company doctor once told my husband that in international organisations it is the northern European workers (thus including the Dutch) who are more likely to temporarily drop out of the workforce with stress related issues. It's a result of their working culture - they work shorter hours than many counterparts, but when they are at work they are focussed, productive and get the job done.  Southern Europeans, as an example, are physically in the work place longer, but build more pauses into their day and are much more laid back. The two approaches to work and the expectation systems clash and it is the Northern Europeans who find themselves needing to take a step back and regroup. And they are not afraid to do just that.

I have seen a number of Dutch friends and acquaintances who have dropped out of the workplace because of stress, all for very different reasons. But the point is they were all willing to take a step back, put their hands up and announce they were struggling. They deal with the problems, get back to work, stronger for it, or make the change they need to pick themselves up.

I think the Dutch are less likely to sweep the fact that they are depressed under a carpet, as is the case in other cultures. That willingness to hold your hands up and say "I am not coping" allows help to step in before the situation spirals out of control. The fact that Dutch culture places importance on finding the right work life balance gives people the space to focus on helping themselves out of an emotional dip, without a massive amount of external stress on them to carry on as if all is right with their world.

This does not mean that a Dutch employee can sit at home for months on end with a burnout without any pressure from an employer to return to work. This is not the case - but Dutch workers do have legislation on their side to protect them, good sick payment schemes and as a last measure financial support from the government.

Secondly, underneath us here in the Netherlands is a society wide safety net help up by the government. It catches us when we fall (its not just for the born and raised Dutch among us). Of course some people fall through the cracks, but there are (government) funded bodies that provide support for many of the problems that could cause our downfall. Finances are often not a barrier to enlisting the necessary help.

Lastly, I think there is a strong sense of community here. Life is lived locally and families often live close to each other. It gives a feeling of support and people are looking out for each other.

So I think the Dutch culture around work, the government benefits and support system, the sense of community and access to support resources all play a huge role in making sure those that need help get it. It helps prevent situations spiralling out of control in many cases. There's no shame in asking for help.

On more than one occasion I have been offered the support I have needed - and if you are living outside your passport country and away from your personal support systems, help and support is invaluable during life changing events.

When my children were born I had a maternity nurse visit me daily for eight to ten days. She comes to help the mother and newborn - and part of her role is to detect potential issues in the household, spot signs of post-partum depression, inform other parties that support may be needed. After the birth of my third child I was struggling - it wasn't a question of whether I could get support, it was more a question of which particular group we should turn to for help. The excellent support we received over the months that followed cost us nothing. Not a cent. It was invaluable and I am convinced it prevented more serious issues later. Without financial barriers those needing help can turn to it when it is needed.

As Dutch children grow they have regular appointments at the consultatiebureau (well-child clinic), and whilst the system is far from perfect, and many parents have many negative things to say about it, it plays a central role in referring parents on to third parties for help with problems. It's another check built in that not just the children are developing without issues, but that parents are managing too. It's a safe place where you can ask for help should you need it, it's a place that offers help if you seem like you need it. It is also a free service, and a huge source of support if you need it - I leant on it often.

So Dutch women, and men for that matter, do get depressed. But they are also a happy lot. The Dutch are a sensible, down to earth lot and know exactly how good they have it. I guess it helps to know that when things go wrong the odds are against you tumbling helplessly into the abyss.......

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Qassa - Save Whilst Spending

Service with a smile is not something that necessarily goes hand in hand in the Netherlands - if what you read on expat forums is anything to go by. That, partnered with the inability of the Dutch to form an orderly queue and the sheer volume of people on any given Saturday afternoon, is enough to make the sanest of shoppers avoid shopping centres altogether. Well, the second issue is more something for the Brits amongst us.....

If you ask me, nine times out of ten, online shopping saves the day. For so many reasons - (here are some more) but for now the three I have listed already are enough for me. If I'm not getting a smile when I do my shopping anyway then I may as well do it from behind my computer. The reality is online shopping is just easier and millions of Dutch people are doing it (it's the reason V & D have struggled so much). You see even the Dutch themselves are fed up of not getting a smile with their purchases........So make it easy for yourself - and as an added bonus you can grin at your reflection in your computer screen!

When it came to December purchases for Sinterklaas and Christmas more than 90% of my shopping was done online - even at the expense of having to wrap my own gifts rather than have it done in the shops for me. My sanity comes first.

And there's something that makes online shopping even more attractive. Have you heard of Qassa*? If you do lots of your shopping online then getting acquainted with Qassa is a good idea!

I signed up many, many, many, many years ago. It's basically a way to save money whilst you shop with big brands online. You collect points (Qoins) for emails you open containing special offers and for the purchases you make. Those points covert into money which you can have paid into your bank account.

Don't expect to retire on the returns (unless you are spending millions in the first place and then I guess Qassa will make little difference to your life anyway) but if you want a little pocket money back for clicking emails and buying the things you buy anyway (think along the lines of, Hema, C&A, Van Haren, Douglas, Bon Prix and many others) then it's worth signing up to get cash back on purchases that you are making anyway!

*Links are afilliate links - for every new member that signs up through my page I get enough to buy myself a coffee to keep my writing cells active enough to continue putting blog posts together - that sort of thing.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Tales from the Expat Harem - Book Review

I believe that a book that transports you to another place is the most rewarding read you can get. A book that allows you to experience a different culture or unknown feeling from the comfort of your easy chair, bed or garden, or even the less comfortable perch in the smallest room in the house, is one to rave about.

Reading Tales from the Expat Harem: Foreign Women in Modern Turkey (Seal Women's Travel) (UK link - for US link see Amazon picture below) will make you feel like you have experienced a little of life in Turkey. It is nearly three hundred pages of expat women telling their tales about life in a country that bridges east and west, that even within its own borders joins the modern and the traditional.

Let me ask you this. How would you react if the community you loved living in insisted you sacrificed a sheep because you found the perfect house to live in? Hard to imagine for many, but Pat Yale tells us how she reconciled a Turkish custom with her own personal beliefs.

Then there's Amanda Coffin who shares her story of dealing with unwanted advances by Turkish men in the East of the country; a similar tale here in the Netherlands would most likely end in the issuing of a restraining order but, calm and mindful, Amanda tackles the problem directly herself.

Family tensions, princess weddings, cross country road trips, archaeological digs, religion, belly dancing, food, parties and shopping, Tales from the Expat Harem has it all.

Tales from the Expat Harem is a cultural adventure that takes readers on a journey of emotions through the voices of 29 women who have lived through experiences in Turkey, women who made a new life there for love, adventure, work, religion or study. Together they share the colours of a village wedding, the sounds of a bazaar, the taboos of gender interaction, the culture of a religion, the tradition of evil eye charms, the richness of the Turkish landscapes and the intimacies of Turkish bath houses.

Abandoning stereotypes. Learning a language. Embracing a culture. Accepting a tradition. Adapting to new customs. These are the keys for foreign women in modern Turkey. In fact, these are the keys to being an expat just about anywhere.

This is expat lit that captures the imagination of readers, that educates, shares and enlightens. If you really want to know what expat life is about, read Tales from the Expat Harem.

For more info about the "Tales from the Expat Harem" book and contributors visit

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

4 Invisible Expat Challenges

When you choose to move abroad there are some changes and challenges that are blatantly obvious - right there 'in your face' obvious. Such as the natives speak a different language than you. Like the predominant religion is not yours. Like the food is different to what you are used to eating in your passport country. Like the weather is constantly hot and you are used to four distinct seasons. That kind of obvious.

But there are other challenges of a life overseas that you don't necessarily think about before you make the leap. Like these four things.

1. Living Life in a Second Language.

Yes, you got that you'd need to learn a new language when you moved abroad but did you consider that you don't just speak a second language everywhere you go, but that you actually have to live your life in a second language? If you have moved for the long term, or have a local partner then you'll soon get that speaking in a tongue not your own is very different to living life in a tongue not your own.

My husband's first language is Dutch and I obviously knew that before I moved to the Netherlands. But now I realise just what it means when I say my husband speaks and is Dutch. It means my in-laws are Dutch. It means my children are Dutch and they go to a Dutch school - so their teachers speak Dutch. My children's friends communicate in Dutch, as do my children's friends' parents. I do my shopping in Dutch. My neighbours speak Dutch. People who knock on my door speak Dutch (mostly - but those are stories for other posts I think) and when the telephone rings there is a good chance there is a Dutch speaker on the line. Dutch, Dutch, Dutch. One the one hand that's great - you can't beat that kind of immersion when it comes to learning a language. Eventually you actually start thinking partly in Dutch too but are you really ever so fluent that you can be your true self in a second language?

No matter how many books I read in English, how often I speak to my kids in English, how many calls I make back to England to speak to family and friends or how many programmes I watch on the BBC there is no escaping that I live my life in Dutch. Even after 15 years in the Netherlands that is sometimes tiring and frustrating. The words I need to express myself properly are sometimes not on the tip of my tongue. Sometimes I come across as an idiot who can't string a proper sentence together. It can sometimes be a little bit lonely living as a minority of one.......

2. Emergencies and Illnesses Back 'Home'

When there is a medical emergency, or when a relative has little time left on this earth, running to go and see them is not a matter of hopping in your car. I unfortunately know from recent experience that such situations can leave you with a heart wrenching decision. It's an aspect of expat life that only gets harder as the years roll by. Bad news is a fact of life, even expat life. Illness and death do not always give fair warning.

3. Living Between Two Worlds

I'm not Dutch and I never will be. Even if I wandered off tomorrow and picked up Dutch citizenship whilst wholeheartedly renouncing the Brit in me, I still wouldn't be Dutch. However, after 15 years in the Netherlands I am also now too Dutchified to call myself a pure bred Brit. I live life walking along the middle line between two cultures - a cultural and national no-mans land if you like. It's a weird place to live.

4. Celebrations and Parties

Recently (though no longer as recent as I'd like) I turned 40, as did all my friends I went to school with in England. Popping back to celebrate the milestone birthdays with each and every one of them was just not on the cards. The same applies to weddings, christenings and other happy occasions. Logistics rule out joining in every party we're invited to back in my passport country. There are new parties locally to attend of course, but missing out on celebrating with loved ones back 'home' is tough.

Over to You: What challenge did you stumble upon that you hadn't expected or thought about before you moved overseas?

Thursday, 31 December 2015

A Shout Out for all the Expats Spending New Year's Eve Alone

I was reminded yesterday that fifteen years ago I spent my first New Year's Eve in the Netherlands alone. Completely and totally alone. In a new house, in a new country. Just me and my tears at midnight.

I had been in the Netherlands for just over three months and my Dutch partner and I were in the middle of making the house we had just bought habitable. We 'moved in' a week previously, and I use the term moved in loosely. The house was half painted downstairs; we had spent Christmas morning sanding the floor. It was sparsely spotted with a few belongings here and there. It was pretty dismal in the best of circumstances, let alone as the backdrop for the first New Year's Eve celebration in a new country - alone. He had to work a nightshift.

I have written a couple of articles about celebrating New Year in the Netherlands, and none of them are very positive but on Facebook yesterday that very first New Year's Eve flashed back suddenly when a fellow expat shared that she would be spending this evening alone because her Dutch husband is working. Been there. Done that. Wouldn't recommend it. But looking back, it may just have done me some good. Going through the rough times helps you recognise and appreciate when you have it good.

Expat life is not easy for many of us, no matter what others around us may think. Even after fifteen years in the Netherlands life as an expat is still not without niggles and negatives. But I do know it gets easier.  I promise expat life gets easier.

Each New Year celebration that comes my way allows me to see just how far I have come. I'm practically a local at this New Year in the Netherlands things (except for the indiscriminate blowing up of street furniture and the brainless random setting off of decorative fireworks in broad daylight) as I munch on olieballen and prepare a gezellig meal for the family, putting champagne on ice for midnight and waking the children up to gaze at the fireworks that light up the sky.

I couldn't spend New Year's Eve alone these days, even if I wanted to (and believe there are some days I wouldn't mind an evening entirely alone, even New Year's Eve!) as I have three young sons. They are not the only positive things, but without a doubt the best things to come out of the expat life I chose, the one that started with a New Year's Eve alone, an evening that looking back I wouldn't change a second of. It was part of the path that got me to today.

So, wherever you are celebrating, whether you are with loved ones, a room full of strangers, or alone I wish you a wonderful passage into 2016. If you are a newbie expat remember that this evening signifies the start of another year of expat life under your belt - and it gets easier. I promise.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

New Year's Bonfires in Scheveningen

As has become custom over the years, two bonfires are currently being built up ready for a New Year's Eve party and a half on the beach at Scheveningen. These bonfires have now been officially listed as part of the Dutch national cultural heritage. They are here to stay.We went to take a peek today......there are so many words to describe what is going on there but I'm not sure any of those I use really capture the craziness that is going on on the beach. There are wooden pallets everywhere waiting to be hoisted up to the top of the crate mountain. There are lorries coming and going, swerving around fork lift trucks. There are men moving around from one spot to the other adorned with matching black tops, some chatting to the police or fire brigade representatives, some necking from beer or Smirnoff bottles and some just milling around. It's one in the eye for health and safety fanatics.........
It's a fascinating sight, in an 'oh my god how does nobody end up killing themselves' sort of way...... 

You can read more about my take on New Year celebrations in the Netherlands over on Amsterdam Mamas and Haarlem Expats.