Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Long Dutch Words - You Can't Make This Stuff Up

My latest article has just been published on expatsHaarlem on the topic of long Dutch words. The Dutch string words together (that have meaning on their own) to make uber words.

This is a great example:

Although of course it's not a word you would hear being uttered in day to day life, it is a real word. And in case you were wondering, it's a fruit cake with every kind of fruit imaginable in it - but listed individually.

As children my dad and Gran used to wow my brother and me by reciting the longest place name in Wales (they are both Welsh):


And no, I won't repeat that. (Thank goodness for copy and paste).

Thinking back on this made me curious to know what the longest place name in the Netherlands is. Turns out it is Gasselterboerveenschemond. Say that after a glass or two of wine.

For more Dutch scrabble tips, and to learn which word is officially the longest Dutch word (the fruit cake one above doesn't count) head on over to expatsHarleem:

I would love to know - what's the longest word in your mother tongue (or second language) and the longest place name in your home or host country?

Monday, 24 November 2014

7 Gift Ideas to Give Family a Flavour of Your Dutch Life

It's that time of year when a gift buying frenzy descends on us all and minds go blank looking for something a little original but simple. But help is at hand if you are an expat in the Netherlands. I have a few gift ideas for you which are perfect to give your family and friends back home a flavour of your 'Dutch' life.

This is also a great list if you are buying for someone who will soon make this little Dutch land their home, or for someone who has recently moved here.

1. Dutched Up! Rocking the Clogs Expat Style

Did I mention recently that I am a contributing author in a wonderful expat anthology about life in the Netherlands? No? I didn't think I did. Well, I am. It's a compilation of stories written by a selection of expat women bloggers who call(ed) the Netherlands home, and spans the entire spectrum and circle of expat life from shopping, to having a baby, and then leaving the Netherlands again.

Don't take my word for it; here's an extract of just one of the great reviews this book already has under it's cover:

 "....this book will also be a constant companion as I am sure I will read it over and over to remind myself that I am not alone. For anyone who is thinking about moving to The Netherlands or is planning a stay there, this is a must read."
It's a gift that will make your friends and family snort their coffee/tea/wine/beer/beverage of choice out of their nose or maybe shed a tear; what is for sure is that the recipient of your gift will have a great idea about what life in the Netherlands is like as an expat. Giving the gift of understanding for Christmas can't be bad can it?

The book is currently available for download at Amazon and on iBooks so easy to gift virtually. Use the links below for more information.

For click on the picture:

For click the book cover below:

And if you want to gift using iBooks head use

2. Stroopwafels

If you love your family and friends you'll give them these little rounds of Dutch syrupy biscuit heaven for Christmas.  They are the most delicious biscuits you will ever taste. My home town of Zoetermeer has just welcomed the arrival of a brand new shop which sells nothing but stroopwafels. I daren't go in.

Stroopwafels come in all sizes and varieties. You can get mini ones (although, why would you?), chocolate covered ones and stroopwafels in very decorative gift tins. In short, they are available everywhere and a perfect taste of 'home' to share with loved ones.

3. Stuff Dutch Like

If you want to give your relatives and friends a Dutch cultural baptism, give them a copy of the Stuff Dutch Like book. They will then understand why your wardrobe is tainted with orange, a birthday calendar hangs in the smallest room of your house and that that mashed up food you serve in the name of authenticity when they visit you really is 1) edible and 2) very Dutch.

3. Round of cheese

This works best if you are actually visiting home for the holidays as I cannot imagine a cheese will be met with welcome arms by the postal system (but feel free to correct me if I am wrong). If you are flying then it's perfect as Schiphol (and presumably other Dutch airports) is littered with cheese. I'm not talking about a little slab of Gouda to take back, I'm talking a full, in your face, round. Make sure you have a suitcase on wheels to make transportation a little easier......

If you're driving then your cheese carriage awaits. Load the boot (or trunk, for non-Brits as to avoid confusion) up with a selection of big Dutch cheeses and away you go. Christmas, as they say, is wrapped up.

4. Dutch Music

Sometimes your gift should let relatives and besties know just how hard life overseas can be. Not only is there no Bisto in the supermarket, but the local music has a tendency to hurt your ears. Let relatives sample how tough expat life can be by gifting the likes of a Frans Bauer or The Toppers album. 

You win sympathy, and once the drink flows on Christmas day you get to make special memories as calls to 'put that Dutch crap on' ends with granny dancing to "Heb je Even Voor Mij?".

5. Frysk Hynder

Is there a whiskey lover in your life? Then share a taste of your new homeland with them by handing over a bottle of Dutch Frysk Hynder. As the name suggests, it's made in Friesland. Authentically Dutch - and alcohol - the perfect Christmas gift combination.

6. Photo Book

You could make a photo book (or a calendar, photo mug, T-shirt etc) with all your photos of your Dutch adventures from this year. Your parents or siblings would love to see that photo of you posing by the windmills in Kinderdijk, or hanging in front of that Amsterdam sign, or your children at their Sinterklaas class party. The possibilities are literally endless - and personal. I've been happy with my experiences with Albelli to date, but there are a host of other companies who will turn your photos into gifts.

7. Dutch Language Book

If your relatives or friends often visit you in the Netherlands then you can speed up their Dutch language skills with a Dutch language book (with accompanying CD if you want to go the whole hog). Not only can family then communicate better with your (Dutch) children, but they can master that menu every time you eat out without asking for you for the 100th time, "What's kip again?" Believe me, that question quickly gets old....

Before I moved to the Netherlands I got myself a copy of Hugo's Dutch in Three Months. It really helped to master the basics before my feet even touched Dutch soil. (Click the image for more information).

So there are 7 ideas to get you started. Good luck!

What perfect Dutch gift would you add to the list?

*All book links are Amazon affiliate links. All other links are just because I think they are great and I have received no compensation for sharing the links. But now I come to think of it, maybe I should.......*

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

A Dutch Guide to (not) Buying Expensive Items

My husband went to the apotheek last week and came back with yet another story that made me giggle. A woman in front of him asked the apotheeker if she would give her a sample of an expensive brand of face cream. The woman behind the counter handed her a sample.

"Could I have a couple please?" the customer asked.

Why spend it when you don't need to?
Photo Credit: Uros Kotnik
"Mevrouw, that's not really the idea. The idea is to try it and then come back and buy the product," explained the apotheeker.

"Yes, but the face cream is so expensive!" she replied.

Two traits the Dutch are associated with beautifully illustrated in one perfect reply. Gratis? Yes, please. Subtlety? No thanks. 

Sunday, 16 November 2014

My Sunday Photo: Celebration

This week's photo sums up the highlight of the week - becoming a published author. My husband thought that was worth of a champagne celebration. Who was I to argue?


Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Dutched Up! Rocking the Clogs Expat Style

It's here! It's available! Dutched Up! Isn't it beautiful?

What is Dutched Up!? I hear you cry. Dutched Up! is the next book you should read. It's a beautifully written, heartfelt, honest anthology written by women expat bloggers in the Netherlands who have been through the ups and the downs of expat life - and lived to tell their tales. 

I'm one of those women. And I'm so excited I could burst. But I'm trying to be very British and modest about it all. I would like to fling open a window here and scream, "I'm an author. I'm in a book." But I won't because that's really not very British at all. But believe me, I am VERY excited. 

Anyway, as I was saying. This book is about expat life in the Netherlands. From giving birth to doing the shopping, from doctors to marriage, the ins and outs of expat life in the land of the Dutch are covered by those that live here, who have married here, given birth Dutch style, grown to love their kraamzorg here, made wonderful friends here and who have come to know everything there is to know about bitterballen and paracetamol.

If you're an expat in the Netherlands, you need this book. If you are thinking about becoming an expat in the Netherlands, you need this book. If you have any vague Dutch connection at all, you need this book. In fact, I'm going to go out on a limb and say, if you read books, you need this book.

At the moment it is available for Kindle on Amazon, and you can get your mitts on by clicking on the  lovely link below:

Watch this space for more ways to get your hands on this book in the near future - including a "hold in your hands real book". 

Monday, 10 November 2014

An Expat Blogger's Reality: My Untypical Expat Life

 I was struck recently how one expat blogger's sense of reality differs so starkly from another and it reinforced for myself that I cannot write posts or show you photos and pass them off as 'typical of expat life here in the Netherlands'.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

5 Reasons Everyone Should be an Expat at Least Once in Their Lives

If you're not an expat, you should be. At least for a while.

When I was a teenager, I planned to be an expat. A translator living in France to be exact. Then my great expat plan took a back seat, maybe even got shelved,  whilst I worked out a career and all that grown up stuff. Then, as is often the case, expat life just kind of happened whilst I was making plans for my non-expat future.

Though it was never part of the original plan to wind up in the Netherlands, that's where the turn in the road led, and I followed it. I'm glad I did. Aside from my beautiful family, I gained a whole new life.

Expat life changes things. It changes you. Whether you plan it or not, whether your stay overseas is a temporary move, or one meant for a lifetime, being an expat is enriching. It's life changing. And that's why I think everyone should do it, at least once in their life.

If you're still not convinced, here are five reasons why.

You Meet Amazing People

When you move to a new country you, by default, meet new people, people different from the ones in your social circle back home. You meet people who speak a different language, who are from a different culture, who have a different background.

Friendships grow with people from all walks of life, people who make your expat life colorful and enriching. Without even trying you learn about other countries, other cultures, other attitudes and traditions.

Of course, let's be real, you'll also meet arseholes; unfortunately they live abroad too - but thankfully they are in the minority. Avoid them and you'll do just fine.

You Immerse Yourself in New Cultures

When you move abroad you try new foods, you take part in new traditions and learn new customs. You are party to new ideas, new ways of doing things. You listen to new music. You see different political and economic systems in practice. You celebrate new holidays. You see the arts and heritage of a country first hand.

If you are lucky you even learn a new language.

You learn about a country's past, and you learn what traits a nation treasures, what ignites a nation's pride. You notice the details, things you don't read about in school books, or learn about in travel books.

If you open your eyes, you'll see a little piece of the world through someone else's eyes.

You Fall in Love with Your Birth Country

When you become an expat,
you see your birth country in a new light
What is that saying? Absence makes the heart grow fonder? Well it's true. Nothing gets you looking at your birth country with rose coloured spectacles quicker than leaving it. I never really understood what it was that made me British until I left Britain, and then it all became incredibly evident. It turns out, you can take a Brit out of Britain but you'll never take the Brit out of the girl.

You start to appreciate all those things that make up your national identity, and realise that your home country culture, customs and traditions really have moulded you.

You notice the things that are dear to you from your own culture (for example, I never realised how attached to Bonfire night celebrations I was until I left England and 5th November just became a regular day) and which customs seem ridiculous and disposable.

When you become an expat, you fall in love with your birth country, including all those funny little quirks and odd habits that you never get a second thought to when you were living there.

You Realise Just How Much it's People, Not Things, That Really Matter

Living overseas, even temporarily, forces you to re-evaluate everything; to look at what you actually need and what you want in life. It's a clean slate, a chance to start anew and dump the baggage you no longer need to carry with you - both physical and mental baggage.

You start assessing what you miss from your 'old' life, what you actually need to move forward and what it is in life that really makes you happy.

You focus a little less on the material and more on the emotional aspect of life. You focus on the truly important things in life. You appreciate the true worth of those friends and family that were on your doorstep before you moved, and you sincerely value the worth of new friendships.

Relationships matter more than material goods when you have to start over. You realise it's people, not things, that really make the difference in life.

You Meet the Better Part of Yourself

When you leave everything familiar behind and set your feet down on new territory, you soon learn what you are capable of.

You uproot your life and replant it in, what seems at first, a hostile environment. You do everything to make sure it thrives. Because you must.

You learn to think differently, to think outside the box. The rules you once knew have been discarded and it takes time to learn the new rules - so you'll improvise. Maybe you'll get creative with your career, or amaze yourself with how determined you can be, or how passionate you feel about realising a goal.

You notice both huge and subtle differences and learn to be more open and flexible, because you have little choice. You become more accepting of change, because you have to be. You go through an unconscious self-improvement course and come out the other side stronger, more aware of yourself and your capabilities.

As an expat, you'll get to know yourself a little better, and you'll meet the better, more courageous part of yourself.

Over to you:Why else should you become an expat? What has been the biggest advantage of your expat life? Do you think everyone is cut out for expat life?

Monday, 3 November 2014

6 Reasons I'm Happy I'm Raising Children in the Netherlands

I live in a country where children generally fare well in happiness surveys and Dutch children always rate much higher in the happiness stakes than British children ever do.

It's no coincidence that the Dutch shine through in reports such as the UN's World Happiness Report. From what I see around me, the Dutch work consciously to raise happy, healthy, independent children* and I consider myself lucky to be raising three children here.

So, for the record, here are my six reasons why I'm happy I'm raising my children in the Netherlands.

1. School Allows Children to be Children

Dutch children are allowed to concentrate on what they do best: they are given plenty of time for the important job of play. Even though the majority of Dutch children start school at the age of 4 (though not mandatory until age 5) the theme running through their days remains 'play'. They learn through play (spelenderwijs leren) and only when they start in group 3 (when they are 6 or 7) is there any pressure on them to formally start reading and writing. The foundation is laid in the earlier school years whilst there are no expectations of them. By the time they reach group 3 most children have learnt the basics of reading and writing in a playful, 'no pressure' manner.

My experience is that the focus in groups 1 and 2 of our little Dutch school is to help children work self sufficiently, to raise their social awareness, learn how to co-operate in a group, to look after and out for each other. These are the years that my children learn that there are rules and boundaries outside of their home too, in a classroom. But they learn this in a safe, respectful, playful way. 

My four year old has day and week tasks that consist of things like finger painting an autumn tree and building a hut with blocks. He proudly tells me how hard he has worked, how he has completed his week tasks and yet, in reality, he has spent the week creating and playing. Oh, and learning. 

Their future is not mapped out by the age of four.

My children will only start getting homework when they move to group 6. Yes, my eldest is asked to practice his times tables at home, and in group 1 and 2 he took bear home and (mama) had to write about what bear had done over the weekend, but hours of maths and language homework after school? No, not until he is nine or ten, and even then it is given in moderation. 

This gives my children time to do what they do best; they come home from school and play. Which brings me nicely to my second reason. 

2. An Outdoor Culture

The Dutch are outdoor people. And so are their children. If they are not cycling they are on steps, skateboards or roller skates. In winter they are on sledges or ice skates.

Children are encouraged to play on the streets in residential areas (where traffic signs indicate children are at play and the speed limit is severely reduced).

My children love being outdoors, love being active in all sorts of weather. It reminds me of my own childhood in Britain in the 1980s, when we entertained ourselves out on the street with nothing but our imaginations, or perhaps a ball and our bikes.

3. Child Friendly Society

We don't have to walk far in our neighborhood to stumble over yet another children's playground or park. They are all small scale but varied and numerous. If we really wanted to, we could visit a different playground on foot each day of the week. Neighbourhoods are designed with children in mind.

Similarly, many restaurants are child friendly and the amount of amusement parks, animal parks and children's attractions across the Netherlands is just staggering for such a small country. There's more than enough to entertain children of all ages.

4. A Sense of Community

Like many playgrounds, Dutch primary schools are also small scale, but numerous, and children usually attend a school close to home. School catchment areas are generally quite small (but not fixed - if you want to send your child to a school further away you may).

This means that school runs are generally done on foot or by bike, and when primary school children are older it gives them a sense of independence that children don't feel being ferried to school in big cars, the type you see clogging up the roads around the schools in England.

I like that the Dutch tend to keep things local. My children go to school with children they live near. After school children play together in the local playgrounds with their classmates. It gives a sense of community. Work together, play together.

5. Dutch State

The importance of family filters down from the politicians. There are various state benefits for families with children: subsidies for child care as well as child benefit payments. State education is free. The Dutch youth care system is wide and varying - and in most cases the services are free.

It starts from birth with help from kraamzorg and continues with visits to the consultatiebureau, which, love it or hate it, is undeniably a unique service for parents. The system may not be perfect, but whenever I have needed a helping hand as a parent I've had welcome support. Even though I am an expat with a small family support network, I feel like I have people to lean on if I need it, because of the Dutch youth system.

This could easily be the motto of the Dutch when it comes to raising children

6. Work Life Balance

Last but absolutely not least, the focus on striking a balance between working and family life is extensive. Putting the emphasis on family life is ingrained in Dutch society.

More than a fair share of the working population works part-time, predominantly women, all with the aim of being around for their children and working around school hours. Again, love it or loathe it it is how it is. I happen to love it.

Parents, whatever their situation, need to find a work and family balance that works for them and the Dutch attitude and family culture means that parents have options.

Children have parents that, in general, have the opportunities and time to be present and involved.

It's Not Hagelslag, It's Attitude

So, my belief is that the happiness of Dutch children has nothing to do with hagelslag (sprinkles) on bread for breakfast as others have lightheartedly suggested, rather it stems from an attitude, a deep ingrained culture that focuses on children and allows them to make the most of childhood.

Dutch parents around me don't put pressure on their children to grow up fast. Instead, they give them permission to be children for as long as possible and not worry about their future at a young age. I recently read a few articles about American parents pressuring their children to excel in many fields from a young age, both in and out of school, children that have an after school activity schedule that would make most Dutch children's eyes water.

It's true that the Dutch have a reputation for being liberal, a bit too liberal on some matters in some culture's eyes, but what I see is an openness and a manner of carefully considered parenting that seems to work, which seems to foster independent children that feel listened to, that feel valued. Ones that are keen to tell researchers who care to ask that they are happy with their lot.

So, I for one intend to keep watching the parenting examples around me, and dish out good doses of Dutch parenting to my three sons. Hopefully, one day, when a UN researcher asks them questions for her World Happiness Report they'll be as positive in their answers as the children that have gone before them.

What do you think makes Dutch children fare so well in happiness studies?Does the parenting culture in your host country differ widely to that in your birth country? Is the local parenting culture where you live something you aspire to?

*It goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway, that Dutch society has it's share of problems, and that includes the lives of some children too. Some Dutch children live in poverty, some Dutch children live with absent parents, some Dutch children are deeply unhappy. I am in no way suggesting with this post that all Dutch children are ecstatically happy. However, there is a general culture related to parenting that I see every day around me. And that is the essence of this post.*
Seychelles Mama

Sunday, 2 November 2014

My Sunday Photo: 32 October

Yesterday, on the 1st November, Mr C, my four year old changed the calendar for us. I love his logic. Wouldn't that be easier?


And whilst we are on the topic of photos - (stay with me whilst I move smoothly *cough cough* to some self promotion) I would be eternally grateful if you would use the Facebook link below to 'like' my photo entry in a wonderful expat competition that could keep me in British food goodies for a year, something an expat gets very excited about! Thank you!! 

Saturday, 1 November 2014

AngloINFO's Home Comforts Photo Competition - I'm a Finalist!

Ooh, stop the presses, I have exciting news. I have been selected as one of the five finalists for AngloINFO's photo competition about ‪#‎homecomforts‬. For the winner it means a year of British shopping - I don't need to tell you what that means to an expat Brit now do I?

There are five pictures and it's now over to you, the lovely public, to vote so I would love some click happy fingers to follow the link below through and like my picture of my little soldier which reminds me of my childhood boiled egg and soldiers, the one my boys use to eat their British style breakfast.

Here's the link: all you need to do is click like. One time. Nothing else. It's that easy! Oh, and you have until Wednesday 5th November to vote.

Thank you :-)