It’s been six months since I left France for the Netherlands, so it’s time to make a little track record of my life here, and of what has changed compared to my life in France.
It’s only been six months, and I feel like it’s been much longer. Indeed, in six months I had three different jobs, I met dozens of people and made new friends. I visited museums, went to festivals, visited several cities in the country, discovered a new way of life and a new culture, and I even learned the basics of Dutch.
In fact, in six months, my life changed a lot compared to my life in France last year and even more compared to before my trip. So if expats life is something you wanna try, especially in the Netherlands, keep reading!
A turning point in my professional life
Most people go to live abroad for professional reasons. It was not my case, I didn’t want to stay in France after my trip, I fell in love with Rotterdam, I had several friends in the country, so I decided to move there, on a sudden impulse.
You have to know that in the Netherlands, it is hard to find a job, and this can easily become an obstacle course, especially when, like me, you don’t speak fluently the language of the country and graduated in a very specific area or that you have no degree.
So I arrived in the country with a waitress job, the time to find something better. Unfortunately, with such a precarious contract, it was quickly difficult to make ends meet and for the first time in my life, I had to swallow my pride and ask my parents for money. I then worked in a call center for a month before deciding to apply for job openings in Amsterdam and to get my current job which finally gave me a little break and financial stability that I really missed during the first three months.
Today, I work for the customer service of a Dutch start-up, in French, and it’s a big change for me compared to what I knew in France. First, this is the first time in my life that I have an office job, and it has sometimes been physically difficult to adapt and sit all day in front of my computer and my body sometimes tends to make me pay for it. Likewise, with office job come office schedule, i.e. 9am-5.30 pm.
Also know that here, the legal working time is more important than in France, between 38 and 40h (40h for me), with very short lunch breaks (30 minutes). For my part, I do my 40h, but I know many people who are paid 40h but actually do less. In addition, wages are higher than in France and the minimum wage is, in my experience, less common than in France.
Finally, the biggest change for me is the travel time between my home and my work. In Paris, I had for 30-40 minutes door to door. When I arrived in the Netherlands, I was less than a 10-minute bike ride from the restaurant where I was working, and that was really great. Be able to finish at 5 pm maximum and then have time to do plenty of things. If I had known, I would have enjoyed it more. Today, working in Amsterdam, it is between 1:15 and 1:45 door to door, knowing that to be sure not to be late due to frequent train delays, I arrive 30 minutes early to work. As a result, my days are very long, up at 6:00, leaving at 7:00, and I’m not back home until 7:00.
So a lot of changes on the professional level, but that I do not regret because my life here is far from boiling down to my work.
New consumption habits
When I arrived in the Netherlands, my little French habits were put to the test, and I had to adapt. I’ve already talked a little bit about the Dutch attachment to their bread + cheese at lunch, but this is only part of the upheavals in my eating habits.
In France, I worked for almost two years in an organic grocery store, so I ate almost exclusively organic products during this period, I ate strictly in season, I was taking ugly or damaged fruits and vegetables for free and let’s be real, with the discount I had in my shop, I could treat myself. In addition, I was buying many things in bulk (rice, pasta, nuts, seeds, dried fruit, etc.) or with very little packaging, and especially never plastic (the few times I used bags for my fruit and vegetables, they were made of paper or fabric). Anyway, I was a rather ethical consumer and very careful of what I was buying.
When I arrived in the Netherlands, two problems: Dutch people have no notion of seasonality and shopping in the supermarket without using plastic is almost impossible. Let me explain. In the Netherlands, a large part of the food grows in greenhouses. So here we eat strawberries and tomatoes all year round, and it doesn’t shock anyone. Personally, I don’t know what is most shocking: eating tomatoes in winter, or the “taste” of the tomatoes that have never seen a ray of sunshine in their lives. Whatever. Moreover, who says greenhouse, says significant energy consumption, and for someone that has consumed almost exclusively organic for 2 years, it bothers me. Here, the organic sector is very poorly developed (less than 2% of agricultural global production), and therefore organic products are very expensive.
Because of this, unable to buy everything in an organic and ethical store, I did like everybody else and went to the supermarket. The first time I had to do my grocery shopping, I almost came out empty-handed when I saw this overpackaging and this plastic, including fruits and vegetables, which are already almost all packaged. For example, in the Netherlands, it is impossible to find loose potatoes. Same with broccoli. And the worst is that organic fruits and vegetables are also under plastic, to avoid cross-contamination with products in conventional agriculture, we go haywire!
So the in-between that I found is to go to the markets. On Saturdays, when my schedule allows me, I’m going to the Groot Markt, to fill up on cheap and loose fruits and veggies. Price and choice wise, this market is the best! And I can bring back my little cotton bags and boycott tomatoes in February. For the organic market, go to Eedrachtsplein on Tuesday!
Agriculture in the Netherlands
The Netherlands is an agricultural monster, the second largest exporting country behind the United States. Agriculture is very efficient in terms of productivity and the Netherlands is at the forefront of agronomic innovation. For example, producing 1kg of tomatoes requires only 9,5l of water against 214L on average worldwide. Livestock farming remains the main agricultural activity and occupies almost half of the farms.
One of the first and most important differences with my Parisian life, you can imagine, it’s the bike! Bye bye the crowded and stinking subway! When I went to work in Amsterdam, I had to take a bit the metro again, but nothing compared with Paris, and my main means of transport is the bike, and it is amazing!
By moving to the Netherlands, I also felt like I was making my real first steps in “adulthood”. Of course, I left the family home at 18, I’ve been doing my taxes as a big girl for several years already but for the first time in my life, I had to look for a real apartment with a real rent (understand expensive) and not a student residence, a “real” job, contract a health insurance that costs an arm and a leg (Welcome to the Netherlands!), make the necessary administrative steps for my move here, move alone, etc. Sometimes I was a little desperate in front of all the expenses I had managed to escape so far, but in the end, I am also proud to be able to support me financially.
My social life also changed a lot. Indeed, today I have a real separation between my professional life and my personal life. In France, most of my friends were also co-workers. This also meant that as we saw each other every day, we didn’t necessarily need to see each other too much outside from work. Here I have great colleagues, but they are still colleagues. This also comes most certainly from the fact that they live in Amsterdam and I in Rotterdam.
I also realize that in the end, I have more friends in the Netherlands than in France, as surprising as it may seem. Indeed, when I arrived in the Netherlands, I had a few friends that I met during my trip, but it was very important for me not to cling to these few people and possibly to their own group of friends, but to make me my own buddies. As a result, I had to move my ass to meet new people, especially in expat groups. Total coincidence, most of my friends in Rotterdam are french speakers, but not only, but I also feel like I have a much richer social life. I go out more often for a drink, go to exhibitions, discover a new café or get involved in projects such as Rotterdammer Girls.
In general, I feel a lot more curious about my environment, and I’m always in for a new activity or discovering a new place.
What this experience brought me so far
Finally, when I moved to the Netherlands, I gained in quality of life: less stress, a better salary, a more stimulating and satisfying life. This is not perfect, but the scale is clearly positive. In Rotterdam in particular, I feel good. I know the city well, I have my little habits, my good spots, and my friends. I feel at home.
In the end, this experience abroad, which is just starting, is the logical next step of my journey. It keeps teaching me independence, resilience despite the hard times, perseverance, hard work, not giving up. It also gave me a clearer view of what I want to do with my life.
Today I am sure of two things: I do not wish to remain salaried all my life and I want to travel as much as possible. So I decided to train to get various skills that can allow me to combine the two. For example, I would like to do a Yoga teacher training within the next two years. But also make a certification to be able to give language courses (French, English, or Spanish, which I speak fluently). I would also like to study Ayurveda, which interests me very much. Why not also continue scuba diving? I’m also starting to look at remote jobs, to be able to work from anywhere in the world, if I have a good Internet connection.
As you can see, I have a lot of projects, and it’s a bit because of my expatriation. Indeed, it showed me that the things I want were close at hand. I just need to provide myself with the means of achieving my goals.
NB: This article reflects only my own experience, of a young white woman, graduated (but not too much), single and without children. Other expats might have experienced totally different things and have more facilities for some things or on the contrary had to face problems that I have not encountered.