Presepio com Vista para o Canal is a beautiful blog written by Sandra, who is from Portugal and is an expat in the Netherlands [click here to visit her blog]. She enjoys sharing through her blog about living in the Netherlands, as well as her travels throughout Europe, sharing of her journeys through her writings and photography. As with all of the expat blogs I enjoy reading, I am intrigued by not only her positive attitude in adjusting to her new surroundings, but I also enjoy learning about her native culture and feel her contribution to the expat community is very helpful guide to those who are embarking on the expat journey. Today I’d like to share with you all a little bit more about her.
1. Where are you from originally?
I'm from Portugal.
2. What city do you live in currently?
I live in Almere, in the province of Flevoland.
3. What inspired you to begin your blog?
The Netherlands and Portugal are two completely different countries. I felt overwelmed with all the learning process, so I began with the blog to organize all what I was learning, share experiences and useful information for others.
4. What brought you to the Netherlands?
Since 2003 there has been a great economical crisis in Portugal, and we wanted to leave Portugal before the crisis would affect us. We were also very disappointed with the whole corruption, the lack of public organization and waste of public money in our country. Portugal has now a big external public debt and a 10% unemployment rate.
5. When you first arrived in the Netherlands, what were the biggest differences you noticed from your own culture?
The houses. When I began to look for a house, I realised the houses had no plastered ceilings and walls. When I saw the armed concrete walls and ceilings, I was in shock. For us Portuguese, this means that the house is unfinished [if you are not talking about social rented houses, of course]. In my home, I was also surprised to to not see a bathtub and a bidet in the bathroom. I pondered, “Where are they?!“ And the washing machine in the bathroom too?!” [Generally you’ll find the washing machine in the kitchen in Portugal]. I was also in shock when I saw photos of homes with cement floors. I couldn't believe it. I thought, “I will not rent a home with cement floors...” Looking back, it certainly was hilarious! It was a great surprise for me too, when I found out I needed to pay the makelaar [English: real estate agent] if I wanted to rent a home! We only need to pay two rents in advance in Portugal, but here we had to pay three rents. Ouch! At least we didn't need someone to vouch for us like in Portugal.
The geldautomaat [English: The ATM or cash machine]. This was another huge surprise for me. When I saw I could only see the amount available and get money from it, I was astonished. In Portugal, we can do many ATM operations: paying bills, money transfers, charging cell phones, money deposits, get checks, etc... We use internet banking too, of course, but our ATM offers more possibilities than those found in the Netherlands.
The Dutch Health System. In Portugal we have the public health system and also the private one which we can pay by ourselves, through insurances, or agreements with the public system. There are many private practice offices and clinics. Here, I only see them for dentists and psychology doctors. I cannot go directily to the gynecologist or the eye doctor, and I have no private clinics where I can have blood tests or other exams. Now, I go to the International Health Center in Den Haag because they have an expat focus oriented service.You can read about it in my blog. In my opinion, the Netherlands doens't have a great health prevention culture. My huisarts [English: house doctor or primary care physician] was very surprised when I said I used to make a cytology test each year [I'm almost 40 years old]. Now, I understand why Portugal has the lowest cancer deaths number in the European Union and the Netherlands is in the middle of the table [Eurostat numbers]. It also seems that Paracetamol is the medicine God... that is very annoying.
The weather. The coldness and the wind. Well, I'm coming from the south of Europe...
The living costs. I used to pay 60 cents for an espresso, 1 euro for a homemade soup, 10 euros for a complete lunch, etc...
The food. The lack of variety and taste. The butter in the soup. The very spicy meat. Argh! I was surprised too, with the lack of certain kinds of fish... The lunch habits are very different... We have many restaurants with a great variety of hot homemade meals for 7 or 10 euros at lunch time in Portugal. My first weeks here were very difficult because we were living in a hotel in Amsterdam, not with family or friends. It was November, it was very cold and we were looking for a house. We had no connections here to give us some references about nice and affordable restaurants. Yes, we were surprised with the great price differences. I was really hungry by then. I wasn't only used to eat snacks like kroketten, patat or hamburgers, especially in the winter. On the third day, we found a Portuguese restaurant and we paid 5 euros, only for one soup...I thought, “Wow. This is what we pay for 5 soups in Portugal!” Another strange thing to me was the 6:30pm dinner. It's better for the health, I agree. However, we begin to dine at 8pm, sometimes 8:30 or 9:00pm. At about 5:30pm, it’s a normal time to have an espresso or a tea and eat something like a sandwich.
The landscape. For me, it is monotonous because I'm coming from a country with a great variety of landscapes: mountains, plains, volcanos, glaciar valleys [the biggest found in Europe is in Portugal], etc.
The architecture. All the towns are quite similar with their red bricks. In Portugal there are big differences between them. If you go there, you will understand what I mean... I miss seeing more Baroque-style buildings. It is normal in the Netherlands, as most of the country is Protestant. I come from a country where almost everyone is Catholic.
The contact between people. We kiss more, we touch more. In Portugal, if I introduce a girlfriend to another girlfriend in an informal situation like a dinner, they give two kisses [one on each cheek]. Here, we shake hands. Now I'm getting used to it, but in the beginning it was strange [two women of the same age in an informal situation shaking hands...well...].
The agenda. This is another great difference. I wish my country was much more organized, but I would also like to say that the Dutch are a bit more flexible.
The store schedules. Once I went out on a Monday morning to do some shopping. Everything was closed! I was not yet familiar with the time schedule. In Portugal all the stores open at 9am on week days. We have also a lot [too many, in my opinion] winkelcentra or winkelcentrums [English: shopping centers]. I agree with the Dutch on keeping the Sundays as days to rest and to spend time with the family. Here in the Netherlands, I see the families on Sundays in the gardens, in the lakes, in the terraces enjoying the sun and the nature. In my country, most of the times, we see the families in the malls on Sundays. In my opinion, it is depressive. Here we have more winkeltjes [English: small shops] and traditional shops. In my country they are closing one by one because of the existence of too many winkelcentra. In Portugal, there isn't the balance that we have here.
6. If you'd like to share, name 1-3 pieces of advice to anyone who comes from the same country as you to the Netherlands [eg: what to bring, cuisine and other funny differences, tips, etc...]
• Bring an umbrella, a raincoat and a Dutch woordenboek [English: dictionary].
• Be prepared with many 50 cents coins, so you can use the public WC [English: short for water closet, also means toilet or restroom].
• Bring some Portuguese sandwiches, rissois, pasteis de bacalhau [a kind of croquette with cod], and water bottles [in the first months, I always felt thirsty when drinking Dutch water].
• Look for a doctor at IHCH.
• Read a lot about the country before you come.
• I think it's advisable also to do a previous trip to the Netherlands to get an idea in loco how the things are.
• Adjust your expectations and learn their culture.
• Open a blog and share your experiences!
• Learn the language.
7. Name at least one of your favorite things about the Dutch culture.
• The possibility that the women have to work in part-time in the Netherlnds. In my country, it is very difficult. I think Netherlands is more family- oriented in this matter. I see the parents spending more time with their children than in my country. They arrive earlier at home, not at 8 or 9pm of the evening each day as in Portugal. Well done, Netherlands!
• I also like the way they publicly share some family events: having a child, getting a diploma, turning 50 years old, etc.
• The bike culture and Sinterklaas. I’m a big fan of Sinterklaas.
• The organization. Here I have no stress with public affairs, like I had in Portugal.
• We have more opportunities to be an entrepreneur in the Netherlands.
• Life is quieter than in Portugal.
8. Name at least one of your least favorite things about the Dutch culture.
• The Dutch Health System.
• The ATM.
• Some lack of manners. To be assertive isn't the same as being rude. However, I have very good and polite Dutch friends. I think is very important that we have contact with the natives, if you really want to live here.
• Where I can get a cleaning service for the inside of our car... Does anyone know?
9. Do family or friends come to visit you since you have been in the Netherlands?
Yes. We visited Amsterdam, Delft, Zaanse Schaans, Marken, Gouda, Brugges, Gand, Aachen, Koln, and more.
10. What do you like best about the city where you currently live?
It is a quiet city. It seems that I’m living in the countryside. Almere has also many cultural activities, restaurants, woods, lakes and space...
11.Where would you suggest to someone else [from your native country] to search/shop for the same [ingredients for making] traditional foods and/or to buy decoration for the special occasions/holidays?
I think it's best to do a research on internet to look for the nearest Portuguese shop. I don't go to the Portuguese shops because my mother sends me some products by mail. She enjoys doing that for me.
12. With learning Dutch, what do you find to be the most difficult: Reading, writing, listening or speaking?
Listening and speaking.
· Click here to visit her blog.
· Sandra also has a blog about her native country Portugal here.
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