Hi Philip, when did you arrive in the Netherlands?
I arrived in December 2020, with my wife Helga, daughter Lisa-Mari (13 at the time), and our dog, Prince. (So, we’ve been here now for nearly 2 years).
How did you experience the first few months in the Netherlands?
I was awestruck by so many things.
The beauty and historical riches of the small town where we lived, Scherpenzeel – and for that matter, pretty much everywhere we went in the Netherlands.
The friendliness of the people – despite the fact that we could not communicate well (the difference between Afrikaans and Dutch is bigger than it sounds on YouTube 🙂).
How clean everything is. Interesting differences like the types and colours of cars. Small things, like conveniently positioned bins, supplied with bags to clean up behind your dog, and clearly indicated areas were you don’t have to clean up 🙂.
We landed here in Winter, so it was cold, but not nearly as cold as we expected for a ‘European Winter’.
The first few months in the Netherlands were awesome, and very exciting!
Do you still live in the same house as in the beginning?
When we first arrived, we rented a house in Scherpenzeel that was courteously arranged by summit developers. The house was about 120 m2, known as a tussenwoning (a row of houses that share walls). We lived in a 220 m2 house in South Africa, and we soon realised that 120 m2 is more than enough for us (we had a room to spare 🙂 ).
In the meantime, we bought a house in Veenendaal, where my wife and I work, and where our daughter goes to school. Our house is even smaller than the one in Scherpenzeel – and nevertheless, we feel comfortable in it, and at home.
How was it to learn the language? Was it easier or harder than expected?
For me personally, the language aspect was (and is 🙂) MUCH, MUCH harder than expected. When I listen to Dutch, I understand most of it. However, to learn to speak and write Dutch, was a lot harder than I thought it would be. At work, I also landed in a team that rarely spoke any English – so it was a dive in the deep end.
On the other hand, after almost 2 years, my daughter speaks fluent Dutch – so much so that most won’t assess her as not being a native Dutch speaker.
So, I think the degree of difficulty is relative to affinity with languages (for some, it is just easier, like for others, maths is just easier), and your ear / sound sensitivity (some hear tone and pronunciation, and can mimic it, and others do not).
What do you miss most about South Africa?
I miss good meat – here in the Netherlands, meat is quite expensive, and the variety is smaller.
In South Africa, things are generally a lot cheaper than in the Netherlands – of course I miss that!
I miss my mom and other family in South Africa. I also miss the people of South Africa, all of them, with our differences.
I miss speaking English because I am most expressive in English, and it is a tool that disappears from your box, in relating to people and in communication at work.
I miss being able to camp in the wild – we did that a lot in SA, and here, there are not too many nature campsites – lots of campsites for camper vans, but those are too organised.
I miss my V8 Jeep 🙂, that would simply be too expensive to drive here, considering fuel price and taxes!
What appeals to you most in the Netherlands?
The systems here work well. Whether it is public transport, electricity/gas supply and billing, or interactions with the municipality, or other private businesses. The Dutch are very, very efficient and accurate.
While we lived in Scherpenzeel, my daughter cycled to school, 12 km in the morning, and 12 km in the afternoon, from Veenendaal, through another town, Renswoude, to Scherpenzeel. It is magic that even I could relax and accept that she will be fine. Now of course we live closeby school, but importantly, I still feel my daughter is safe – even when she goes to drama classes in the evening and returns home at 8pm on her bicycle.
In the Netherlands, jobs are plenty – if you want to work, and for as long as you would want to work, you are guaranteed to find a job.
The Netherlands is geographically well positioned, so a weekend to Germany, Belgium, France, Luxembourg, or England, is 100% realistically conceivable.
I enjoy the weather (despite the fact that most people complain about it). Here in the centre of the Netherlands, there is very little wind. The wind, is one thing about Cape Town that I don’t miss!
Does it feel like home?
It has not been an easy journey, and at times, one then wonders if you made the right decision.
Since my daughter made good friends at school and we bought a house, it has become easier. Also, living in your own house, and being able to work on it and improve it, creates a sense of ‘home’.
The fact is, there is still some uncertainty, because after all, we are here on a 5 year visa, coupled to employment.
We are still learning the language, and it is a barrier to full integration (alternatively you could braai weekend in and weekend out with other South Africans, that could help you feel more at home!).
Honestly speaking, we still have some miles to go for the Netherlands to feel like home – but for us, that is the way forward – the only way forward.