When I started this series, I wasn’t sure what I would end up with. I started with Mayotte, simply because I had never heard of it so thought it would be interesting to hear about life there from someone who actually lived there. But while in the process of putting together those first set of questions, I kept coming back to my own experience of living in a “small place” and how similar life must be in Mayotte as it was for me in St Lucia – despite being half a world apart. So the concept of People Who Live in Small Places was born. Since then, I have branched out to include a small rock (Gibraltar), a small village (in France) and a small series of islands (the Seychelles). And then when I spotted a blog called Small European Country I knew I had to ask the owner to contribute. It turns out the small country in question is the Netherlands – and Michael is the blogger. So here it is, yet another take on what it is like to live in a small place.
Thanks for helping me with this, Michael. First of all, can you tell me a bit about your ‘small place’
I live in Rotterdam, a city of over half a million people which can hardly be called a “small place”. It is, however, in the Netherlands, which is a small European country, so you can say that I live in a small place. What I love about living in Rotterdam is that it is a no-nonsense city, where attitudes and poses are not appreciated, it is a rough-around-the-edges port city.
And what are the good, and the not so good, things about living there?
The Netherlands is a very colourful country to live in – the Dutch countryside still looks much like a classic Golden Age landscape painting, and the spring flower colours are amazing. The living standard is quite high, and its a great place for children – playground facilities are superb here! I love cycling so of course I enjoy the world-famous Dutch cycling infrastructure. The downside is that it is a very crowded country, with little wild nature. Especially in Rotterdam, where there is a lot of industry, the air is rather polluted and the roads are very congested.
What to you find to do to occupy yourself in your spare time?
As I mentioned, I like cycling, and in the weekends I often go for a ride. I am also a runner, and in the summer I participate in triathlons (not the full one, but the shorter versions). Writing is my creative outlet. Besides my own blog about the living in a small European country, I also write about my favourite spots in Rotterdam for Spotted By Locals.
I have two children one 2 years old and another 2 months old, and they of course keep me busy, so my spare time activities have in the past two years been more centred on playgrounds and petting zoo’s. We do go to museums and exhibitions together. The Netherlands has probably the highest density of museums in the world – there’s a museum here for everything! I have a so-called Rotterdam Pas, which gives me free access to museums in and around the city, so even if the children’s attention span is only half an hour, its still affordable to visit museums.
How easy is it to “get away” and where do you escape to? Do you even feel the need to escape?
As most small European countries, the Netherlands is very well connected to the neighbouring countries and there are flight connections to every corner of the world, so yes, it is very easy to “get away”. As I mentioned, this small European country severely lacks wilderness, and it is of course known for its flatness. I love hiking in the mountains, so I do feel the need to escape the flat Dutch landscape every now and then. Fortunately, there is another small European country just around the corner – Belgium – that is more three-dimensional.
What is the local community like? Have you felt welcomed?
The first years after my arrival I spent studying at the Delft University of Technology. I jokingly say that Delft is a big university with a small town in it. As befits a technological institution, Delft is highly internationalized, so everyone’s accustomed to foreigners. I once checked the newspapers offered at the Delft train station and was a bit surprised to find no less than 9 in Russian – more than in Dutch! Of course, moving to a new place always takes adjustment, and I am not the easiest person to welcome, so my housemates sometimes raised an eyebrow about my habits and customs, but the Dutch have quite a few quirky habits themselves, so I’d say we’re even.
What advice would you give to someone thinking about moving to your small place, or to somewhere similar?
Even though the locals, especially in North-Western European countries like the Netherlands, speak fluent English, making meaningful connections in the local community is difficult if you do not speak the local language. And since the locals speak English well, and generally do not understand why would you want to learn their insignificant and difficult language, it is rather challenging to learn it – and the vicious circle is complete! I am fluent in Dutch but local people still try to speak English to me as soon as they spot a slight accent, weird but true.
The Dutch climate is best described as ‘moist’, so be prepared. Especially people from more stable climates and drier places have trouble imagining how the unpredictable weather can effect your daily life. For example, winter temperatures of 5 degrees feel much colder in the wet, windy Holland than -25 in, say, dry and sunny Novosibirsk, where I was born. Sure, here in the Netherlands it can be dry, sunny and warm. But (almost) never all 3 on the same day.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself and your family, and why/how you came to be living in your small place?
I am a “serial immigrant” – I was born in Novosibirsk, in what was then the Soviet Union, and when I was 12 we moved to Israel. I came to the Netherlands more than 12 years ago, to study Aerospace Engineering in Delft. The choice for Delft, and the Netherlands, was a bit random, in short, I could find arguments against studying in pretty much every other place but had no reasons not to go to Delft. I applied, was accepted, and here I am 12 years later, still studying in Delft (doing a PhD by now), married to a Dutch girl, with whom I have two children. My local friends now plague me for being the most assimilated foreigner in the country.
Thank you Michael for that insight into what looks like a really pleasant place to live (despite it’s petit size). Michael does include guest blogs from others living in small European countries on his blog so let him know if you’re interested. In the meantime, don’t forget to check out my review of Dutched Up if you want to find out more about living in the Netherlands as an expat; and to read my earlier posts on People Who Live in Small Places if you haven’t already done so: Mayotte, Gibraltar, a Small French Village and the Seychelles.