Monday, 21 September 2015

15 Habits for 15 Years in the Netherlands

As regular readers will already know this month marks fifteen years for me in the Netherlands. It's impossible to live in another country for fifteen years and not pick up the habits of the locals. Here's fifteen things I now do that I didn't do before I moved to the Netherlands*.

UFOs are just one Dutch habit I have picked up

1. Living local

I pretty much live life with everything on my doorstep. I walk six minutes with my children to get to school. In the Netherlands the average primary school child has to travel 700m to school. Within a few minutes on foot I can be at a number of supermarkets and even my local town is only twenty minutes walk. Life in the Netherlands (unless you head out to the sticks) is small scale and local. Hence, all the cycling. There's less jumping in your car for every little errand.

2. Breakfast

Once a week we sit together as a family and eat breakfast comprising of crackers, cheese, cold meats and a variety of things that come out of a jar - like jam and pindakaas. It's not the sort of breakfast I ever ate in England.

3. Stamppot

Once winter arrives the potato masher comes out and stamppot is firmly on the weekly menu. It's a Dutch staple served with sausage and gravy which matches well with my British upbringing - Shepherd's Pie and Cottage Pie were regularly served up for dinner. We Brits are no strangers to mashing up potatoes and vegetables so stamppot was an easy habit to pick up.

4. Soup

It may be my imagination, or my lack of culinary adventures back in Britain, but the Dutch seem to be more into making hearty vegetable soups from scratch than the Brits. You can buy everything you need in one packet in the supermarket so for the real cooking slouches you don't need to do any food preparation at all. A healthy and warming habit to have picked up - which incidentally my kids love and if there is an easy way of getting vegetables into them then it's a winner for me!

5. Natuurijs

I can not so much as remember a time I stood on a frozen body of water as a kid in England, let alone skated on one. Here in the Netherlands it's as normal in winter (weather permitting) as putting on your woolly hat and gloves. Watching the excitement of my children on natuurijs is something I will always treasure even when they're all big and grown up. I have even been known to venture out carefully to stand on the ice myself but certainly not going as far as putting ice skates on my own feet. (The habits I haven't adopted could probably fill another blog post.)

6. Hagelslag

Having a box of hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles) as a permanent feature in my kitchen cupboard is not a habit I am particularly proud of but I defy anyone with kids to live here and not have it lurking somewhere in the kitchen. In my defence, I am stricter with it than most other parents I know as my sons have it only on special occasions and not as their breakfast staple. However, you will always be able to find a box in my kitchen cupboard.

7. Country Hopping

Essentially, I grew up on an island. We visited Wales and in later years Ireland, but country hopping wasn't really something we did regularly because of the distance. And then I moved to the Netherlands - Belgium, France and Germany are practically on our doorstep. In our pre-children days my husband and I flitted off for weekends in one country or another on a regular basis. Sometimes, even just for a day. A nice habit right?

8. Supermarket Visits

This is related a little to the first habit. Supermarkets are close. I practically pass by after the school run so can pop in and grab things on my way home. My visits to the supermarket in England were strictly on a maximum of once a week basis. Frozen sections were large, even fifteen years ago in British supermarkets. In fact, supermarkets there on the whole were large fifteen years ago. Here in the Netherlands they are more local and smaller scale and the frozen food section generally nothing to write home about. It's all about fresh. The baker, the butcher and the cheesemaker (my blog - I can make up words to fit) are still well visited as part of the Dutch shopping rituals. So these days you'll find me in a supermarket or food shop more regularly than you would have done twenty years ago.

9. Orange Clothes

I am not sure if I ever wore anything orange prior to living in the land of the Dutch. It's now a habit to dress in orange at least once a year to celebrate the Dutch king's birthday. In-between there are football matches to dress in orange for - though sorry to say that 2016 is not looking like one of those years........

10. Sinterklaas

Before landing on Dutch shores I had never even heard of Sinterklaas. Now I am an enthusiastic celebrator on the 5th December - and I have got used to hearing Sinterklaas songs for the month prior to the big celebration and three months after he has left the country whilst the children try to get out of the habit of singing "Sie ginds komt een stoomboot..." every morning. Some habits you just have to grin and bear.......

11. Pancakes

We eat pancakes probably once a month. In England this was an annual affair on Shrove Tuesday. It took me a long time here to accept pancakes covered with sprinkles as my sons' dinner. But every now and then I just let it slide, tuck my Britishness away in my pocket and watch them devour pancakes as their evening meal. It's called integrating I guess.....

12. Living life in Dutch

Obviously in England my life was conducted in the English language. My days now usually comprise talking in Dutch. I talk to my sons' teachers in Dutch, I talk to people in the shops in Dutch, I greet and chat with my neighbours in Dutch. It's one of the hardest habits I have picked up, but also one of the most necessary and one of the most rewarding.

13. Watching TV with subtitles

I no longer think anything of watching a TV program spoken in Swedish, Danish or German because shows are subtitled with Dutch. The Dutch, thank goodness, do not dub TV programs (with the exception of children's programs), instead TV shows have Dutch subtitles. Not only is it a great way of picking up Dutch vocabulary, it also became such a normal thing that I miss them when they are not on my screen. And I am so used to reading them as I watch TV that the spoken language can change from English and I barely notice anymore.

14. Snacks

Before moving to the Netherlands the most exotic things I saw deep fried were fish and sausages - and I had of course heard about the infamous Mars Bar. The Dutch take deep fried food to a whole new level and have made an art of all things deep fried under the label of 'snacks'. I affectionately refer to snacks as UFOs - Unidentified Fried Objects. You don't want to know what is in the middle of one of those fried snacks you order at the snack bar. It's a habit I get dragged along with as I am married to a Dutchman, and Dutch people like snacks. I remember my first snack bar experience - it was confusing and stressful. Being asked the question, "What would you like?" whilst faced with a billion unfamiliar things in the cooler before me was harrowing......

15. ADO Den Haag

My most recent habit that has formed is my regular attendance at the Kyocera Stadium in The Hague to watch my local eredivisie club ADO Den Haag play football. Aside, from my actual Dutch home, it's become the place I feel most at home in the Netherlands. It's my favourite habit to date.

*This post was inspired by 7 habits for 7 years in Germany by Let the Journey Begin

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Algemeen Dagblad Interview: Expats in Zoetermeer

Yesterday's edition of The Hague's Algemeen Dagblad featured an article about the growing number of expats in Zoetermeer. I was contacted on Thursday to ask if I would answer a few questions on the topic. One thing led to another and on Friday a photographer came around to take a picture. The photo session involved Colman's mustard, Marmite, English tea, a copy of Dutched Up!: Rocking the Clogs Expat Style, British teaspoons, a blanket adorned with the British flag and a plastic British. It was mind blowingly weird. 

This was the result.......

Watch this space for more on this!

Monday, 14 September 2015

15 Years in the Netherlands: England is Like A House I Once Lived In

I piled everything I owned into the back of a borrowed Dutch police trailer and moved across the North Sea to live in a country I knew little about. I left England, my birth country, and started life as an expat. Fifteen years later England is no longer home; it feels like a house I used to live in.  

In the streets outside this house I once lived in I see images from my childhood, of tennis matches played on the road and I hear the laughter that only children caught up in a fantasy world of play can make. I walk in the front door to be flooded with memories.

There's a hallway where we hung our coats and kicked off our shoes, but now I see only unfamiliar footwear and coats that I would never wear.

The kitchen is in the same place it always was but it has been revamped and smells of food I never ate.

The living room, albeit with a different shade on the walls and a new carpet, bears a resemblance to the room we occupied as a young family, gathered around the TV or chatting about our day.

And yes, the bathroom is almost the same, looking just a little grubbier and more worn than it once did, and there are toiletries littered on the shelves that I do not use.

The garden brings back fond memories of English summers, BBQ’s with friends and lazy afternoons on the lawn. However, my parents never planted that row of conifers, and roses blossom where we used to keep patio chairs. The shed we kept our bikes in has gone completely.

I know it is a house I have lived in, it breeds familiarity, but someone came in and redecorated. Somebody rearranged the furniture, planted new shrubs and flowers and erased the little touches that made it my place. I know my way around but it is clear I don’t live there anymore. It's not my home. It's been a long time since it has been my home. 

When we drive through the rolling English countryside I realise I miss hills and a landscape that provides variety. When I am pushing my trolley around the one-stop supermarket, it reinforces my yearning to shop every week surrounded by such choice and variety, surrounded by foodstuffs I grew up with.  When we pass a traditional English pub, tucked back on a country road tempting the passer-by with Sunday roast dinners, I cannot deny happy memories flood back, and the desire to have such a stop-off on my doorstep again is overwhelming.

Yet the overwhelming truth is this, when I am back in England I feel like a visitor. It is no longer my home. People I love live there but I no longer have a base there. When we get into our car and make our way back to Dover to catch the Eurotunnel back over to mainland Europe, or head to Harwich to get the ferry back to Hoek van Holland I know I am heading home.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Food is Not Just Food When You're an Expat

As a child there was nothing more magical for me than the sound of the ice cream man playing in the distance, the gentle jingle getting louder as he approached my street. My brother and I would run inside to ransack purses and beg and plead to scrape together enough change to buy a '99' each and we'd run back outside clutching the coins in our clammy hands and join the excited queue of neighbourhood children. The anticipation of getting that cone in our hands, of hungrily licking the soft ice cream and biting into that chocolate flake. The summers of my childhood.

That was the image invoked when I opened the package sent to me by the British Corner Shop (BCS) and I pulled out a pack of Cadbury's Flakes. (*I received a free hamper of British goodies from the British Corner Shop in exchange for writing a blog post. All product links are links to BCS*).

When you are an expat food takes on an unusual ability to evoke a sense of home, to stir up memories long forgotten, to instil a feeling of familiarity and comfort. Food from your 'home' country becomes more than just food; it prompts emotions.

Take the Pot Noodle Chicken and Mushroom nestled in the hamper sent to me by the British Corner Shop. Personally I don't eat Pot Noodles, I'm not sure I ever have but the picture of a kettle on the pot (the one meaning you just need to add boiling water to the pot) made me giggle. Why on earth is that I hear you ask.... well it evokes a memory stored deep in my data banks, one from the time I attended university.

I have a friend, who will remain nameless (but you know who you are) who fancied a spot of Ambrosia rice pudding whilst in his halls of residence room. He wanted hot Ambrosia rice pudding. So he heated it up in his kettle. Needless to say he needed to invest in a new kettle and he never got to enjoy that particular tin of rice pudding. Three words: rice pudding explosion. It's hard looking at a tin of rice pudding, or the picture of a kettle on a Pot Noodle, even twenty years on without thinking of him.

And talking of Pot Noodles, as I was, the Pot Noodle in the hamper did not go to waste. My Dutch husband took it to work for his lunch. His verdict? "Best wel lekker!" A Pot Noodle convert.

The box also contained goodies that took me back to my early expat days - the days when the only flavour crisps you could get here in the Netherlands comprised paprika and ready salted. Crisps were a standard part of my shopping list when I went back to England: notably prawn cocktail and salt and vinegar flavours for my Dutch husband who had quickly picked up a British crisp taste too.

Oxo Beef Stock Cubes were also a standard part of my expat shopping list - there was something about the way they crumble, which Dutch stock 'rectangles' don't do. And of course the nostalgia of Lynda Bellingham as the Oxo mum during the 1980s. There's that too.

Food when you are an expat takes on a whole new meaning. It's not just a stock cube, a bag of crisps or a stick of chocolate - it's a short trip down memory lane, a few fleeting seconds back in your childhood, a comforting reminder of a country you no longer live in.

All readers of Expat Life with a Double Buggy can claim £15 off their first order with the British Corner Shop on orders over £75 up until the 28th February 2016 using the discount code:


Sunday, 6 September 2015

My Life in the Netherlands Started Fifteen Years Ago Today

The sun-faded oranges and reds of the shipping containers emblazoned with white letters that line the dock edge are the first things I see from my vantage point on the outside deck of the freight ferry as it comes into port.

The clouds above Hoek van Holland are brewing, changing tones of grey before my eyes in the early morning haze.

The ants scurrying in the distant a few minutes ago metamorphose into dockworkers in orange fluorescent jackets scampering around the port.

Distant shouts in a foreign tongue echo and reach my ears, intermingled with a smoker’s voice announcing something in Dutch over the tannoy speakers.

“Okay, she says we can go back to the car,” my future husband translates for me.

We join a pack of lorry drivers in their uniform of stretched jeans and checked shirts with buttons that threaten to pop at any second heading for the vehicle decks below, all of us jostling for room on the metal stairs.

We are all eager to return to our cars and trucks to get the next stage of our journey underway and leave the confines of the ferry behind. The next stage of my journey. My new life in the Netherlands.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Dutched Up! is Now a Real Live Book

Yes, it's a little like Gepetto waving Pinnochio around but this is more about 'e-book into real live paper hold in your hand book' than it is about 'wooden puppet into a real live boy'.

I am so excited to announce that you can now get your hands on a copy of Dutched Up! as a paperback book. Of course, reading it on your Kindle was fun but in my humble opinion nothing beats holding an actual real book in your hands.

The authors of Dutched Up! have been collectively holding their breath in anticipation over the past few months as the printing process went on behind the scenes. But we are (you'll be glad to know) all breathing once more as the books rolled hot off the presses into our grubby little hands.

And of course you'll all be wondering where on earth you can get your own grubby mitts on a copy of this wonderful book, this collaboration of literary geniuses telling expat life like it is in the Netherlands, this showpiece for expat life, this collection of...... you get the picture. Read on for a list pf places you can get hold of a copy.......

But first - who needs this book? Well, it's a book you need to have on your bookshelf if:
  • you are an expat in the Netherlands
  • you are soon to be an expat in the Netherlands
  • you could at some point in the future be an expat in the Netherlands
  • you want to be an expat in the Netherlands
  • you dream of becoming an expat in the Netherlands
  • you know an expat in the Netherlands
  • you have a friend who knows an expat in the Netherlands
  • you are Dutch and wonder how female expats experience life in the Netherlands
  • you have any kind of tenuous link to the Netherlands and want to read about life in the Netherlands
  • you like reading about expat life
  • you life reading about the Netherlands
  • you love reading funny, poignant, interesting and informational stories
  • you like reading
  • you like filling your bookshelves with beautiful books
  • you have eyes
Convinced? Ok - here's where to head for your very own copy:

  • Online at or

  • Or from

  • And last but not least - if you are local to Zoetermeer then get in touch as I have a few spare copies to sell!