Amsterdam Canal

Amsterdam Canal by Steppinstars (CC0 1.0)

In the first of our new series of posts about blending in like a local, we journey to Amsterdam.

Being amongst the cities that welcome the largest number of tourists in Europe annually, Amsterdam is definitely a tourist hotspot. However, unlike other cities such as Paris and London, Amsterdam has no large, world-famous landmarks, but is mainly known for its culture and liberal mindset.

This can make it rather hard for expats to know the difference between what is pretending to be local and what is really local. Below you will find some tips and information on how you can blend into Amsterdam like a local and not stand out like a tourist.

Cycle like a Dutchie

First the bike of course. It’s not so hard to ride a bike, although in Amsterdam it can be quite a challenge. Even though the city has an extensive network of cycle lanes, the roads are very busy with traffic and trams and in the city centre you will rarely be the only cyclist on the path. The Dutch follow several basic rules for cyclists, such as sticking out your hand left or right when you turn and ringing the bell when you are going to pass someone.

Bicyle traffic light Amsterdam

Bicycle traffic light by Claudia Regina (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Usually, cyclists do not cycle on normal roads, unless there is no other option, for instance in smaller streets. At night (from the moment the street lights go on), by law you must have lights on your bike. Many Amsterdammers use an old and rusty bike that is less likely to get stolen or to end up on the bottom of one of the grachten (canals). Be smart and do not buy an expensive new bike!

Know where (not) to go

Squares and streets such as Leidseplein, Waterlooplein and Damrak are always full of tourists and locals tend to avoid going out for dinner or drinks here. Mostly because it will be expensive, but also because there are much nicer and more authentic places to go. Try Rembrandtplein, Nieuwmarkt and the 9 streets. Also, have a look around the Oosterpark and in the Jordaan area for trendy bars and restaurants. Usually the Dutch round up the total when paying a bill to give the waiter a tip.

Foodies

Dutch people love food from all over the world. The cuisines of many countries and cultures are represented in Amsterdam and your Dutch friends will probably love it when you cook something exotic for them. The Dutch cuisine in general is practical: filling, healthy, easy and affordable. A very traditional Dutch dish is stamppot: mashed potatoes with vegetables and stew.

Streets of Amsterdam

Streets of Amsterdam by Samir Verdiyev (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Most people have dinner between 6 and 7 pm, followed by a coffee at 8 pm whilst watching the news. Lunch is typically at 1 pm often consists of a boterham, which is sandwich-like bread, spread with butter and, for example, cheese, jam, peanut butter or chocolate sprinkles on top. They are prepared at home in the morning and then taken to work or school.

East, West, South are best

Generally speaking, Amsterdammers tend to ignore the north part of the city, Amsterdam-Noord, which is on the other side of the IJ lake and therefore not considered to be part of the city. However, there is one exception, which is the NDSM-werf. This dockyard looks like a post-apocalyptic film set and it features lots of trendy bars, restaurants and festivals which are popular amongst the many hipster people that live in Amsterdam. The area can be reached by a ferry that departs from the back of the Central Station. Of course you can bring your bike (and your boterham).

Complaints

Dutch people love to complain. Not only about the unpredictable weather, but really about everything. They also tend to like a bit of self-mockery. Do not be afraid to express your opinion and share your words of complaint, but be careful with saying anything bad about the Dutch themselves! Jokes about Belgium are acceptable!

Language

The last tip: learning Dutch can be tough, but it is highly recommended when living in the Netherlands. Even though most people will speak some English, of course they feel more comfortable speaking their own language. Besides, it is the best way to discover the Dutch culture in general. Some basic Dutch phrases can be found here.

Hopefully this information will help you to enhance your experience as an expatriate in Amsterdam! Have a look in our Netherlands country guide for more useful information on living in Amsterdam and the Netherlands.

Giant's Causeway, Ireland by Eva Arjona

Giant’s Causeway, Ireland by Eva Arjona

For our September expat interview we head to beautiful Northern Ireland. Rich in history and stunning scenery, we spoke to Spanish/French expat, Eva Arjona. Eva has been volunteering in Northern Ireland while practising her English and exploring the Irish countryside.

Easy question to start! Tell us about yourself.

Hello! My name is Eva Arjona, I’m 25 years old and I’m Spanish and French. I love languages and travelling around the world. Also I love to meet people from different countries and to learn about their culture. I have lived in Spain most of my life, but I’ve also lived in France for two years and I’m currently living in Northern Ireland.

Why did you move to Northern Ireland?

Because I was studying a master’s in translation and I had to improve my English. Also the other reason was because I spent six years studying at university and I wanted to do something different for one year, so I decided to volunteer with the European Voluntary Service (EVS).

What is the best thing about where you live now?

Can I say two? I have two best things: the people and the landscapes. So first of all, I really like the Northern Irish people. For me, they are really different from the British. They are very humble and simple (in the good way!), they will always try to make you feel comfortable and they will invite you to their houses very easily. Also they are very smiley and they love laughing. For me, Northern Ireland is a “wee” happy country!

Also I love landscapes! Northern Ireland is a country with plenty of places that are magical for me! For example, Giant’s Causeway is wonderful at sunset. All the north coast (or “The Port” as the Northern Irish say) is a beautiful place where you can relax and enjoy many different views! There is a place called Mussenden Temple, it’s a small chapel on a cliff, many people propose or even get married in this place and I understand why because it is perfect!

What (if anything) do you miss about home?

As I said before, I’m Spanish, and the weather is very important for me. Northern Ireland is a country where it rains “almost” all the time. I know that nobody can change this but if there is something that I really miss about home, it is my Spanish sun.

If you could change one thing about where you live, what would it be?

I would say the way that the people eat. I think that most of the people over there don’t have a large variety of food and they eat all the time! So I would like to change these habits to healthier ones.

Do you plan on moving again in the future? If so, where and why.

Yes, I’m always moving! This is my third year moving to three different countries. My next step is to finish my master’s that I’m doing in France. So, I’ll move back to France when my time in Northern Ireland is over.

Share your most embarrassing expat moment with us! 

I can’t remember another embarrassing moment because this one isn’t that good! So I was watching a documentary about sea-life with my housemates (a German girl and a Northern Irish guy). And I was talking about whales but I couldn’t remember the name of the animal “seal” in English. So I was trying to ask to my housemates what was the name of this animal, but they thought that I was asking about the whales. I thought in Spanish it is “foca” and in French is “phoque” so it has to be something similar. So I tried to said something like: The animal is a “fffoock”, they started to laugh but I continued until I realised that the word that I was trying to said was really similar to the “F” word. After that my housemate was saying to everybody, “ask me how you say “seal” in French”!

What was the most difficult aspect of moving abroad?

I’m used to being away from my family and even if I miss my family I’m not a homesick person. But the most difficult aspect is when one of your family members or a close friend has a very difficult situation or is in bad health, and you can’t be by their side when they need you.

Share your top three pieces of advice for people thinking about moving to Northern Ireland.

I will say that:

  • The Northern Irish are really friendly, so be friendly with them and you will have good relationships!
  • Enjoy every second of your time there because you never know when you will be back to this lovely country again.
  • Take time to understand their culture and history. Northern Ireland is very small but their history is very important and essential to understand how they think.
South Korea Seoul expat advice

Ivan Herman / CC BY-ND 3.0

The Republic of Korea, commonly known as (South) Korea, is fast becoming a top expat destination, partly due to its captivating city life and mountainous landscape. So here’s some advice for expats on how to get the most out of your time in the ‘Land of the Morning Calm’.

When moving to Korea, you could find yourself in Seoul living a life in a cosmopolitan fusion of ancient culture and modern sophistication or the Gangwon-do Province as a skiing fanatic enjoying the abundance of snowfall the area has to offer. Wherever you decide to settle in Korea, this Asian peninsula will not fail to impress.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites are dotted all over the country so you’ll not be short of beautifully cared-for monuments to gaze upon. A wonderful chance to catch a glimpse of Korea of the past is to visit the Jongmyo Shrine in Seoul, which was built in 1394. A charming blend of musicians, scholars and dancers would perform to worship the deceased Joseon Dynasty Kings and Queens and these ceremonial rituals are still enacted today in their original form.

When in need of information or assistance, whether locating accommodation in Daegu, trying to communicate with a taxi driver or finding out what’s happening in Seoul this weekend, just call 1330. It’s a free phone service, initially set up by the Korea Tourism Board to help tourists, which has become a lifeline for expats in Korea.

In Korea, a priceless tip is not to tip! Nobody tips in Korea and the service in restaurants and bars is still good. In fact, if you tip, you may confuse or even startle the waiter as they won’t understand the concept. Better still, hierarchy plays a role when at dinner with local Korean citizens; the eldest tends to be the first to eat and the one to pay for the entire meal. Of course, a group of friends will expect to simply split the bill. Check out our hints and tips tool for further advice on living in Korea, written by other expats.

You should integrate parts of your daily routine from your home country into your new expat life. If you had Sunday brunch with friends at home, establish this as a routine in Korea. You’ll keep a sense of who you are and it’ll give you a great way to socialise. There are plenty of other ways to make friends in Korea too. Expat communities are very well established and they organise social events, trips, volunteer work—you name it, they’ve got it!


This guest blog post was written by Expat Explorer, brought to you by HSBC Expat.