July is an awesome summer month and we are featuring an amazing American woman who has been living in Haarlem for the past 5 years! Please welcome Lauren from the United States!
She moved to Haarlem with her husband in 2013, she is the owner of A Taste of Home, an import food shop, in her opinion the best thing about being an expat is to gain new perspectives on life, culture and custom. She enjoys a good broodje bal and ice cream from Chocolaterie Pierre while listening to the church bells of the Grote Kerk.
Where are you from?
I am an American citizen, born in Cincinnati Ohio where I lived until I was 8 years old. However, I consider the state of Arizona my childhood home, as I lived there from 8-18, before leaving for California, which I consider my adult home! My husband is also American and we moved to Haarlem from San Francisco in October 2013.
Why did you leave your home country?
As a 12-year-old, I visited a small village in Italy called Padua with my best friend who had family living there. We stayed for a month and it was an entirely eye-opening experience for me as to life outside the States. I always consider that what inspired me to move abroad.
How did you end up in the Netherlands?
When looking for jobs, my husband and I considered many places around Europe, we settled on the Netherlands because the location on mainland Europe (we ride motorbikes and it makes it fairly easier to get around to other places abroad instead of say, living in Dublin, etc)
Why did you choose to live in Haarlem?
When we made the decision to move to the Netherlands, we had Irish friends – whom we actually met while they were living on their 18-month visa in San Francisco! – who had since relocated back to Europe and settled in Haarlem. They told us how much more calm, charming, and homelike Haarlem felt compared to the other cities in the area.
How do you cope with being away from home?
I think the question would be better suited as how DID I cope, the first 8 months after moving were hellish. I was warned by our friends about this adjustment period and I too now warn freshly landed expats that the first 8 months are the hardest. I now cope with being away from home by using technology to bring me closer to family and friends! I must say, as much as I enjoy handwritten letters, nothing compares to a great FaceTime video call with my parents. Especially while I am out and about in Haarlem!
If you found it hard to settle down in another place what were the things that helped you get over the hard times?
The things I found that helped me settle in was learning the language and getting to know our neighbours. It helped me create a feeling of being home in a new place.
What do you do for a living?
I am the owner of A Taste of Home, an import food shop on the Gedempte Oude Gracht in Haarlem! I’ve had the shop for a little over 3 years now and I truly love it. I get to meet people from all over the world, both tourists and immigrants and hear their stories and learn what products they’d like to see in my store!
Do you have a hobby or any other activity you enjoy doing?
I do, but I must say my hobbies have adapted since moving here. In California, my husband and I enjoyed motorbiking/off-road biking through the hills and winding trails. However, we found the Netherlands to not be as exciting for motorbiking so now we try to visit a new Dutch city every weekend and explore a museum or bring our e-bikes and cycle the ANWB biking routes! In addition to changing our motorbiking hobby, we also had to adapt our idea of hiking. Instead, now we look for interesting history-rich city hikes, or travel to the beautiful Dutch Veluwe National Park and experience the wildlife there. The Veluwe is only a little more than an hour drive from Haarlem!
In your opinion what is the hardest thing being an expat?
The fact that as much as we try to assimilate and become a local (or not), we will never be truly Dutch – or whatever nationality it may be where you reside. That comes with its struggles, as well as its rewards. No matter how long we end up staying in Holland though, we will always have had such a rewarding experience – moving abroad.
In your opinion what is the best thing about being an expat?
The most incredible part of immigrating to another country, whether temporary or permanent, you gain a new perspective on so many levels. Life, culture, and custom. Workplaces abroad, or studies abroad. Every single aspect of your life, while perhaps not completely different – positively or negatively, is, in fact, different from what you have been raised within our own country.
Do you have a good/funny/nice/heartwarming story about Haarlem and the locals? What is it?
When my husband and I first moved into our first rental home just 4 weeks after arriving in Holland we were quite surprised how “the neighbours to the right” came by and introduced themselves and brought beers upon our first night in our new home. But not realizing that we should perhaps introduce ourselves to “neighbour to the left” we went on for about 6 months never meeting or speaking with them. Fast forward a year later while at a New Year’s party of another neighbour of ours, “the left neighbour” Marcel was there and after a few beers in him, he told us, “when you moved in I thought you hated me! You never introduced yourselves, so I thought you were just arrogant Americans!”. I told Marcel jokingly, “we didn’t know! In America, we never introduced ourselves to our neighbours like that because we are scared we get chased away as the crazy newcomers!” Let it be known, we are very good friends with him now, and have since spent many ‘Old-Nieuwe’ nights together blowing up many fireworks!
What are the things you love most about living in the Netherlands, Dutch people and the culture in general?
Hands down (or should I say feet down) bicycling. The freedom to go across town (as it’s a very small country) or even the largest metropolitan areas and still have it be easily accessible by bike is just astonishing to me. I grew up in a town where our city blocks were a mile (1.6km) each!
Do you have a favourite Dutch dish you would recommend?
As a child, and even today when people ask me what my favourite food is I say meatballs! Because there are so many ways to make and eat a simple round ball of meat (or vegetarian products!) I really enjoy the dutch ‘broodje bal’ or meatball sandwich! My favourite one comes from @Lindas on Pijlslaan in the Houtvaartkwartier neighbourhood, or just across from my shop at the Het Broodje Huis! Ask for it with the mustard sauce! Verrukkelijk!
What are the things you like most about Haarlem?
I love how Haarlem somehow retains its village feel while having over 150k+ inhabitants! I find it nearly impossible to go out to run errands or just cycling around town, at any time of day and not see at least one person I recognize!
What is your favourite Haarlem moment?
Walking around on a warm summer night with ice cream from Chocolaterie Pierre and listening to the Grote Kerk bells chiming at 9 pm. I get this moment, all too often perhaps!
What are the favourite places you like to go out to eat and/or drink in Haarlem?
I adore the food at Tierney’s Irish Pub on Spekstraat. It’s not only Irish fare but just darn good – what I would consider – soul food! You go in expecting standard pub fare, but you’ll be blown away by the flavour and selection. I recommend having a meal on Thirsty Thursday – you can enjoy a freshly made pie (weekly varying flavours) and a pint!
What do you think are the must-see locations in Haarlem?
The rooftop patio area at La Place on the top floor of the Hudson Bay (the old V&D building) is a must see views of the city. It’s an unbeatable view of the whole area on clear days you can see all the way to Amsterdam, the dunes and beyond!
If you could give only one piece of advice to fellow expats who are new to Haarlem what would it be?
One piece of advice is hard. I’ll give one answer instead! Trade bicycling for your walking shoes when you are new to the city, grab a map, learn the buildings, alleyways, and streets. Get acquainted with the businesses in town, the people and the history! Enjoy!
You can find out more information about A Taste of Home here.