Living In Amsterdam - Part One

Unlike when I moved to Italy, I went to Amsterdam without a plan and a very badly packed suitcase. It was, after all, a rash decision. I didn’t know much about Holland or the Netherlands. I had a look on Google Maps to see what Amsterdam looked like. I'd heard about it being full of canals and wonky houses, but in all honesty, I'd never really been interested in visiting the city before because of the stories of sex and drugs! (Yes, I’ll get into that at some point later!)  

It was a bit of a bumpy start because Giuseppe had a job and I didn’t, so for housing, we had to find a few temporary fixes to tide us over whilst I got myself one of those job things that everyone seems to have in Amsterdam. Finding a temporary apartment in the city can be really tricky! All the housing agents we approached said no because I wasn't working. We ended up turning to facebook groups, posting our happy, innocent-looking faces with a story of just how tidy, organised and professional we both were!  

Luckily Giuseppe found someone that would happily let us stay at his apartment, whilst he was away. Great! A three-week stay was sorted and time to job search!  

Turns out, Amsterdam has tons of jobs! Jobs galore! But, you need to speak an additional language. Preferably Dutch (obviously) but, if you can speak another fancy or useful language like German, French and Spanish, then you’re in for a good chance of landing a job faster than Mr or Mrs One Language, or if, like me, you chose to learn the most useless language in the fancy language family, Italian. When they ask in an application, “Do you speak another language?” I might as well write NOPE because the Dutch are not impressed! (Sorry Italians! Don’t be all offended. I mean, come on! I leave Italy, then what? Where can I speak Italian? I sometimes hope that I find a little, lost Italian somewhere so I can help out and make use of my skills)  

Anyway. I spent my first days skipping through a lot of jobs that said:  

  • Must speak a second language (translates as "must speak a useful language") 
  • Must have a degree - if it said "desired" I sent my application anyway! Nothing came back. Oops. 
  • Dutch Speaker only - Unfortunately only being able to say “Hello” doesn’t classify as fluent. 
  • Or things that bored me to death when reading the description.  

It got to a point where I thought I might put my innocent, happy face on some Facebook pages for Amsterdam to write about how professional, reliable and how "great under pressure" I am. To explain how organised, hardworking and dedicated I am. I just oose professionalism and want to work so hard to make money for the business owner! (I can’t find the photo used but, trust me! That photo said all of the above!)  

While waiting for a response, I thought I would get to know the local area a little more! I thought I would be adventurous and head out to buy my own shampoo! The good thing about Amsterdam is that if you don’t speak any Dutch, it doesn’t matter! Plus, the Dutch like to get the job done so if they are gonna have to spend time listening to you speak the slowest Dutch in the world, they will switch to English straight away and get to the point quickly. Not to be rude, but to be efficient.  

Anyway back to me buying shampoo. Well, as you know I didn’t speak a word of Dutch, so I just went into the shop and asked where the shampoo was. Now, the shopkeeper took interest in me and was talking about the weather and asking what I will be doing that day. I thought it was a bit strange but I found out he was trying to figure out where my accent was from. He asked me “But, I still cannot place it, I am sorry but your accent please?” I laughed and said “I am from the UK, so I have a British accent”  He stood there confused. “How long have you been in Holland?” He asked. “Just over a week”. With that, he looked at me all shocked as he exchanged the money for my shampoo replied “Wow, you have lost your British accent really fast”  

Oh, come on! A lot of people don’t realise that there are different accents in my country so I usually get asked if I am a German, Polish or a Hungarian person speaking in English. Nope not me, I have a Yorkshire accent. However, It might sound a bit funny after living for around 6 years outside the UK. 


See, I am sidetracking again. Luckily I found a job or should I say, someone believed all the things I wrote on Facebook and passed my details on to the CEO of a company. Great! Now, getting the interview leads me on to buying a bike!  

Now in Amsterdam, your bike is your car! You become so reliant on it, attached to it and it becomes your baby. You can see my bike here in the photo, I mean what a beauty!

Yes, I know.. Not the best photography but, when I took the photo I didn't think about making sure the background was clear and the wheel wasn't cut off, so you could see a nice photo of her. It is the only one I could find, so try to see past my terrible photography. Also, in this photo, I had just bought a pop-up tent and a sleeping bag, if you are wondering what's in the trunk!

Amsterdam has one of the lowest crime rates in Europe and probably in the world, so don’t worry it is a safe place to live. However, don’t go buying yourself a fancy, new bike thinking “oooh it’s my car, I will be using it every day, it needs to be all fancy and expensive” That type of thinking will make you poor, fast!  

Bike theft is so common in Amsterdam that the police are like “oh another? Add it to the pile”  

I would suggest getting your bike second hand and not spending over €60. If you buy one for around that price you won’t care too much if it gets stolen and you can easily get yourself another, maybe even the same day!  

I had a look around the second-hand shops but they cost a bomb! Rusty, old bikes for around €120 and a man telling me it's a good price, works like new! Hmm, I think I’ll hop on the good old Facebook groups again!  

The good thing about The Dam is that almost everything centres around Facebook, so if you are looking for something in particular, then there is probably a group for it! I needed a bike and seen as there are expats coming and going each week, there is always someone who has to leave soon and wants to sell their bike. I found some beauties on there! But, remember - if it is any lower than €40, I would say that it is probably stolen.  

The great thing about cycling in Amsterdam is that you get your own little roads and traffic lights and on the roundabouts, you have priority and the cars, buses and trams must give way to you! Now, if you are a tourist, please don’t let that go to your head! Bikes do have priority in Amsterdam, however, for the locals, tourists do not! Be careful, the Dutch won’t stop for you! (Neither will the expats that live there, once they have lived there long enough and have adopted the ‘no mercy’ approach)  

I have seen some amazing things that the Dutch do with their bikes. From mothers carrying three children on her bike at rush hour to a naked bike tour! Really, you will see it all. Here’s a little video to show you some of their riding skills!  

  

When I got my first bike I went for a ride around the city and it was like I had found a new freedom! No more trams that don’t go the route you want to, so you have to change 3 times and spend over €5 a day! It is a joy to ride around. I mean, who wouldn’t be happy to pass by something like:  

Or this  

The buildings are amazing! You can’t feel bad being surrounded by buildings that look like they came straight out of a fairytale on your way to work, out shopping or just going for a walk.  


Anyway, where was I before I got caught up talking to you about bikes? Ah yes, I was buying a bike to get to an interview! I arrived there on my new bike, completely out of breath because I don’t think I had cycled that far in my adult years before! I remember it being so much easier as a child. Anyhow, The job was for a small company in Amsterdam and in the interview, the CEO didn’t think I was right for the role (fine, whatever) but he wanted to hire me yet wasn’t sure what he would like to offer. Could this be more confusing?  

I went along with it because, let's face it, not like I had jobs offers being thrown at me at this point. We were laughing about this and that and, like every time, being part Irish comes up because of my name. So, I thought it perfectly reasonable to teach him how to say “Kiss my ass” in Gaelic. Which, for your curiosity is “póg mo thóin”. Turned out that this was one of the reasons I go the job! Go ahead, swear in your interview today!  

I ended up being entitled “Management Assistant and Back Office Support” Which is a fancy title for “Do A Bit Of Everything and Don’t Worry I’ll Sort It”, When people asked me what my job role was, I had no idea how to answer. I gave them “Office Assistant” this way I didn’t have to explain anything and the boring title didn’t invite them to ask for more.  

But, seeing as your dying to know! We were a small office of 4 people. We had a J-1 Visa manager, who handled J-1 Visas (believe it or not), we had 2 placement managers, who handled intakes and internship placements (again, believe it or not) Then there was me.

I was Mrs Assistant/Support - so I obviously did:  

- Intakes for Au Pair program  

- Interviewing/screening au pairs  

- Marking their application forms and tests  

- Beginning - a midterm and a final feedback for all au pairs, interns, trainee and J1 Visa applicants  

- J1-Visa Au Pair (for the USA)  

- Working Holiday Visa - Australia  

- Training Visa - Australia  

- Creating Arrival packages - Australia  

- Creating Intern and Trainee job descriptions  

- Occasionally Work and Travel Visas and programs  

- Invoicing interns and trainees  

- Accounts - Logging payments/invoices and follow-ups for late payments  

- Social Media (badly, I never had time to look for content)  

- Content writing for the website  

- Creating folders for the CEO  

- Document checks and corrections - Resumes, Cover letters, relevant qualifications and ID  

Clearly, it was equal work amongst the team.  


On my first day, my boss asked me for my sizes (dress size) and I was like “HUH?” and he went all red saying “not for anything strange, it is for a wetsuit. We are going to enter that Amsterdam City Swim and would like you to join us”  

This swim is for charity and happens every year, through the golden age canals of Amsterdam! It sounds wonderful when you put it like that but if you keep your chin in the water too long you will come out with a green beard from the ‘lovely’ water in the canals. However, It was an amazing experience! It does happen every year, so if you wanna give it a try you can go on the website which is: http://www.amsterdamcityswim.nl

Well, I got my wetsuit and I was expecting it to be like the one I used to wear when I went to Cornwall to bodyboarding with my family. Bodyboarding is a thing! Before you say anything see HERE. Anyway, don’t distract me! The suits we got were really lightweight and almost like a soft sponge! That soft that in training when I was pulling my legs (of the suit) up, my nail cut out a chunk. Oops.  

In all honesty, when I agreed to the swim I was really worried. I was a terrible swimmer and all I could think about was just how far 2 kilometres were to swim, especially when you can just about manage 20 lengths in a pool it doesn’t fill you with confidence. This was gonna be a challenge and I remember wanting to go back up to the office and say, “hey, I just don’t think I can”  

Training started! The City Swim organisers don’t expect you to just jump in on the day and get it over and done with. They provided training sessions every Monday at the bottom of the Amstel river and you can swim around and look forward to getting out for a nice cold drink of coke, a hot cup of coffee or even grab yourself a pint after (although Dutch pints have more head than beer in them)  

So, here we are at our first training session, I am the one in the hat! The lady laughing is my good friend Rebecca (J1-visa manager), the guy with me is the Placement Manager and the tall guy is The Boss. Great, now we know who everyone is I can tell you that all three of them left me behind on our first training day! They are all really good swimmers and the boss man was floating along next to me whilst I was actually swimming, and he was floating at the same speed, HOW?  

Anyway they left me behind and I think they lapped me a fair few, even grandmas were lapping me, oh dear, swimming isn’t my best point!  

After around five weeks of training, I had raised over €400 for ALS -Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and as a team over €1000 which was awesome! So, here I am with a duck on my head! It is important to have something to make you stand out because we all had black swimsuits and silver hats! How you gonna know who is me? Apart from being the one everyone takes over.  

Swimming around the canals was so much fun! You completely forget that it is 2k. I think it took us like 2 hours because I was waving at everyone, stopping for photos and laughing so much! I must report at this point that I did, in fact, overtake someone and I was so happy about it! Celebrating and I turned to see who I had triumphed against and it was a little old lady taking her time. Hmm, well let's not consider those details and just focus on the fact that I overtook someone, ok?  

There was a point where something rather suspect and brown floated passed Rebecca’s head and was making its way towards me and, just like in a movie where the victim can run as fast Usain Bolt, the bad person trying to get them is walking and still keeping up with them! It was like that! I was like “nooooo” and I just couldn’t get away!  

Thankfully, it didn’t touch me so you can relax! Not long after that, I got hit in the head by a show-off, doing the front crawl and then as he was at the side of me I accidentally kicked him in the balls! Wait! He hit me first and mine was an accident I swear! Don’t you judge me!  

Anyhow, we came down the last straight like we had just won at the Olympics and everyone was there to welcome us down the home straight! My parents freaked out because, apparently, I came upon the live feedback home in the UK, with a duck on my head! Yeah! We finished it like superstars, nothing could stop us!  

I will leave you on that note! Amsterdam will take more than one part to tell you all about my time there. Otherwise, I would babble on so much I would end up writing you a book. So, let’s catch up again soon!  

See you next time!

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