NY to NL: Quality of life is different in Amsterdam

Canal in Amsterdam, taken by Sherisa D

Without question, living in Amsterdam is nothing like living in Brooklyn. For one, there’s much more water here. More green, too. The buildings are lower and mostly the same height for as far as the eye can see. There are tram lines and bike lanes built into the roads. Just about all sidewalk (and some roads) are laid stone. Cars are smaller, people are smaller (but much taller).

So on the surface the two aren’t that alike. Then you look at other things. Basically Brooklyn is Amsterdam 2.0 if you look at the structure of some buildings in Brooklyn. Sometimes I walk the streets here and I feel like I’m back home. It’s comforting.

One major difference that you can’t really feel until you’ve been living here for longer than a vacation is this incredible feeling of ease. Dutch quality of life surpasses the US far and wide. Yes, there’s plenty to get used to. Some things you won’t ever get used to, which is fine. But the general feeling that things are just not as bad here definitely washes over you after a while. Disregarding the stresses of moving and that awkward adjustment period that can feel like forever, once you’ve settled—I’ll say 13 months or more in—you definitely can bask in it.

At the top of my list for major game changers: affordable mandatory full health insurance. What is there in that to not love? I’ve been covered since January, visited a few times for checkups and I’m thoroughly pleased. I have my general practitioner, OB-GYN, dentist and my out of pocket costs have literally been less than €20. Since January.  On the topic of health, I also greatly enjoy bike riding. That’s something I really learned here. Two falls and one major scar later, it’s my preferred mode of transportation. It makes me want to actually bike ride in other countries. We’ll see if that happens though. The added bonus of lots of parks and general greenery coupled with all the canals and the Amstel River makes breathing a lot easier. I have needed very little medication for my allergies and sinuses since living here.

I’ve been able to really pursue my goal of becoming a writer here in a way I personally didn’t feel comfortable doing in New York. That may have more to do with me than with Amsterdam, but I do feel that it’s a credit to the energy of Amsterdam. I feel like I have less fear living here. I don’t know if that translates well, but I’ve had the tendency to hold myself back when the pond I’m in is over saturated. Here, I feel the exact opposite and it’s giving me the chance to take risks I’ve been wanting to take for years that I didn’t exactly know how to then.

There’s a real gift being able to live in a 3-in-1 city. I see Amsterdam as part super metropolitan/part very residential/part nature. I never had that in Brooklyn. I’m sure I could’ve had it by traveling quite a bit, but how much exactly? My commute to every job I’ve had in Manhattan took on average 90 minutes one way. In 90 minutes, I can be in the south of this country. I really dig that I don’t feel like I’m in the thick of busy city life living in the capitol. When I want that feeling, it’s only 20 minutes away at most.

The concept of time has started to affect me. I now see a 90 minute trip as long instead of necessary. Not always, because if I’m traveling to another country, I get that I’ll be on a train for 3+ hours and it seems super quick. In the same vein, a born and bred walking New Yorker now prefers to bike everywhere. It annoys me to think about how much longer it takes to walk someplace. Bike riding at first was extremely painful, mainly because I stopped walking as much and couped myself up in the house. Then there’s getting over distance riding. Going up and down hills. Once my leg muscles toned up I’ve been good to go. The idea that something is “just down the road” feels quite literal, now.

Every other corner feels like a postcard photo op. I love living here.

The quality of life is something every expat should consider, but you don't really know what you're getting until you get there. In Amsterdam, I've been pleasantly surprised. Click here to see what Jennelle thinks.

dutch dingen: navigating amsterdam

I’m going to try spending more time talking about living here since I don’t think I’ve done such a great job at recording my experiences so far. Dingen is Dutch for things.

I was asked not too long ago to contribute my stories of expat living to Parlour Magazine. This is awesome for multiple reasons, but mainly because I get to exercise my writing muscles in article format. I’m serious about making this year more rounded with as many writing opportunities as possible. It was my initial intention to talk about my transition into this country, culture, new crazy life on my blog, but I didn’t know what exactly to chat about. That’s changing, though. I suppose I needed a bunch of experiences before I could properly document any of it.

Although I am an expat, I don’t think I’ve really wanted to be included in that circle based off of personal observations: They are usually strange socially and you can tell they were the wallflowers back home that blossom abroad and turn their Americanisms into a fetish. One thing I have been and still am prisoner to is constant comparison. I think it’s in my reluctancy to be an expat. Maybe I think of myself as different because I have US-UK dual citizenship so I rather not be lumped into that category. But however we wear our garments, they are all still the same: expat. I’ve immigrated from New York. Deal with it. That last bit is for me, not you.

The first thing I’ll talk about is navigating Amsterdam. This is good for both visitors and recent transplants, if you’re anything like me and have fairly poor directional skills. I’m notorious for getting lost. I was born and raised in New York and it took me a very long time to get some mental tricks in place so that I’d stop being so terribly lost. Then the invention of mobile directions lessened being lost tremendously.

Then I move to Holland.

Paul Auster wrote a novel where the main character reminisced on being in Amsterdam by stating it was something like a never-ending maze. Every corner looks exactly the same. You are in a state of being perpetually lost. Being lost in my own hometown, I was only terrified of Amsterdam until after moving here. There’s a big difference in being lost at home and in a foreign land. Last night I mentioned to Dennis that I finally feel like I can get around on my own fairly well, having escorted friends Lesley and Lori around town on my own last week then instinctively giving a man directions Saturday and being correct.

I don’t have the tram system down to a tee yet because there are a million tram lines, but I definitely know enough to get around unaccompanied. In fact, that’s how my journey of learning this city began. I started taking short trips in the day to close by places and tried my hardest to mark each place with some sort of landmark and also memorize the name of the street/tram stop. I’m living on prepaid phone service which means no internet outside of wifi or being at home so I would spend my time writing down exacting directions absolutely everywhere. Eventually, my trips became longer, but not that much longer. It doesn’t take particularly long to get anywhere in this country. The time it took me to leave my house in Brooklyn and get to work in the morning, I can travel from Amsterdam to Rotterdam and back. As far as real distance, NY has this place beat.

I am probably a bit backwards. I learned how to ride the trams before learning how to successfully cross the streets. This has to sound absolutely absurd, seeing that I’m a fully functioning adult. Paul Auster got it completely right: this place is a maze by foot. Every other street just about has a canal running through it. They almost all look exactly alike. You can’t use bicycles as any sort of marker; they are everywhere. Then there’s the thing about the streets not always being easy to decipher. Again, a stupid sounding comment. Obviously there’s sidewalk and street. Well, not here. It goes in this order on a regular road: sidewalk, bicycle lane, motorway, tramline, motorway, bicycle lane, sidewalk. In a lot of areas, this is all cobble stone. In places that probably have much heavier traffic, the roads are asphalt. I do love (and also vehemently hate) that they actually lay stone still. It is so charming, but nothing feels worse under your feet than perhaps, fire.

Lest we forget there are a million roundabouts and majorly heavy trafficked areas that have cars, trams, bikes, people intersecting however they can get by. I’m making it sound like madness, but it is actually a very efficient and smooth system, expect for your occasional asshole car driver trying to cut you off while you’re on a bike. My biggest complaint is that there is very little visual difference between what is sidewalk and bike lane, especially if you’re just visiting. I remember having nasty Dutchies feverishly ringing their bike bells at me and yelling to get out of the lane. But when you can’t tell that that’s what you’re in until there’s 1,000 bikes charging towards you, cut the visitor some slack. As a bike rider now, I only get annoyed when you ring your bell to warn them and they don’t move at all. That pisses me off. Dear God, am I becoming Dutch?

Just remember left right left or right left right at every single point to cross. You’ll have to look at all times. You really need to be aware here. I don’t walk with the confidence Dennis has, not yet, but I’m definitely getting there. Outside of the time consumption of writing down every single direction to get somewhere and studying the tram and train lines to no end, an app I use on my iphone that I think is pretty helpful without the need for internet is Amsterdam Transport Map. SUPER handy!

Standing in your own way – What you see is what you get

Previously, I’ve covered comparison living, branding yourself with a minority label, and even my I am not a sweatshop post could be added to the mix.  Continuing with this standing in your own way series, I want to take a cue from The Dramatics and apply this song title to how we inadvertently shape our image based on very obvious things.

The most obvious of all, especially as an online seller, is photos. I feel it’s safe to say unless you have a budget set aside for quality photos or know someone who will do a smashing job in some sort of barter agreement, chances are your photos have looked like crap at some point. I know mine have. They have gotten better over time, but really went from ehh to BRAVO! yesterday. See, I spent a few hours shooting some new jewelry and re-shooting a bit of my old stock and I’ll finish the rest this week. I finally FINALLY have proper photos.

It’s been a long time coming and you know what the number one change was?

An amazing camera. D showed me how to use his Cannon 550D a few days ago and I was blessed with some good natural light and then I went in and color corrected my photos.

Here’s a before and after of some bracelets I currently have in the shop:

Although my new home has more natural light than my house in Brooklyn, I still seem to suffer from a lack of decent enough lighting to take great photos off the bat. I’ve also been prisoner to having too much texture in photos. It’s an addiction. If it’s one thing I’ve noticed over the years in other brands that I admire is a simple background is key. Same with a blog. I won’t read a blog if I go to their page and they have ridiculous fonts and hard-on-the-eyes backgrounds. If I’m not completely turned off, I’ll RSS them. So if I’m like that with others, what made me think it was okay to do that myself? K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Sweetie)

No more crazy backgrounds for me. Just solid light colors, or at least solid colors that work well against what I’m photographing. I still have work to do, but the difference is night and day so far. I’m pleased as punch!

Another interesting note I want to touch on is the added perceived value of inventory based on photography alone. Here’s an example:

Person A and Person B make exactly the same product. Let’s say it’s knitted scarves. Let’s also assume they are on an equal playing field: they know no one and are both just starting out. They don’t happen to be BFF with a magazine editor or sitting on piles of cash or e-friends with all the right people (whatever that means).

Person A has access to a photographer friend and sets up a little studio somewhere with a model (you could be the model or it could just be a friend that’s photogenic and willing to help out for a free scarf) or takes on location photos and models the scarves in scenes.

Person B has a camera and takes photos in their house (which is TOTALLY FINE) in bad lighting and settings (which is NOT totally fine).

They both want to charge $75 for their scarf. Who do you think will sell first? Who do you think will sell more? Just by looking at the photos and not knowing either person, we tend to automatically assume that Person A has better quality product, when in reality it could be the other way around. We just can’t see it. We could be robbing ourselves of customers and promotional opportunities based on our photos. What a tragedy.

So awesome photos actually change the title to: what is see, is much more than what you get.

What are your thoughts? Do you suffer from the same illness as me? Have you improved your photography? Do you have links to share that can help others?

One Year Married: a note on love at first sight

Sherisa D and Dennis, the night we met
I would say that there were a few times I was in love in the way I understood love to be at that moment. For sure, I’m human not a robot.

Luckily for me, I was really into carrying around a camera when Dennis and I met. We actually met online (God, am I showing my age yet? Or is it still too early to worry about that?) I find I am still telling this story in person quite often.  Anyway, I added him because he had a pink background. That simple. My favorite color is also pink. I remember reading his wall and he spoke about the wonderfulness of the color.

I also noticed that he lived in Amsterdam but he was friends with a bunch of people I knew that live in Brooklyn. Being naive, I wondered how he knew all these people that I actually knew. I never stopped to think that I just added him myself and it could be as simple as that.

I didn’t think about it then, but a while later I did reflect that something was definitely special about him because I did things with him that I never have done and haven’t done since then. Like giving my number to a total stranger that I haven’t even met. Or asking him why we haven’t hung out. Spending the night after we met together in a park at night far away from my house. Taking him to my house to chat with my mom while I freshened up and I hadn’t even known him a week yet. (If you know me, you know that’s huge because I never invite people to my house.)

It’s really amazing that I took a photo of him the moment it struck me that I liked him. We were walking towards the Apple store by Central Park and I just looked at him and felt it and took a photo.

I guess we have a bit of a whirlwind romance. I guess that’s how the person you marry should make you reflect on the beginning. So little had to be verbally communicated between us. I would hang out with someone else and wonder what he was doing.

So I don’t know if I can say it was first sight, or the first series of sights but I do know every time I saw him, my heart filled up and I felt overwhelmingly safe, calm and happy. For no other reason than for being happy. Who doesn’t love that feeling?

[Unless otherwise noted, all photos in Our Wedding series are taken either by Dennis or myself. Do not repost without our written consent. See the previous posts on getting our marriage license, my bachelorette feast, our wedding day and the morning after. Follow all of Our Wedding posts here.]

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