Many international knowledge workers experience a social gap between the Dutch and the expats in Groningen. “There is no enormous need here at all to be ‘international'”, says the German Groninger Jan Mueller. According to Mueller, it’s hard for the Dutch and internationals to mix.
“Maybe there are too many expats and international students in the city”, says Donika Atasanova of Bulgaria. “It almost seems like an international invasion. A lot of students also come and go in a relatively short period of time. They don’t get a connection with the city and the inhabitants of Groningen, the stadjers. I think the Groningers need to get used to that.”
Englishman Nick Stevens (photographed above), currently the Chief Digital Officer and champion of the digital economy in Groningen, thinks there is a bigger distinction between your work life and your private life in The Netherlands. “For me it was hard to build a social life, because in general the Dutch don’t spend free time with their colleagues. My office was almost the only place where I met the Dutch.”
Jan Mueller, originally from Germany, currently works at NAM and says that The Netherlands is one of the hardest countries to be an expat, and Groningen as a city in particular makes it even tougher because the Groningers don’t really want to make friends. There is also a big language barrier. Mueller has plenty of experience living abroad: in addition to The Netherlands, he has also resided in the U.S., Germany and France. “Of course it’s easy to have a conversation with the Dutch because they speak English very well. But when something happens, they switch to Dutch and then it’s hard to be a part of the conversation”, Mueller says.
“I always tried to integrate with the local inhabitants and I tried to avoid other expats”, Nick Stevens says. “I made a clear choice to live here for a longer period. There are a lot of expats who stay in that visual circle for too long. They keep attending expat meetings. You don’t see any locals over there, so it’s hard to mix. In Holland, you’ve got one advantage: it’s so small that it’s hard to not meet any Dutch people.”
Colleagues are not invited to the barbecue
Michiel Kasteleijn from the International Welcome Center recognizes the gap between the Dutch and the expats. He says that as much as internationals may have their own culture, so do the Dutch. “I think ‘we’ are nice, but it’s hard to make friends with us. We [invite expats] everywhere, but when we arrive at home, we don’t invite them for a barbecue. You can’t compare the Dutch with Americans or Australians. The cultural differences are big. The Dutch are very open, so you can integrate easily. But to build a strong social environment, you need a lot of time and effort.”