Name: Asa Sarlen
Nationality: Swedish
Residence: Amsterdam
Date of birth: 28-04-1976
Civilian status: samenwonend
Work: Self-employed
Profession: Interior design
In the Netherlands since: 2003

Interviews with expats: Asa Sarlen

This interview was first published on


A Swedish touch in Holland

Swedish expat Asa Sarlen compares Dutch to Swedish style along with other aspects of Dutch life. She finds that the Dutch put emphasis on ‘gezelligheid’, are behind in fashion, drive rudely, but are open-minded and interested in what you are doing. She would love to settle in Amsterdam.

Opening horizons
I was working in Sweden for Ikea as an interior designer and saw on the internet there was an interesting job opening at the concept centre of Ikea in Delft. There I could start training people in my field of work next to my job. So in the first place it was about the possibilities that this job was opening for me and not really about the Netherlands.
Candle light
I arrived in Delft in November and my first impression was that of a nice town with a lot of small, bruine cafés (lit. brown cafes) with burning candles everywhere. This is very different from Sweden where the café’s are more modern, spacious and lighter.


Between Sweden and Italy
The Dutch visit a cafe more often, to socialise, have a cup of coffee, a bowl of soup, while the Swedish mostly go in the week-end. I lived a couple of years in Italy and in my view the Netherlands is somewhere between Sweden and Italy. There the people go even more often outside but in Sweden everybody sits in their houses.

Less is more
Dutch design can be very good but the Dutch interior in general is a bit classic ‘country style’. In Sweden it is much simpler and lighter, much more 'Scandinavian' just like the cafés. ”Less is more”. In Holland they dare to use much more colours then in Sweden and that makes the Swedish style calmer and crisper.
I think that for the Dutch ‘gezellig’ is the main thing, whereas for the Swedish ‘proper’ and ‘simple’ are more important.

Behind in fashion
I think that in fashion the Netherlands is running behind. Italy, of course, is very trendy but also Stockholm is over-the-top-trendy! The people are so fancy and aware of everything. In the Netherlands you’ll see very expensive brands but then the combination is not right. It is the same with interior: you have to know how to combine things at that is where it lacks.
Future plans
I’ve made some plans to start a clothing shop myself and therefore I look at interiors of clothes shops. Most in The Netherlands are small, busy and messy. For example, take a store like H&M. It’s difficult to shop and to find things. That’s not the same in other countries! My idea is that you have to get inspired as soon as you enter the shop: clean, tidy and organised. I would like to sell all the Scandinavian brands in a nice neighbourhood like the Jordaan.

Rude road-users
The Dutch can be very impolite in the traffic. Even if you don’t bother them by crossing the streets while the lights are red, they like to scream and yell at you. Just to let you know that you’re doing wrong! In busy streets people bump into you, so rude. The Swedish don’t like to interfere so I wasn’t used to this kind of behaviour. We have a joke in Sweden that if people want to go out they first peep through a little hole in the door to see if the neighbours are there. If so they wait till they are gone!

Open and interested
The positive aspect of this all is that the Dutch are more open and interested. In Sweden people are interested as well but they just don’t show it. They are watching but not saying anything. The Dutch like to ask you questions, sometimes too much: What are you doing? Where are you from? Why are you here? The culture in Sweden is much more distinctive. You can sit in a bar for hours and no one will talk to you.

Short, wet winters
The winter in the Netherlands luckily are less long then in Sweden but sadly they are wetter. In Sweden they go on seemingly for ever but are often nicely crispy-cold. Often in the wintertime there are heaters in front of the terraces and it is cosier then inside. You are not allowed to smoke inside the cafes so everybody is smoking outside, despite the cold.

Biking on sandwiches and fried food
The sandwiches for lunch here I find very strange. How can a builder who works hard all day long get enough energy from that? In Sweden the people eat warm dishes twice a day. Besides the food is much healthier, fried things are hardly eaten anymore. It’s unbelievable that the people are still eating greasy chips, kroketten and frikandellen and even give it to their kids. And even more unbelievable is that the Dutch keep their figures! My conclusion is that all the biking is responsible for this.


Dutch doctors don’t take you seriously
The medical system in Sweden is better I think because you have to pay yourself for a consultation with a doctor. Therefore people go less often, only for serious stuff. In Holland they tend to go for every little ache and pain as everything is paid. The doctors however don’t take you that seriously. I was once in bed for more then a week with a high fever but when I went to the doctor he just gave me some aspirin. I felt a bit neglected.
Dutch planning
A nice thing about Sweden is that you don’t have to plan. In Holland there is often a traffic jam and long lines because of all the people in this small country. In Sweden it doesn’t matter what time or day you go. I feel much freer to do things.
Amsterdam rocks!
I think I like to stay however in Holland! I have a Dutch boyfriend in the first place but I also like the international atmosphere of Amsterdam. And it's very nice to do everything by bike as then you’re not subjected to the traffic. Just the way of living in Amsterdam is very relaxed. I think especially Amsterdam is super-nice, open and relaxed. If I stay in Holland it will be in Amsterdam!

Asa Sarlen told her story to Nicole van Schaijik, who owns and operates Talent Taaltrainingen (Dutch Language Courses), based in Amsterdam ( (Tel: 020 420 66 59 or email:

Expatica 2008