Name: Neil Agnew
Nationality: Northern Irish
City of residence: Amsterdam
Date of birth: 6/3/79
Marital status: single, no children
Employer: Murphy’s Irish Pub (HMS Host)
Position: Barman
In Amsterdam since: 1999


Interviews with expats: Neil Agnew

This interview was first published on:


Bureaucracy, transition and learning Dutch

 Northern Irish expat Neil Agnew has been in Amsterdam since 1999. Like many expats, he feels "transitional" as he lives and works in a foreign country, contemplating the move to somewhere else. This is his story.

I actually wanted to go New Zealand to broaden my horizons. It is a beautiful land and everyone speaks English there. But I didn't have any money for the journey.
So it seemed back then that the best start-off-place was Amsterdam. The economy was good so I would easily find a job; everyone spoke English here and the soft-drugs policy was much more tolerant than in Northern Ireland.
I started work on a conveyer belt job and later worked for a call centre. It was no trouble finding work, but it was a nightmare to get the papers in order.
I was told I had to apply for a sofi-nummer (tax file number) before I could open a bank account. But I was also told I could only get a sofi-nummer if I had a bank account!
(In reality, EU citizens seeking a sofi-nummer -- as of November 2007, the burgerservicenummer (BSN)-- should only be required to show a passport, residence permit identification card (or proof of registration with the foreign police) and proof of registration with the population registrar in your local municipality. For more information read our guide to immigration and residency regulations)
In the end, I think I solved the dilemma by getting an illegal contract from my first employer and then I was allowed to open a bank account.
(For EU citizens, a valid passport and proof of residency from the Bevolkingsregister is usually all that is required to open a bank account, but some banks impose additional requirements.)
Besides my present work, I am now also studying to become a cameraman.

Bureaucracy and multiculturalism
I am disturbed by the bureaucracy here in the Netherlands. I still have ongoing problems with the bank, tax and those sorts of institutions.
The people that you call (customer service) are not customer friendly; they transfer you to colleagues, give you another telephone number or simply hang up. They don't feel any responsibility for what they do. It drives me to the point of insanity.
Why do Dutch people accept this? They accept all too easily 'wrong things'. Why don't they complain if there is only one check-out open and there is an endless line in front of them?

What I find great about Amsterdam though is that it is so multicultural. There are so many foreigners here, many of my friends come from foreign countries and this has strongly influenced the culture.
For example, there are so many different restaurants here. When I left Northern Ireland all you had there was the Chinese restaurant and pizzeria!
Fortunately, there are not the 'neighbourhoods' here you have in Northern Ireland: this is the Protestant suburb and this is the Catholic suburb — terrible! Here, people live with each other and I like that.

Socialising and relationships
The parks, I think, are beautiful also — all the people go and sit there if the weather is nice, just having a good time. In Ireland, you absolutely don't have that. In Ireland you only wander through the park, not go and sit there. An advantage is that the summers are longer and warmer in the Netherlands.
I had a Dutch girlfriend for a while, but I always felt a little bit left out. I did not speak the language and the culture is different. I miss the bold humour and sociability of the Irish.
I sometimes think the Dutch are stiff, somewhat reserved. I don’t understand how Dutch people chat up a girl because they don’t dare go the pub. I also think sometimes the Dutch are very rude. It is almost impossible to step out of the metro because you are simply pushed back by people stepping in!
On the other hand, I also find the Dutch are very relaxed. I have only once seen a fight here. That is very different to Ireland.

Moving on and learning Dutch
I feel like I am transitional, as though I have been on a very long vacation. I scarcely follow the Dutch news, for example, and I think Dutch television programmes are tedious.
But I have learned much of my Dutch from the films with subtitles. Dutch is not as difficult as people think.
Okay, the hard 'G' is difficult, plus sounds such as the 'IJ', the 'UI' and the 'EU' and the sentence structure. I have also had difficulty with the 'mouth shape', but I like the sound of Dutch.
I have had group lessons a few times and have also had personal lessons for a while. Now I speak pretty good Dutch and I speak it all the time. I fell embarrassed when I don't. I think that everyone who comes to live here must learn Dutch.
But it was not compulsory for me to do an integration course because I come from Northern Ireland.
I don't ever want to return to Northern Ireland even though my family doesn't believe that. I come from a drug-violent place near Belfast where there was a lot of terrorism. I don't want to go through that again.
But I probably won't stay long in the Netherlands either, because eventually I want to go to New Zealand.

Neil Agnew told his story to Nicole van Schaijik, who owns and operates
Talent Taaltrainingen (Dutch Language Courses), based in Amsterdam.
(Tel: 020 420 66 59 or email:
13 May 2004 , Expatica