Name: Zina Makarova
Nationality: Russian
Residence: Amsterdam
Date of birth: 19-01-1958
Civilian status: married, two children
Work: Housewife and mother
In the Netherlands since: 2002


Interviews with expats: Zina Makarova

This interview was first published on


From Russia into the loving hands of Holland

Zina Makarova's husband was an acrobat with the Russian State Circus. When he was paralysed in an accident, they moved to the Netherlands where he had healthcare coverage. Though still a "fish in water" when back in Russia, Zina feels at home in the Netherlands.

I had often travelled to the Netherlands and other countries in Europe because my husband, Sergej Makarov, was an acrobat with the Russian State Circus. Then he was paralysed due to an accident and now uses a wheelchair. As my husband had a contract with a Dutch firm that hires in artists of the Russian State Circus, his health insurance and healthcare were also organised via the Netherlands.
That's why we came to live in the Netherlands - so this was, in my husband's case, a stroke of luck arising from a misfortune.
There is absolutely no car arranged for people in Russia who suffer a disability as a result of an accident. You can only pay for the necessary help if you are very rich. For the normal citizen this means lying in bed all day, that's it. If you are lucky, a family member can care for you, but most people have to work. And work extra hours to pay for the necessary medicines and such. Home-care just doesn't exist. It boils down to lying there waiting to die!

Dutch healthcare
The situation is totally different in the Netherlands. Sergej can live a normal life here and so can I. He has an electric wheelchair and can go outside on his own to the park or to buy groceries. A home help assistant comes twice a day to attend to him in our specially adapted home. This is unthinkable in Russia.
When my mother heard this, she said: "What good people they must be in the Netherlands to create such a society".
I am familiar with the homes for senior citizens in the Netherlands as I regularly attend one in relation to my husband's physiotherapy. They are superb, with so much care. There are scarcely any of these in Russia as the elderly live for as long as possible with their children, and if this really isn't possible any more they go to a nursing home. Many Russians don't approve of the idea of sending your parents to a home.
I think it is great to see how well senior citizens take care of themselves. Older women wear nice clothes, varnish their nails and their hair is always done up. There is a hairdresser working in every retirement home. Older people here also have their own lives - travelling and/or taking a course.
Older women don't take care of their appearance in Russia. This is particularly the case in the villages where people become old and ugly quickly and they no longer care about what they wear. They've had a life of hard work behind them and they don't do anything more to care for their appearance. Their lives are over and their only role his to help their children.

I have to say though that young women here are not as well dressed in comparison with Russian women. When you go to work or just out in public in Russia you wear smart clothing, such as a skirt, make-up and jewels.
Here you see untidy people everywhere, people with slovenly hair and sports shoes. 'It doesn't matter!' This applies to men as well; men in Russia are more likely to wear a suit or a nice shirt.
I have noticed people who are overweight don't get jeered at here as they would in Russia. By the same token it strikes me many more people here do physical exercise in the parks - and no one stares if you are working out.

Dutch men aren't very gallant - they don't offer assistance to women very often and they give precious few compliments or attention. A man in Russia will always help a woman, for instance, carry a heavy bag; he holds the door open; says something nice to her on the street and he always pays the bill - there is no question of 'going Dutch'.
Men and women are very open with each other here. Women will even discuss sanitary towels with a man - something I find rather odd. And when in company including men, you can even announce you are going to the WC. You would never do that in Russia. No one needs to know that, right?

Plain speaking
This is another really Dutch trait: they come straight out and say what they think of each other. They hardly ever stop to think whether it will offend. For instance, if you have cooked for a Dutch person, he or she will dare to say they didn't like the food. And they just walk right into your kitchen and look at what you have in your pots and pans. I think that is so impolite.
I don't think people here are very hospitable; they are somewhat cold and aloof. You can never simply drop in spontaneously, even on your best friend. You always have to make an appointment. In Russia, there is always food ready for you -it is natural. And there is always a lot of food and you can have what you want.
Here you just get exactly enough as people don't want to have food left over. My daughter studies business administration and also works in a patisserie. She sometimes has a customer who wants to buy exactly 10 sweets for the 10 guests they are about to receive.

A very positive aspect about the Netherlands is the lack of bureaucracy and that civil servants are always so helpful.They greet you in a friendly manner and they listen attentively when you ask a question. If they don't know the answer they ask a colleague.
The situation is totally different in Russia. Civil servants never look at you directly when you stand before them at the counter and they never give you more information than is absolutely necessary. As a result, you have to go back at least five times to organise anything, costing you a lot of time and irritation. The situation is improving, though, due to privatisation.
I really want to work as a book-keeper as this was my job for a long time in Russia. I recently went to the Centre for Work and Income to register myself. One of the questions was about how many hours I want to work. I was stunned - you always work full time in Russia.

My daughter and I go cycling outside Amsterdam in the summer. At first I wasn't used to cycling and would only ride on the cycle paths. It is marvellous they have them. The roads are very badly maintained in Russia and there are no separate cycle paths at all. Cycling is only for children; it is too dangerous to cycle on the roads and it is too cold anyway in winter.
I miss the really cold Russian winters with snow, so I am always happy when it snows here. But here it also rains a lot - even in the summer, which isn't very warm.
Still, I often go to Amsterdam's many lovely parks, where there are ducks everywhere in the water. I think the Netherlands has plenty of nature. It is after all a small country and therefore you have to make use of every square metre. The Dutch do this well.
If you ask me to choose between the two countries, I would say I feel as natural as a fish in water when I am back in Russia. But yet, I feel at home in the Netherlands because I live here and I have my family here.

15 February 2006
Zina Makarova 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 2006