Originally from the town of Trujillo in Peru, Claudia moved to Amsterdam in the mid 2000s to work as an au pair. She’s now an event organiser, hosts the popular Instagram series Latina in the Netherlands, considers herself to be an immigrant and is still amazed how calm the Dutch traffic is.
How did you end up in the Netherlands?
When I was 23, I came to the Netherlands to work as an au pair for one year. During that year, I met a friend who would become my partner and later my husband. I wasn’t planning to stay in the Netherlands. I was hoping to go to Spain because my sister lived there and everyone speaks Spanish. It would have been easier for me.
I also thought about even going back to Peru, but the circumstances and situation changed because my husband is Dutch. It wasn’t in his plans for life to move to another country, so I decided to stay here.
How do you describe yourself – an expat, lovepat, immigrant, international?
Sometimes I have a hard time trying to see the differences between the words expat and immigrant. In Spanish, you would call people like me exaptriado [expatriate]. This is because you come out of your motherland *just* to live in your new host country. I came here as an immigrant, though. I moved here looking for new opportunities, for a better future, for a better salary, and for better work. These are all things we don’t have in South America and many other Latin American countries.
What do you think is the difference between an expat and an immigrant? I think an expat is someone who moves to another country for work or study, but is mostly there because they want to live there for a couple of years and leave. I still consider myself an immigrant.
How long do you plan to stay?
Very long, probably my entire life, or at least until I retire and maybe go to some island until I die. You know, we have thought about moving back to Peru many times together as a family, but we have a kid. She’s nine now and it would be difficult for her to move, given the circumstances. She has friends and is getting a good education here. It would be hard to immigrate again with her and with my husband. Life in Peru is truly different, but it is also more relaxed.
We were in a period recently where we were working, working, working, and asked ourselves, ‘Is this it?!!’ This is a beautiful country, but we have horrible weather and there are other things that always make you busy and that’s your life. I think the European mentality is like that and South Americans are different, at least in that sense.
The pace of our lives over there is slower, more relaxed, and maybe that’s why we don’t grow so much as a country, you know? It’s very chill to live like that and not have so many worries like over here. The two countries are very different.
Do you speak Dutch and how did you learn?
I can speak Dutch, yes. I learned at work, while speaking at home, and while watching a lot of Dutch television. I watched shows like Gooische Vrouwen. There was also Expeditie Robinson and the news. I didn’t always watch those two, my husband did, but I had to hear them. That was the key for me: listening. You get used to that and, all of a sudden, you start thinking of words in Dutch. That’s really where I started learning the language.
I also read a lot of things in Dutch and was with Dutch people all of the time, but I did a lot of listening, listening, and listening too. I did take lessons at a school a few times and, believe me, I never learned. It was very boring. I don’t like the lessons here and they were in the evening, only one hour per week. For me, that wasn’t enough.
I only went there because I had the feeling that I needed to study, but I didn’t really learn anything. It was only when I was preparing myself for the inburgeren courses so I could prepare for the exams that lessons helped. The teachers only spoke to us in Dutch.
At the same time, I also started working at a place where everyone spoke Dutch to me. My husband also helped by speaking Dutch with me. He said, ‘Why don’t we only speak Dutch at home?’ That’s what we did.
Oh, and I also took conversational classes years later after I already spoke some Dutch. They really helped me with the phonetics of the double vowels. They spoke Spanish at Fit4taal, the school I went to, which really helped me. They could understand me and my Spanish tongue when I would try to say the ‘aa’ and the ‘oo’ and the ‘ou.’ They are not the same in Spanish.
What’s your favourite Dutch thing?
I love that the Dutch are very practical with everything, when it comes to solving problems, and making decisions. They don’t beat around the bush like South American people do. Over there, they’ll give you a whole introduction before they get to the point. It’s like that a lot.
I now feel like if someone wants to ask me something they should just ask and stop talking so much while trying to be nice. Everyone always tries to be nice, but I want to say to them, ‘No, what’s the problem? Let’s go directly to the facts and let’s solve it.’ I love that about the Dutch.
How Dutch have you become?
I think I have become Dutch after so many years of living here. I notice when I go back to Peru that I’m now a planner, just like the Dutch. I like to plan things in advance. I’m not very spontaneous anymore. I even have an agenda with a bicycle on it. I have also learned to be very direct, as I told you earlier. I think I have been Holland-ised.
Another thing I do, when there isn’t much daylight in the winter, is to go on a wandelingen [long walk]. Over time, I have learned to appreciate the charm of every season of the year in the Netherlands, even the winter.
You have to take as much light from those days as you can, otherwise you’re going to get depressed. Oh, and I also eat dinner at six, not because I want to, but because it’s the way the Dutch have organised their day. They get out of work at five, if they have a regular job, and they don’t have a very heavy lunch, so they want to have dinner as early as possible.
I now do that too and I can no longer eat warm lunches. I eat broodje kaas [cheese sandwiches] for lunch, but I don’t drink milk with them. This is still a farming culture, so that explains all the milk and cheese and wooden clogs. It all comes from the farmer culture.
Which three Dutch people (dead or alive) would you most like to meet?
Robert ten Brink.
He’s on the show All You Need is Love. I love him.
I had to think about this one. I forgot his name. I had to look him up on my phone. I would like to meet him because he’s so funny and I love his shows.
If she invited me to go to lunch, I would go, of course.
What’s your top tourist tip?
I always tell people they should go to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. I love it. I also like to take people to Scheveningen. People often say, ‘Oh, there are no good beaches in Holland,’ but there are, and this one is really, really nice. I love its big shore, you know? It’s very special, I think.
Okay, it’s not the Caribbean, but when people see Scheveningen they always like it very much. I am a fan. I also like Noordwijk, which is close by. I also like just strolling through the streets of the Jordaan in Amsterdam or visiting a brouwerij where they have nice Amsterdam beer.
Tell us something surprising you’ve found out about the Netherlands
I think it would have to be the traffic, if I compare it with South America. If you have to decide to drive there or walk when the streets are busy, there’s a 70% chance you will die if you walk. It’s insane. People, even the walkers, don’t respect any traffic signs, lights, or zebra crossings. If you’re walking, it’s like you’re in the video game Tetris.
Here the streets are amazing. They’re good and well organised. If there’s a traffic jam, everyone’s very calm about it. They don’t get angry.
If you had just 24 hours left in the Netherlands, what would you do?
I would probably spend it in Amsterdam in a nice cafe or on a nice terrace. I would want to enjoy the sun, just like every Dutch person does when they can. I love a very old one called Cafe Thijssen. It’s one of the oldest ones ever and a brown cafe. I’ve been going there forever.