A strange sub-culture in the Dutch Capital, Amsterdam Millenial Expatriates is illustrations of how lost my generation has become.
I am not Dutch, but I don’t think of myself as strictly English. Don’t get me wrong – I am definitely not Dutch. In point of fact despite living in Amsterdam for more than a year I don’t feel like I take part in the Dutch community or really in Dutch society in general. But despite this I feel a very powerful sense of community in Amsterdam.
More powerful than I have felt anywhere else I have ever lived really. There are streets in Amsterdam I can walk down and for the first time in my life people call out to me by name. I built everything I have in Amsterdam through the friends I made here, fellow expats who normally arrive in Amsterdam with next to nothing.
It’s this arrival into what you quickly discover to be a society that holds faintly hostile, often judgemental and routinely contemptuous of foreigners, that creates the bond that expatriates in Amsterdam feel with one another. When I began my first job here, my supervisor told me “you’re an expat now.
You look after us and we look after you.” That’s a principle I found that my fellow expats took seriously, and I quickly found myself part of a social network that has laced itself through the city’s tourism industry.
Expats do the jobs no one else wants or can do, but that create huge amounts of revenue for the city. It’s Amsterdam’s somewhat conflicted relationship with tourists that creates its somewhat conflicted attitude toward expats.
We work gigs like the Amsterdam Belly Dancing Workshop, guided tours, restaurants, cafes and boat cruises. The jobs we do tend to emphasise how adrift in the world we have become. A friend of mine runs an Amsterdam Belly Dancing Workshop – she holds a masters degree in international relations.
Another good friend of mine works as a historical tour guide. While it’s not quite as ludicrous as an Amsterdam Belly Dancing Workshop, it’s still not a great result for someone with a master’s in history.
But the truth is, as much as I love my community, its very existence is a testament to how much trouble we are in as a generation. My friends are uniformly well educated, responsible and sensible – the idea of the “party generation” is a total fallacy to us, who work up to 70 hours a week to make our ends meet.
We’re here because we no longer feel comfortable in our own countries, and because lack of economic opportunity has stripped us of any incentive to remain. That’s why we’re all here – because devoid of any real hopes for building decent careers and lives in our own countries, we’ve discovered here something that we never found at home – a sense of community.
That is why we stay, why we’re so defensive, and why we shoulder aside worries about the future. Amsterdam expats stay for each other – and I’ll be staying as long as I can.