Saturday, June 23, 2007

IKEA, helping the needy...especially in Holland

The population of the Netherlands is 16,570,613, tiny compared to the UK which has 60,209,500 people. So if the population of Netherlands is 27.5% of the size of the UK, how come, HOW COME, the Netherlands has 12 IKEAs, but the UK only has 15?

Map source: and

Nothing is different about the stores. In both countries IKEA follows the exact same store format, which guides you through the different rooms of a house upstairs, and then kitchen ware, rugs, lighting, pictures and plants downstairs. In both stores you need to queue for half an hour to pay for your shopping, but in the Netherlands of course that's because only 10% of the available cash tills are in service at any one time.

The only reason I can think of that might explain why there is a greater availability of IKEAs in Holland per person is that it is in fact a Dutch owned organisation. IKEA is registered as a foundation in the Netherlands, which basically gives it similar rights to a charity organisation and better tax rates etc. I guess the idea is that IKEA is creating low-cost furniture for the needy. Perhaps the Dutch are just more needy than the British.

Monday, June 18, 2007

A nice GLASS of tea!

One of the most difficult things for any English person living abroad is the fact that you have to learn to make it through the day without, necessarily, being able to lay your hands on a nice cup of tea. Fellow Brits will be able to sympathise with me; every time any of us goes abroad on holiday from the UK we wake up in our hotel rooms desperate for a cuppa, but have to put up with the weak insipid tea bags on offer at breakfast. As an expat, I face a similar issue in cafes throughout the Netherlands. The point is, I’ve had to learn to adapt. But it’s hard with my background*.

At home in Britain, British tea drinkers, like me, are generally very limited in their choice of teabag, opting only for a “nice cuppa tea”-teabag, which is in fact black tea, a bitter blend that is better with milk. If you ask for a cup of tea in a restaurant or cafĂ©, normally it is assumed you’ll want milk and it’ll either already be in your cup with your tea, or you’ll get a small jug. The hard work is done for you, the teabag itself will already have been removed. OR, in the better places, you’ll get a nice fresh pot of tea, so you judge the strength yourself and come back for seconds.

Dutch people are open to a much wider variety of tea flavours, and correctly do not mask the flavour of these particular teas with milk. In Holland, tea is served as a single glass of hot water with a basic (not round, pyramidal or non-drip draw string), but flavoured or scented, tea bag on the side, a teaspoon and a tea bag saucer. There’s no such thing as a pot of tea for two here in the Netherlands. You’ll get a small glass mug with a randomly selected Twinnings teabag, or nothing. No china cup, no mug, no teapot in sight and certainly no milk.

The problem is that the English are so used to drinking their tea with milk that they desperately need to add even a spot of milk to these weaker European blends, even if it’s from the jug of milk that’s supposed to be used with the breakfast cereals. Adding even this slightest drop of milk causes the final brew to look like dirty dish water, which is highlighted through the glass sides of the cup, so the tea looks and tastes very weak and not at all satisfying. Even so-called English breakfast tea bags aren’t strong enough in taste to come close to a nice cup of tea.

So I’ve learned to drink Dutch tea the Dutch way, it tastes better that way. But I’d rather opt for a good old English cup of tea any day of the week.

* Britain is the largest tea market in Western Europe, representing 86.9% in overall volume terms and 92.6% of volume sales of black tea (source: According to the Tea Council the UK drinks 165 million cups of tea a day - 62 billion cups per year.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

International Companies based in Amsterdam

The international companies below are listed in alphabetical order. They have all posted English-speaking job opportunities, based in Amsterdam, on their websites recently.

ABN Amro
Alliance Boots
American Express
Avery Dennison
Canon Europa
Corporate Express
Foot Locker
Forrester Research
Golden Tulip Hotels
IKEA Group
Intercontinental Hotels
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines
Kyocera Mita Europe
Marriott International
Mitsubishi Motors Europe
Novo Nordisk
Sara Lee
Tribal DDB
Tommy Hilfiger
UPC Europe

If I've missed any of the international companies in Amsterdam please let me know and I'll add them to the list. Please provide a URL to the job vacancies pages and I'll add that too.


Thursday, June 07, 2007

“I bet you don’t miss the English weather!?”

Many times when I have introduced myself to a Dutch person, or when I’m speaking to a Dutch person about England, they will say “I bet you don’t miss the English weather!?” By this they are, of course, referring to the fact that it rains a lot in England. It does rain a lot in England, I agree, but I certainly don’t think that it rains a lot more in England than in the Netherlands. And it certainly doesn’t justify this, oh so very common, comment.

So I looked it up today, on the BBC website, to see whether these people really did have a point or not.

Turns out they are wrong. On average it rains more here than in London. See chart below. (The location of this place in the Netherlands “De Bilt” is unknown to me, but apparently it’s pretty much the most average place between Rotterdam and Amsterdam.)

The average precipitation and the number of wet days per month are higher every month of the year in De Bilt than in London. The Dutch are lucky to have a few more hours of sunshine during the course of the year – but not many. The temperatures are pretty much the same, except the Netherlands is colder in the winter.

So next time someone says “I bet you don’t miss the English weather!?” I can say “Yes, actually I do miss the English weather, because on average it rains less in London”.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Dutch Equivalent of...#3: Bond Street

Continuing the shopping theme once again, this post is a comparison between the most expensive/luxury shopping streets in Amsterdam and London. These are:

Bond Street – London
Pieter Cornelisz Hooftstraat – Amsterdam

Where the street names come from
Pieter Corneliszoon Hooft was a seventieth century poet, playwright and historian.

Sir Thomas Bond was the head of a syndicate of developers who purchased a Piccadilly mansion called Clarendon House in 1683 and proceeded to demolish the house and develop the area (source Wikipedia). "Bond Street" doesn’t actually exist: as the street is divided into two parts known as Old Bond Street and New Bond Street.

Most shops along Bond Street are fashion boutiques, including outlets of top designer brands such as Emporio Armani, Burberry, Dolce & Gabanna, Louis Vuitton, Ralph Lauren, Joseph, MaxMara and Prada. At the Old Bond Street end of the street there are also several jewelers including Bulgari and Cartier. Pascal bought my engagement ring from a tiny Bond Street jewelry shop called Moira, and both our wedding rings are also from that shop.

PC Hooftstraat is lined by pretty much the same list of boutiques. Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Bulgari, Cartier, Ralph Lauren, Dolce & Gabbana, Emporio Armani and Chanel are all here too.

The IT Crowd, and their cars
Both streets have pretty strict rules on parking, but you will usually see a large black Bentley or Porsche Cayenne parked up directly outside one of the shops. In England these cars will always have intriguing private number plates, which lead you to suspect you might know which famous person owns the car.

PC Hooftstraat is very popular for cruising in posh cars or SUVs. It’s a one-way street, but on a sunny day you’ll see many big cars pass slowly by several times with their roofs down, while the passengers check-out their surroundings, and more likely allow themselves to be checked out by pedestrians.

How expensive?
Here’s a shocking comparison for you…

Bond Street = Average of £650 per square foot per year for retailers (2006) (Source)
PC Hooftstraat = Between €800 and €1100 per square metre (2007) (Source)

This doesn’t sound so bad until you do the maths. By my calculations, this can be converted into the following Anglo/Euro friendly price lists

PC Hooftstraat Price List:

  • Euro price for one square metre = 800 - 1100
  • Pound price for one square metre = 542.30 – 745.67
  • Pound price for one square foot = 165.33 – 227.34
  • Euro price for one square foot = 243.90 – 335.37

Bond Street Price List:

  • Euro price for one square metre = 3145.09
  • Pound price for one square metre = 2132
  • Pound price for one square foot = 650
  • Euro price for one square foot = 958.87

Friday, June 01, 2007

I'm not rich enough to drink Ribena

I ran out of Ribena stock around about Easter time. My friends and family can no longer easily bring it to me in the plane from England for risk of being arrested as terrorists or having all their clothes dyed purple.

Local supermarkets don't really have an equilavent in Holland (see previous post: Things that cannot be bought at my local Albert Heijn) so I thought I'd check the Internet for any shops or online stores where I could order a new batch in.

I found an online shop: Thomas Green's. The downside is I'd need to pay 8 Euros per 1 litre bottle. If I restocked for 6 months worth of supply I'd be kissing goodbye to 100 Euros or so.

I'm not sure it's worth it. I'd be better off drinking posh wine all the time.