Changes in my life

The time has come... Finally, being 25,5 years old, I did it!

My sister did it when she was around 12-13 and she did not tell Mum in the beginning as it was not allowed to do it so early, at least not till you are 18 or so.

My Mum did it only when she was 38... Michael says that his Mum was younger when she did it.

But I did it now! I was afraid that it will hurt a bit (as they are telling), but luckily it didnt.

What do you think?


Here comes the library

Almost two weeks ago I finally subscribed for OBA (library).

More than half a year ago I won a year long free membership card (worth around 25-27 EUR) for the library (thanks to I amsterdam!), but turned out that only registered Amsterdammers are able to subscribe.

When I finally registered as living here, I immediately wanted to use the opportunity to subscribe. All I needed - the present voucher, my passport and the letter from the city council stating that I am registered here.

I have been to OBA quite a lot of times - studying Dutch, showing friends the nice view from the top and escaping from the rain. Now I will also be able to take books, films and CDs home! And it is really great, because one can take books for three weeks for free and films & CDs for a week for just one euro. Great service and big choice!

Last week we went to the library to take something and we opted for DVD "The Da Vinci Code" because Michael hasn't seen it yet (we watched it on Monday) and we couldn't agree on anything else. Next time - maybe some book? :)

It was amazing that both the registration system for renting the DVD was automatised (put your library card on point A and the DVD on point B) and also paying for it (1 EUR) was possible only in the machine. Great! As far as I remember, at least one gives back the items to a real person. :)


Learning Latvian

Now not only me, but also Michael has a blog - he has decided to blog about his attempt to learn Latvian language, so you are welcomed to follow his blog as well! Unfortunately there is no possibility to comment on his blog yet, but you can do it on his Facebook :)

Part of his first article:

"In the beginning I tried to learn some random Latvian words (basically the usual stuff like "thanks", "good morning", etc.). But mixing everything together to some kind of Engerlatutch (ENGlish - GERman - LATvian - dUTCH) does not sound nice if used in the long term. Furthermore, I like learning languages, so I want to challenge myself and learn proper Latvian."


A new shop

I have yet another shop here in Amsterdam! :)


Missing Latvian language?

If by any chance you have a need for Latvian keyboard (read: characters) on your laptop, but you do not have it, here is an easy solution - download it for free!

I have downloaded it for myself already a few years ago and very happy about that.

Get it and do not complain that you can't write in proper Latvian because you do not have the necessary letters!



Tikko pabeidzu angliski lasīt ļoti interesantu un viegli lasāmu grāmatu.

Horvātietes Slavenkas Drakulič grāmata "They Would Never Hurt a Fly: War Criminals on Trial in The Hague" stāsta par tiem augstākā mēroga kara noziedzniekiem, kuri bija iesaistīti 90. gadu Dienvidslāvijas karos, nogalinot vairākus tūkstošus horvātu, serbu, musulmaņu u. c.

Lai gan tā nav pirmā reize, kad iegūstu jaunu informāciju par šo laika periodu Dienvidslāvijā, es joprojām cenšos atcerēties, vai skolas laikā mums par to vēstures stundās mācīja? Savu atmiņu neuzskatu par sliktu, bet absolūti, absolūti (!) neko par to neatceros.

Latvijas vēsture - skaidra lieta. Krievijas, Francijas, Lielbritānijas, pat ASV Pilsoņu kara un citi notikumi ir spilgtā atmiņā no vēstures stundām. Neatceros neko daudz par Āfriku, it īpaši tās kolonizēšanu, un Āziju.

Tomēr bijušās Dienvidslāvijas teritorija ir kas cits, tā ir tepat Eiropā, pavisam netālu no mums. Un 90. gadu vidus bija tieši tas laiks, kad es sāku iet skolā. Ja vēl ne pamatskolā, tad varbūt vidusskolā par to vajadzēja runāt?

Tagad pēc gadiem par to uzzinu vien no saviem ārzemju draugiem, kuri paši nav dienvidslāvi (jo zinu, ka ar viņiem par to labāk nerunāt) - bet kuriem par to ir vairāk informācijas. Skatos (dokumentālās) filmas un lasu dažas grāmatas, lai gūtu kaut aptuvenu priekšstatu.

Tomēr jautājums paliek... Vai varbūt citās skolās ne tikai par Dienvidslāvijas karu/-iem, bet par to teritoriju vispār tika vairāk mācīts? Un vai šobrīd par to māca?


Discounts with Groupon

As far as I know, Groupon discounted deals exist not only in the Netherlands, but also other countries. Not long time ago also in Latvia appeared several similar websites (although not Groupon), all offering great discounted deals.

I know that my sister is a huge fan of them and using them regularly. Here in the Netherlands I have used them and a couple of other websites a few times as most of the offers do not attract me. I do not want to get any beauty treatments, book a hotel (which anyways sounds quite expensive), go out for dinner on a regular basis or subscribe for a fitness club.

However, sometimes there are interesting deals we have used:
It is true that we wouldn't have been going to these places otherwise (except "Mt. Everest" which was in our plan anyway), but as the prices were not too expensive, it was interesting to try something new. And I think that it is worth it as long as you do not pay too much.

I have also used a couple of websites for presents, but can't reveal which deals - as those who got the presents might be reading my blog :)

How about your experience?


Dutch insurance

Finally after so many struggles and e-mails I got my Dutch insurance! The road to it wasn't easy...

I am obliged to have a local insurance if I am working in the Netherlands. My Latvian insurance doesn't count for them... And as there are quite a lot of insurance companies here, I couldn't understand which one to choose.

Step 1: CouchSurfing

After posting a question about it on CouchSurfing and getting opinions both from Dutch and expats, I learnt that the insurance here is very expensive. Insane! Back home I used to pay three times less, but OK - also the incomes were lower...

After checking all the replies and suggestions, I started to act.

Step 2: Agis

My employer has a contract with Agis, which gives 6% discount for the basic insurance. They were the only ones who replied me in English and also had a brochure in English to send me. Nice service!

Unfortunately the insurance turned out to be quite expensive - around 130-140 EUR per month. I think it's too expensive as I am not getting ill so often to make it worth...

So needed to look for another option.

Step 3: AnderZorg

As most of the people suggested AnderZorg, I applied for their insurance online (unfortunately all in Dutch). Soon afterwards I got a reply (in Dutch) that I must send them a copy of my passport and a copy of my employment contract or a copy of the paper saying that I am registered as living in the Netherlands. My SOFI number was not enough...

That was end of June, and I didn't have the employment contract (yet) and I was not registered with the city council, so I moved on.

Step 4: CZ.nl

Another suggestion was CZ, who even have their homepage (partially) in English, so I decided to try my luck there. The customer service assured me that they need only my passport copy, nothing else.

I applied, but it turned out not to be true - they sent me reply (in Dutch) asking for the same paper from the city council which I did not have...

Step 5: Interpolis

I also applied for Interpolis (in Dutch) online, who called me ~10 days later by saying that I should call to another phone number to apply as I was not a customer of Rabobank. Shitty (read: slow) customer service...

Step 6: back to AnderZorg

As I finally got my employment contract in the beginning of September, I sent it to AnderZorg. It took them some time to process, but this weekend I finally got my insurance card and all the papers (in Dutch). It will cost me a bit more than 90 EUR per month, but it was the cheapest I could find.

Unfortunately all the papers and the customer service replies (which are quite fast) are in Dutch, but Michael, Google Translate and my practise will help :)


Chitchat in Dutch job interviews

Some time ago I participated in Amsterdam Expatcenter event, where we had a short discussion about Dutch job interviews and the best way to position yourself in Dutch job market.

The speaker gave an example of American lady, who disliked Dutch job interviews because of very personal and irrelevant questions she was asked - "How long do you live here?", " Why did you move?", "How was your day?" etc. While they might seem innocent questions for me and you, it was not like that for her.

As the speaker explained, unfortunately she did not know that in job interviews these kind of questions or answers are not important, as the main importance is paid to make the interviewee comfortable and relaxed before the interview and real questions. Well, in this case with the American lady it just got the opposite effect.

After being to a few job interviews myself I can confirm that it is indeed true, although luckily it does not make me annoyed. But then again, I always thought that Latvians are very similar to Dutch.

In one of my previous job interviews in the Netherlands I got to know:
- Why did the interviewer (non-Dutch) moved to the Netherlands;
- What sense of humor does the interviewer have;
- That all Latvian girls' names start with A (according to their previous experience);
- Where did my interviewers study.
- Etc.

Relevant information? Not at all. But it helped me to see the "human side" of those people and make it a bit less informal for both of us. I also do not mind sharing information with them (why did I move here; what do I think about Amsterdam; was it easy to find the office etc.).

If you do not feel so comfortable yourself, here is a hint - starting asking them questions back and let them do talking!


10 pages about Estonia

Finally it happened!

Some of you might remember that in April for a few days I went to lovely Estonia to check out five star hotels, conference centers, restaurants and other places in Tallinn and Tartu. It was a wonderful trip!

When my Estonian friends asked me about the reason of my trip, I told that I have joined a FAM trip, organised by Estonian Convention Bureau. While other people were thinking if it's worth to host international conferences from their organisations exactly in Estonia, my role was to gather information for an article.

Today I finally got the copy of the article - wonderful destination report on 12 pages (two covers + 10 pages with text) about Estonia for Headquarters Magazine, who also payed me a nice amount of money, of course!

Read it here!


Why Latvians are cold abroad?

So let's make it clear once for all. It is simple - Latvians are never cold in Latvia, only when going abroad (including to Western and Southern Europe). And somehow foreigners seem not to understand this simple truth.

So let me explain you. For us in Latvia it does not feel cold at all. We are used to that, the cold has been there for years and we have proper clothing for winter if you were wondering about -20 degrees. In fact, I remember coming to Latvia from Belgium in Feb 2010 and saying it is too warm with my winter coat!

However, things change when we go abroad. When I used to live in Malta, I was freezing in their winter when it was around +10. Despite the warm degrees, it was always windy and rainy, and I was not prepared for that. It felt colder than in Latvia, and I was forced to wear a jacket, gloves and a scarf even in March!

Now in the Netherlands I am rarely satisfied about the weather - it is either too cold (97% of cases) or too hot (above +25 degrees, 3% of cases). Luckily the last few weeks have been fine, or maybe I am simply used to that by now.

Back home I never had air-conditioning either at home or in the office. I had central heating with only one option - turned on (no "turned off" or "regulated heating" or whatsoever) for 4-5 months per year. If it was too hot (and mostly it was), I was opening windows or wearing short sleeves inside. Yes, it was not a modern house, but built in 1920ies.
At my dad and my grandma's houses there were two options - either there is heating or there is not. A bit better, but no choice to regulate it.

To sum up, we are cold when going abroad - unless it's hot summer and then it's too hot for us. The only good and predictable weather is in Latvia :)

P.S. Of course, I am generalising. As always. But just to help you understand the point why the only people in the multi-cultural environment complaining about cold office today were two Latvians :)


Official Amsterdammer!

Finally we did it! After months of complains both in Facebook and IRL, e-mailing our landlord and receiving back reply "you will get it soon" and pulling some strings at Michael's company - finally we got our renting agreement!

As it is not possible to register as living in the Netherlands without this agreement, it was very important. If I would have had it a few weeks before, my SOFI number, bank account, insurance and all other things would have been much easier...

But it does not matter any more. Last week we got the renting agreement and immediately scheduled an appointment in the city council to get registered. As EU citizens we needed only two things - passport and the renting agreement.

This morning we had a meeting in the city council (for us it was on Stadhouderskade as our flat is in central Amsterdam). It took around 15 minutes, and then it was done - very easy and without any problems. As we already had our SOFI numbers, the clerk took this information as well and then asked us to sign the form that we want to be registered. Afterward he issued both of us a paper saying that we are registered, and that was all!

Now I can finally get registered in OBA (library), apply for free Dutch language classes, get a sticker in my passport (according to Maarten) and make my life much easier! Maybe later I will find some more benefits :)


Other blogs

Here is a list of other blogs I tend to read time from time when I have time and the right feeling... As I know those people personally (well, more or less), it gives a special feeling to follow their adventures.

Can't remember any more at the moment...

Any special blogs you would like to share?


Too many articles

OK, I think that I am exaggerating again... It started as a nice wish to write a couple of articles per month - not too much, not too less. But now I feel that I have agreed to write too many, and all the deadlines are coming up at the same time!

So let me see, what do I need to do?
And all of them within the next days or maximum a week.

Argh! Why did I do that to myself? It's not like they would be paying me for that... :P


How much money do we spend?

In the latest Libertas Magazine issue there is my article about money, comparing the situation in different countries by local young people.

Take a look here!


What is Bookcrossing?

I wrote this article for Cafebabel Brussels almost two years ago, but it never got published. Recently remembered about it and thought it is still worth publishing it at least in my blog.

How often do you get a present when you go to interview somebody for an article? Not too much, I would say you. But during my last interview I got a present – a book! Amy Bartlett, a bookcrosser from Brussels (originally from Canada), gave me Terry Pratchett’s book “Jingo” to understand the concept of Bookcrossing much better.

Release and find books

BookCrossing? What is that? How can these words go together? Actually yes, quite easy, says Amy, who has been a bookcrosser for eight years and can not stop talking about the concept of it. Listen to her passion and emotions when she speaks about the positive karma travelling around the world, about making somebody’s day in such an easy way and about the lovely way how to connect with others!

BookCrossing is an online platform, created nine years ago, which gives the possibility for book lovers to release and find books in random places all over the world. Even if it sounds scary at a first glance to give away your books, it gives the possibility to increase your “bookshelf” (even if virtually), exchange opinions about books as well as give and get suggestions which are the most interesting books.

From Germany to Malaysia

“Some people struggle with Bookcrossing, because they want to keep their books. I struggled with it in the beginning and I kept a lot of my books, but then I started to realise that it is so exciting for other people to read the books I like and to pass them on. I have almost no books that I own. There are some that are gifts and I keep them because I do not feel comfortable giving away gifts all the time. My friends know me well enough now, so if they buy me a book, they say – you can bookcross it,” admits Amy, who has the biggest amount of bookcrossed books between Belgium bookcrossers – at the moment she has registered more than 400 books and released more than 500 books.

As a citizen of the world who has lived in six different countries and is travelling a lot, Amy has released books everywhere and is excited to see where they end up. She recalls a book she released in Germany and it is now in Malaysia or another book which flew away in her homeland Canada and five years later was registered in the website somewhere in the United States. Amy says: “You really start to get the global reach of this process and see how far good books and karma can travel.”

800 thousand members of BookCrossing

While I am going through the book she gave to me (by the way, a few days later I released it on a bench in Amsterdam and already a few minutes later the book was gone!), Amy tells about people she have met and books she have exchanged throughout these years. While living in Peru for a year, she once received a box full of books in English from a Brazilian bookcrosser who just saw her post in the forum saying that Amy misses books in her native tongue and sent her the present. Another book which she received from an Australian bookcrosser and released later on Rue de Midi was picked up and taken to Antwerpen. “I had never heard of BookCrossing before and was intrigued so I just signed up, but really have to do some work now, so no time to read just yet,” was the journal entry left by the lucky founder.

What is the secret which makes people want to buy books and later give them away? Maybe it is the curiosity they have, thinking what others say and how do they evaluate the particular book. Maybe it is “win-win” situation, understanding that you can also get from somebody else the book you have always wanted. Maybe it is a good will and a wish to make somebody very happy. Whatever is the answer, more than 800 thousand members of BookCrossing so far have registered more than six millions books and the number is increasing.


Got a new job!

You can congratulate me - I have got a new job with a real salary. Yehuu, the time has come and let us hope it will continue for a long time!

So from now on I am not working with IamExpat.nl anymore, but at Booking.com (the online hotel reservations, I am sure you have heard about it) as a Latvian translator, meaning that I am going to translate the information about the hotels you can read online from English to Latvian. Do not worry, my Latvian is much better than English and my grandma (former Latvian language and literature teacher) should be proud of me! However, I am not the only Latvian translator there, so do not blame me if some sentences online are not correct. :)

I have spent only two days in the office (which is huge), so we will see how it goes. I am happy that I have my employment contract and that I will have money - which is badly needed. My flat back home in Riga, my language classes (need to decide - take Dutch or British English classes), paying for dinner (instead of letting my cute boyfriend pay every time), buying some flight tickets etc. That's what the money is needed for!

How did I get a job? Simply - saw an ad on their website, applied, did a translation test, had a job interview and then got selected for the job! Never expected to use my Latvian skills in Amsterdam, but it's good :D)