An Expat's View: Billy Allwood
Published: 08 October 2009 Modified: 03 November 2011
Billy explains why The Hague is an excellent city for expats while at the same time not always living up to international standards.
‘Think international – not Dutch’
Billy Allwood is director and founder of TheHagueOnLine, a gateway to and for the international community in the The Hague region. He has close ties with expats. He says, ‘The Hague is a great city to live in, especially for expat families. Its size makes it manageable and most Hagenaars have some fluency in English. Yet many expats feel that there is also room for improvement, especially when it comes to the service level in general and health services.’
A thriving international community
Billy Allwood has lived in The Hague since 1995. In 2003 he set up TheHagueOnLine, a website that offers news about the city, a listing of leisure activities and news about what is happening within the international community. It has about 60,000 visitors a month, which is about the size of the entire international community in this region. There is also a social club that organises all kinds of activities four times a month.
In 2009 he organised the debut of the ‘International Culture & Leisure in Holland Fair’, which replaced the annual ‘Feel at Home in The Hague’ International Community Fair. About 150 organisations came to the fair to present themselves.
‘Yes’, he says, ‘I would recommend The Hague to foreigners. The number of cultural and sporting events has increased enormously over the last few years. Besides it is easy for a foreigner to settle in as most Dutch people speak English. The city itself is safe for children. It is big but small enough to cycle, there are green areas and of course there is the beach.’
Is there any service here?
Although an Englishman, Billy has learned to read and speak Dutch. This makes him feel ‘better connected’: ‘If you don’t speak Dutch, you don’t get into Dutch society and don’t come to understand the Dutch.’
Billy has a lot to tell about the relationship between the international residents of The Hague on the one hand and the Dutch – or Hagenaars in this case – on the other. One of the things expats complain about is service in general: ‘Expats have high demands when it comes to service. In Holland the service level is very low and expats are the first to complain. Sometimes service is so bad now that even the Dutch have started to complain! If The Hague wants to be an international city, it needs to meet international standards for service and do something about this.’
Expats also complain about the reluctance of Dutch doctors to use painkillers. A number of foreign women go back to their home countries to give birth because they will not be administered painkillers during labour. Billy explains, ‘People with a lot of money vote with their feet. They will say: “If I can’t get what I want here I will go elsewhere.” Meaning: outside Holland. Take Brazilian women, for example. They are used to having a Caesarean. If they elect for one here, a Dutch doctor will ask them their reasons. It is not a right or a wrong: it is an entirely different point of view. Dutch doctors should be more aware of these international differences and act accordingly.’
‘Of course things can always be better’, Billy says. ‘But The Hague should continue to work on its international standards and services if it wants to keep ahead of the game. Other cities are doing that too and may be catching up in due course.’