First appeared in THEXPAT Journal Winter 2016 publication
On a Mission to Demystify
ACCESS is often approached by a variety of local service providers with the request to explain “What is an expat?”, or “Who are expats?” and, “What do expats want?” Sadly, in their well-intentioned search to discover what their clients want or may want, service providers often end up slightly disappointed. Because the truth is, there is as much heterogeneity within the expatriate population in the Netherlands as there is in any general population. Perhaps not quite as broad but certainly enough that tailoring products and services to them is a relatively impossible task.
Even considering some of the general characteristics shared among the expatriate population, there remains a diversity which defies being put in a box. And – as we know – in order to target clients, suppliers need to be able to identify and speak to their audience if they are to sell anything.
The most recent such request came from a group of real estate agents doing their best to understand their market: from hosting presentations by different national groups to networking with a broad representation of international groups. ACCESS was another resource consulted, and so we felt it was perhaps time to let people know – let our community know – what it is we say about you, the international, expatriate community in the Netherlands. How we attempt to build a bridge and contribute to a process of expectations management such that all benefit – supplier and recipient.
Assumption #1: Expats Have Money to Spare
To start with; yes, we do ‘disappoint’ as we correct some misconceptions. For example, the one that all expats have ‘deep pockets’: wrong. With changes in relocation packages, employment conditions and countries of origin, the era of the ‘wealthy expat’ is long gone. Yes, expats tend to earn higher wages, but they also have higher and different expense considerations. Such as international schooling, travel to far-away home countries, remittances they may be sending back to family, double expenses if they still have a home, or obligations in their home, or other, countries. To name but a few.
Then there is the largest increasing category of internationals who by no means fit such an outdated pre-conception of expats. The ‘free movers’: young, ambitious, globally-mobile individuals pursuing opportunities and often coming on their own, with no support package. Defining a target audience by only looking at a presumed income level in actual fact hides more than it reveals.
Assumption #2: Dutch Homes Are Perfectly Normal
Then there is the issue regarding personal expectations and norms. For some expats, the space of your average Dutch home – or rather, storage shortage – causes panic, true panic. For others it may be the most normal thing in the world. Adjusting to a home in which the living room is also the family room can lead to known daily living patterns being disturbed, and therefore having to be adjusted. Discovering just how close you are to your neighbours unsettles some, and causes others to not even bat an eyelid. The list goes on.
We encourage those showing properties to internationals to take a more sympathetic approach in their communication about such issues. We advise them to avoid the ‘Doe normaal’ (‘Just be normal’) attitude, which takes time for internationals to understand and, eventually, to appreciate. In short, we encourage a little less bluntness when dealing with internationals, and bit more listening.
Assumption #3: Expats Speak English Fluently
Language is, not surprisingly, another issue. While English is the predominant working language within the international community, it is by no means the native language of ‘the international community’. Poor translations matter. Excessive use of expressions – either poorly translated or done so as per UK or US norms – often totally miss the mark and speak to no-one. We encourage suppliers to invest in clear communication materials, and that they invest in the pre-care to after-care process of finding housing. The extra effort goes a long way in creating meaningful connections with foreign clients.
We know that finding a home in your new country can be a challenging journey, and is vital to settling comfortably. We will continue, with other groups representing the international community, to advocate for you, and to manage the expectations of those providing services to you.