On mental health

Photo by Sasha Freemind Photo by Sasha Freemind on Unsplash

This blog's been too long without a new article, though I'd have hoped for a happier topic to talk about.

These past years, I've had heartfelt discussions with friends about self-harm, suicide, anxiety, depression, burn-out and other not so nice things. They opened to me, I listened. I opened to them, they listened. Talking about feelings, experiences, symptoms, thoughts to someone who can find the words or understand yours, breaking the first assumption everyone suffering from various mental health issues has: you are not alone.

You are not alone.

Keeping this pain to yourself for so long, to finally be able to talk openly, shamelessly, is truly freeing. However liberating it is, I rarely could talk about those topics for long as it's mentally draining. But it's always been a relief. Knowing you have people who can grasp your world you can talk to if need be. You have a crutch. Broken, too, but it's support nonetheless.

You are not alone. Talk to someone.

Everyone's a functioning adult. There's no other way. How would everyone cope with life otherwise, silently? People don't talk. In just under two years, I remember talking to 7 different people about our mental health issues. Mind you, I don't have many friends, so, that's quite a lot more than I would have expected. Some were diagnosed, some haven't sought professional help (yet?). It's going to pass, you lie to yourself. It passes. It actually does feel like it passes! In reality, you've just swept dirt under the carpet. And every time it creeps back in, there's less and less room under the carpet.

You are not alone. Talk to someone. Seek help.

I did some therapy sessions a few years back. It helped enough, I thought, so I stopped. Here we are, 4 years later, it's never been that bad. It does not pass anymore. It's there. There's no creeping in. It's in broad daylight. There's no night. I knew it was creeping in back in earlier this year. I asked a doctor for therapy. Covid happened. Postponed it. I was doing fine enough. I had time. I'm not doing okay. I don't have the luxury of waiting months again. I could have worked on it, but I didn't.

You are not alone. Talk to someone. Seek help. Don't wait.

It is hard to recognize you need help. It is even harder to put yourself in such a vulnerable situation, talking to someone you don't know about your issues that you would rather not even acknowledge. It's not a cold. It's not a sprain. It's your brain. Your brain is sick. And for some reason, it makes you ashamed. But there's no shame in having mental health issues. People have it harder than you. You might believe that. You don't need to put yourself on a scale. Pain is pain. You deserve help as much as anyone else.

You are not alone. Talk to someone. Seek help. Don't wait. You deserve help.

Everyone experiences their mental health issues differently. For me, as far as I can remember, it's been a cycle. I would feel shit for a week or two and be "okay" for a few months. Every iteration, the cycle shortens slightly and the "okay" is less "okay" and the shit is shittier. I just don't see it because it's a long process but I just accepted the cycle, the not-so-okay part because it was still better than the shitty part of the cycle. And then the iceberg tipped over and I've more shitty days than "okay" days and the cycles feel like the biggest rollercoaster.

I often have digestive issues, lost appetite or cannot eat much because my stomach complains about whatever I feed it. My short memory is a complete disaster. I can barely concentrate. My brain is working at 50%, taking much longer to read and understand things. It's getting harder to communicate in English. My brain is foggy, my vision is tunneling and blurry. I feel weak and my fingers shake as if I was low on sugar. I have higher than usual heart rate. I feel like anything is a mountain to climb... it's just doing the groceries once a week or go to work. I struggle with coming up with solutions, but once I do, I cannot pick between any of the solutions. I always was woken up by my alarm clock, I now wake up an hour before, unrested. There are no longer longer nights during week-end. I'm irritable. I don't feel joy anymore.

I've been diagnosed again. I suffer from depression, a severe anxiety disorder and a couple of other mental disorders.

I'm getting help, too late, again, but I am. I'll be fine, eventually, or at least much better.

I obviously don't like sharing that part of me, because even though I acknowledge it, I still don't understand parts of it. I share so that maybe it can help someone. I read a few articles in the past, most didn't resonate with me, a few moved me. For some reason, discovering the struggles of Mac Miller, Kevin Love, DeMar DeRozan and some more anonymous people's blog post on their mental health helped me understand there are many more people suffering than I thought there were.

I wish society would make talking about those issues easier and more acceptable. Making it normal to talk about the hard times be they temporary or recurrent. There's still this stigma about weakness in acknowledging and talking about oneself's mental health issues. I wish it wasn't so taboo that people don't know how to react to someone sharing their disorder or distress. Heck, even I don't know how to react to other people's struggles.

I wish we were less ashamed to share our struggles so that other people could identify theirs earlier. Going back in time, I can see times during which knowing something not normal was happening would probably have helped me to recognize disorders and seek help earlier.

For French readers, I feel like the "Entre mecs" Youtube series is worth your time. It tries to put on the table taboos among men and discuss them. It's not specificially about mental health but it's a good step forward. A friend of mine really likes "Et tout le monde s'en fout" Youtube channel.

Have a read at Kevin Love open letters: https://www.theplayerstribune.com/en-us/articles/kevin-love-everyone-is-going-through-something, https://www.theplayerstribune.com/en-us/articles/kevin-love-mental-health.

This post is vague for the most parts. It's just that I haven't figured things out for myself yet, obviously, otherwise there wouldn't be an article in the first place. It's probably for me too that I write this, taking the time to put words on feelings. A way to start my journey.

Anyway, signing off, there is a "couple" of things I need to work on. Do you too?

Take care of yourself.

Set up your Canon PIXMA MP495/499 to use WiFi

Even if I doubt you'd ever be able to buy this Canon printer/scanner now (I bought it 6 years ago), maybe this tutorial could help you set up your MP495/499 to connect to your personal WiFi and get the scanner and printer to work wirelessly in Linux. To be fully honest with you, I'm only writting this so I can have a straightforward tutorial next time I need to set it up again since I've had to set it up already 5 times and I always spend too much time to find out how to do it.

Configure your printer's WiFi settings

The MP495 WiFi settings are set up from a webpage on the printer itself. For that, you need to access it wirelessly (don't you see the irony here?). The MP495 is expecting a Wireless Network with the following "features":

  • No password
  • DHCP server activated

The printer will now automatically connect to the WiFi network once the WiFi has been activated. To do so, power up your MP495 and wait for it to initialize.

Once it's done its whole init process, press the Maintenance button (A) until the 7-segment display (B) shows something looking like the letter G. Then press the Color button (C). Wait a few seconds and the WiFi logo on the front panel should light up.

Settings panel

Find out the IP address of your printer by going on the webpage of your Access Point or connect your computer to the BJNPSETUP network and run nmap -sP ( being the network on which you are when connected to BJNPSETUP). This should return three IPs: the AP's, yours and your printer's.

Enter the IP address of your printer in your web browser. You'll be greeted by a page, you'll click Advanced, you'll note the Network Printer Name, and then click Network Settings.

Select Use wireless LAN and enter the SSID of the network you want your printer to connect to. Click on Modify next to the Encryption Method label. In the opened page, set up the settings of your WiFi network.

Then click save. Of course, you'll lose the connection to your printer since it is now expecting another WiFi network. So go back to your AP and set it back up to what it was before you modified it.

Now, you'll certainly want your printer to have the same IP address for ever so you don't have to reconfigure your printing and scanning tools on your computer. Either you do that in the Network Settings of your printer or on your AP (if it supports it) by giving it a static DHCP lease. I recommend the latter.

Check on your AP or with your computer that the printer is connected on your WiFi network (and get its IP address thanks to the Network Printer Name you noted earlier).

Configure printer on Linux

Then you can configure your printer with the tools available in your distro. On Xubuntu, open system-config-printer and click on Add and select Find Network Printer in the Network Printer dropdown menu. Enter the IP address of your printer and once it's been found, click Forward.

It'll first look for drivers and then ask you which one you want. Select Canon and then either PIXMA MP495 or PIXMA MP499 depending on which one you got. Print a test page to be sure your printer is well configured.

Configure scanner on Linux

XSane and simple-scan are broken right now on Xubuntu for the MP495 (16.10 at the moment of article redacting) so most people will tell you to install the driver from Canon. I had really a hard time to install it and I generally avoid using vendor's drivers. So after searching a bit, I found out that XSane had its support for the MP495 broken only if libsane library's version is 1.0.25 (which it was on my system). After adding some repo and updating libsane, I could scan over WiFi.

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:rolfbensch/sane-git
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get upgrade

Factory reset the printer

If for any reason you misconfigured your printer, factory reset it by pressing the Maintenance button until you see the small letter t on the 7-segment display and then press on the Color button.

Disable WiFi on MP495

Press the Maintenance button until you see the letter G and then press the Black button (on the left of the Color button).

My first conference (and talk!)

As I explained previously in the article presenting my feedback on my internship, I'm now part of Free Electrons' engineering team. The most exciting part is the upstreaming of the work we do with some clients. I'll certainly get into more details on that on my "2016-summary" article planned for the end of the year. The second most exciting part of my job is going to Linux conferences.

That's an awesome event where you can find people tremendously contributing to Linux, people who definitely "know their shit". We're all gathered to share what we have done the past few months, years or decades. What were the trouble we ran into, how we managed to resolve them, how to use such subsystem for your driver, how this subsystem works, how this hardware component works, etc.

This is a place where you can finally meet people you were talking with over the mailing list the whole year.

Well, that's enough propaganda for now!

If you read the article on my internship, you'd know I built a lab to do continuous integration for the Linux kernel thanks to LAVA and KernelCI project. I struggled a bit while building it on which components to choose for the lab, how to build it, how to automate things, how to do continuous integration, ... I fought with LAVA documentation, because it was a terrible mess at that time.

So, we decided with Antoine Ténart, my internship supervisor, to propose a talk on how to build a board farm and remote control them. You can watch it on Youtube.

You can see the first minutes, I'm really not at ease. The first words were unsure. The stress got me a bit but after few sentences, I was focused on the subject and it was really enjoyable.

It was a great experience (the conference and the talk) and I'm already looking forward to the next ELC (Embedded Linux Conference) in Portland at the end of February.

These conferences are also great opportunities to visit some new cities. I've never been to Berlin before so I decided to spend a few days before the conference to wander through the city. You can find my album here.

Lenovo, biggest disappointment ever

This happend two years ago and I felt some people would be interested on some feedbacks on Lenovo customer support.

After years of struggling with a 6 years old laptop during my Computer Science lessons, I decided it was time to upgrade to a much better, lighter and powerful laptop. Some friends had Lenovo laptops and were really happy with theirs. The quality of the product, the relatively cheap price and the fact it was number one laptop seller in the world definitely convinced me to buy one of their laptop. Therefore, I bought a Lenovo S440 for 900-1000€ (new but not low model of the brand).

After one week, I broke the Q key and had to send it to repair. The keyboard still seemed cheap after that but I was way more careful while using it (the Fn key was unbelievably fragile).

After a year, I started my internship in Amsterdam as a JAVA web developer and two months after, the laptop started to act weirdly. The HDMI output was randomly working: it detected screens attached to it only after longer and longer time. At the beginning it was only for few minutes, then hours and then I couldn't get it to work at all. I even tried to reinstall Windows on it to check if it wasn't some drivers failing on Linux. But no, same for Windows.

It is almost unthinkable to develop programs on a 14 inches screen without dual screening. I therefore sent my Thinkpad into repair November the 10th 2014 while Lenovo told me it would take 5 worked days to get it back. It was perfect timing since I was about to take a week of holiday. I finally received it 3 weeks later (instead of 5 worked days), December the 2nd 2014. I called and mailed them several times during the wait without them having the courtesy to answer any of my contact attempts.

So finally, I can work again. I don't mind I had to wait a bit more since I had my personal big desktop computer I could take to work (but try to ride your bike with a desktop as backpack and you'll see how inconvenient it is). Well... no. They sent me back a laptop which is DEFINITELY NOT WORKING ANY BETTER. They even sent my laptop with a missing rubber foot (or anti-slip pad or however you call it). The HDMI is still not working and worse, both Windows and Linux don't even detect there is a HDMI output available. They didn't even take the time to test the laptop before sending it back.

Of course, I tested with multiple screens and cables. Not working at all.

I called them, sent a mail, sent a reminder after a week and still got no answer from them.

After posting a rant on Twitter and Facebook and calling them some more times, I finally got a mail from Lenovo on December 18th 2014, offering a free replacement of my laptop. I would only need to give a date and place where to pick up the faulty unit and a date and place where to deliver the new one after we agreed on the replacement unit.

I chose a T440s for twice the price of my S440 (keep in mind if I had no desktop computer with me back then, I would not have been able to work at all during my internship, thus cancelling it) which seemed to be a fairly good compensation.

I left Amsterdam January 22nd 2015 as I ended my internship and had to go back to France to pursue my studies. I specifically asked Lenovo to send the replacement laptop to my home in France but guess what... They messed things up again and sent the replacement laptop to my former office in Amsterdam and never told me it had been delivered. I just had to guess it was there (no package tracing). So two months after the pickup, I mailed them to ask what was happening and discovered the cold truth of their complete incompetence. I had them send it back to France and finally, I got it around mid-April 2015.

Thanks Lenovo for your miserable customer support and being without any laptop (excellent situation for a developer) for more than 6 MONTHS. Be sure, I'll NEVER buy any Lenovo laptop again. NEVER.

Feedback on my internship at Free Electrons

I joined Free Electrons February the 1st, 2016 in Toulouse, France for a six months internship as my end-of-studies project in enterprise. It ended August the 5th, 2016 and I've been in holiday since, so now is the time for a little feedback on the last six months.

What's that?

Free Electrons is an engineering company founded in 2004 which offers services for development in Open Source software programs and currently, offers training for the Linux kernel, the Yocto Project and OpenEmbedded, Buildroot or Android. It also offers its expertise in embedded Linux development for companies willing, for example, to use Linux in their products, to upstream drivers in kernel or build a custom Linux system.

Since its creation, Free Electrons is doing its best to contribute to the Free Software community. It does so by releasing all its training materials under free documentation license. The company also strongly encourages clients to share our combined work with the community and thus has a preference for clients willing to interact with and give back to the free software community by sparing some of project’s time on upstreaming modifications to free software programs.

Well, there is some more about the company in my report.

Actual work

The subject of my internship is "Linux kernel continuous integration via KernelCI.org" but once the main subject has been dealt with, I could work on other small projects such as Linux kernel driver development or other projects depending on clients' needs.

Linux kernel continuous integration

Since the kernel supports several thousands of different platforms, when a developer writes new code for the kernel, he cannot test his code on all the platforms and usually tests only on the platforms he owns. Before merging its code to the kernel source code, some users or other developers might test it on other platforms or in other configurations but it is rather rare. Furthermore, the only way to guarantee a modification works on all impacted platforms is to build the kernel in all its configurations and test on all these platforms if the kernel boots. This is extremely tedious and time consuming.

The main goal of KernelCI project is to implement a continuous integration in the kernel so build or boot failures are detected before reaching the end users. There already are several labs contributing to the project: several from Linaro and few from KernelCI founders. However, they are often expensive (i.e. the Linaro’s lab uses several 500$ APC PDU systems to control the power of boards) and we did not want to put that much money in a small part of the lab so one of the challenges is to have working, cheap (but not hackish) solutions.

You can follow the whole process of thinking, building and integrating the lab in my report or in the article series I wrote on Free Electrons' blog. At the end of my internship, we had a functional lab integrated in KernelCI which provides boot reports since May, 2016 and can be checked here.

I also developed lavabo to allow Free Electrons' engineers to remotely control boards in the lab.

Miscellaneous development

I added the support of a new board (the Allwinner Parrot R16 EVB) in both U-Boot bootloader and the Linux kernel. See the contributions here: U-Boot support and Linux kernel support.

I also worked (and still work) on the driver for all Allwinner SoCs' ADC which can be used either as an ADC controller, a touchscreen controller or a SoC thermal sensor. I started from an existing driver which exposes the touchscreen and thermal sensor controllers to add the ADC controller as well. The forth version of my patches to upstream the driver is ongoing.


The paragraphs above are only short summaries of what have been done during my internship, for a whole explanation, take the time to read my report. The first chapter are in French as requested by the school but don't worry, the interesting parts are all in English ;)

Also, I share the LaTeX version of it on a GitHub repository so feel free to take whatever you like for your report.


I had really a lot of fun working for Free Electrons though the building & integration of the lab were not as enjoyable as I thought it would be but I LOVED working on drivers, board's support, etc. I'm also really happy to announce I'll be a Free Electrons' engineer for years to come :)

Lemon Muffins

A small and easy recipe for my favourite dessert: lemon muffins


  • flour: 150g,
  • sugar: 100g,
  • eggs: 3,
  • butter: 100g,
  • baking powder: 10g (or so),
  • juice and zest of a lemon.


  • Pre-heat your oven at 190-200°C,
  • Meld the butter,
  • Mix everything together,
  • Put in muffin moulds (almost entirely filled),
  • Put into the oven around 15 minutes,


Good lunch deal

As said in a previous article, Dutch people eat mainly sandwiches as their lunch and therefore, it's a perfectly normal to have a fair number of snack bars near working places or open a "to-go" counter in a restaurant.

That's what decided the Bâton brasserie, at Herengracht 82, 1015BS. It's as much a restaurant/brasserie as it is a snack bar for sandwiches to take away.

Bâton brasserie

Their sandwiches are relatively cheap (~5€), prepared in about 5 minutes, are absolutely delicious and enough for small to medium eaters. Big eaters like me could not eat two, if that's a good indicator.

The best sandwich, from far, is the one with chicken, avocado, white cabbage, bacon, tomatoes, cucumber and a delightful sauce (the best part of the sandwich). That's just... AWESOME. I strongly recommend you to try it!

The snack bar is open Monday to Friday from 9am to 3pm. The restaurant is open throughout the day and even on Saturday but it is not as cheap as the snack bar (8€ that same sandwich).

Small tip for students or young workers

While I had the chance to share a house with awesome roommates, I had some problems with my landlord (who was also living there) which made me leave the house (well, it was also a good excuse to get closer to work).

As I said in a previous article, I already had wandered through Facebook pages and Dutch websites before coming to the Netherlands but I heard from an agency which rent only to students or workers with relatively low wage (2800€/mo gross) at a rather interesting price.

This agency is DeKey and its website is destined to expats willing to stay in Amsterdam for several months. The deal is simple, you leave the appartement in the condition you entered it. Not noisy (well, it's still a student housing but when it's momderate, it's okay).

For 2 months and a half, I lived in an appartement rent by DeKey for a bit less than 500€/month in containers (yes, containers) in Stavangerweg (West side of Amsterdam, near the IJ river). It was a small (20-25m²) room with a bathroom, kitchen and few furnitures: bed, fridge, desk and shelf. The thermal isolation is surprisingly good as opposed to sonor isolation which is not satisfying, but hey! we can't get everything! For the rent and the location, it is a very good deal. Of course, there are other rooms to rent, not only in containers but I could not visit or live in an other room rent by DeKey.

This housing is supposed to be for short stays. 6 months for students, renewable once and only once. You can always ask as I did for an even shorter stay, but you'll be redirected to an other service. If you're already in Amsterdam, visit them at their office or you can contact them by mail (do not hesitate to spam them, they're not really responsive).

For students: fill the form and contact them at least 3 months in advance, appartements are very difficult to have. Some even have a queue for several years!

One of the other reason to chose these appartements is that you can have your BSN (see previous article) and because you'll live alone, you can ask for governmental financial help for paying your rent (up to 180€/month for students!). Be patient for that, it really takes a long time and a lot of papers to give. But hey, free money!

Tourists with cars, be careful!

I lived for 4 months and a half in one of Amsterdam suburbs: the Bijlmer. Former highly criminal (drugs, murders and other joyful stuff) part of the city, it is now way calmer. Anyway, that's just to say that I think I'm legitimate to talk about upsetting stuffs that can happen since, during All Saints' day holidays, someone broke my car window to break into it and check if it had any valuable in it. Of course, it hadn't.

So, being a tourist or an expat, especially during national holidays, if you have a car with a foreign license plate, follow the next advices:

  • avoid "angle parking" or "parallel parking" your car. If you have no other choice, chose a place where there is little chance cars will park near yours.
  • do not let anything in your car (well that seems like good sense). You should hide your GPS or phone support and wipe its mark on the windshield.
  • if you've low esteem for your car, feel it with garbage like McDonalds wrappings or pizza boxes, that might help.
  • put down the luggage cover (that induces nothing else in the trunk). That let the thieves know you've nothing in your trunk.
  • Amsterdam town hall freely offers stickers to put on your car to specify your car does not keep anything valuable. Personally, I think that indicates the opposite: who will have the idea to put that sticker? Those who have something valuable inside to avoid someone breaking into their car.
  • paying parking does not mean safe parking!

And voilà, that's if you still don't want to follow my advice to not take your car to go to Amsterdam. If even with these constraints you want to go with your car, be sure your insurance cover damages in foreign countries!

Driving a car in Amsterdam

I legitimately can talk about driving a car in the Netherlands since I went to Amsterdam by car and I still have it. First thing to know: Amsterdam (like any big Dutch city (Haarlem, Utrecht, ...)) hates cars and does anything in its power to limit them.

They see me rollin', they hatin'


There are very few free parking lots (technically, only very far from the center) and if they are (free), most of the time you can stay only for a limited time.

To pay is the only solution (do not even think about getting a place with a garage or a private parking). At the parking meter, you will be asked to enter your license plate. Don't be fooled, if you can't see it, it is NOT free, you should look better before assuming it is a free space. Count between 1.30€ and 5€ per hour (if you can find a place where to park) for an outdoor parking and between 3€ and 5€ for an indoor parking. Well, in their greatness, they fixed the maximum rate per day to 50€, how generous!

Some tips:

  • Leave your car outside of the city in a P+R which "offers" for 8€, a parking for the day and a round trip in public transport for each one of your (up to 4) carpoolers.
  • If you can't tell if a parking is free or not, it is not. If after a 5 or 10min lookup, you can't find any parking meter, it's because you are not allowed to park here (and that happens a lot in the very center).
  • There a reasonable number of free parking places near the Kraaiennest metro station. The neighbourhood is not really comforting but I got no problem for the moment (parking 24/7 for 2 months now).
  • Avoid like the plague the free parking near the camping and park of Gaasperplas, there are a lot of thieves attracted by this place.
  • Fines are expensive: from 50€ to 100€. Don't forget to pay them quickly, the fines increase a lot with time!

If ever, by any chance, you find a place to live in the center but you're too stubborn to live without your precious car, you can ask for a residential permit to the town hall but it can (and will) take several months. Here is a link to explain a bit all the process (in French).

Some tips:


When I tell you the Dutch government does all it can to limit cars, here is an example (end of 2014): Diesel costs 1€40/L and the SP95 1€70/L (0€30/L more than the French rates), you can even find the Diesel at 1€70/L and the SP95 at 1€90/L on the highway. Therefore, don't forget to fill your tank before passing the Dutch border!


The traffic in the center is a real nightmare. Pedestrians, bikes, scooters, tramways, buses and taxis everywhere. Everything's is slow-paced, red lights every 10 meters (due to the canals). You can also find yourself driving on tramway's rails or on pedestrians roads. In other words, that's complete anarchy. But, you have to be careful and aware of everything around you. Leave a considerable space between your care and the sidewalks on each side of the road to let scooters and bikes go: they don't stop and drive fast. A small moment of inattention and you'll run over someone. At each pedestrian crossing or when you cross a cycling lane, even if the lights are green, slow down and check incoming cyclists from both side of the road. Twice.

We often say to follow a car licensed locally when you're lost. Don't do that in Amsterdam if the car is a taxi or any car with a blue license plate. Indeed, these blue license plates allow vehicles to drive on cycling roads, pedestrian-only roads or bus and tramway lanes, which you are not allowed to take.

Let's talk about speed bumps now. Well, slow down! They're not joking here. Some are so tiny you can't almost see them while others will make your bumper touch the ground at 10km/h. It's in the residential areas where they are the steepest.

Highway exits are worthy of German highway exits: short with a quick 45 to 90° turn. I'll not repeat myself enough: slow down!

Good luck with your car, you'll need it :D

Oh, I almost forgot! If someone's tailgating you or honking at the very first second the lights turn green, do not take it personally, it's not an insult, nor a sign of impatience. That's just how it's done in the Netherlands. Well, someone might also cut in front of you, you could too, nobody will swear at you for that. Be careful, that's all!

[Miam Time] Cloudy with a chance of sandwiches

The first thing I've been told when I said I was going to Amsterdam was that Dutch people actually dislike cooking and eat only by necessity. Dutch people won't eat for pleasure, they'll eat to survive.

To be honest, I don't really like clichés or legends and prefer to make up my own mind. And, surprisingly, the reality is not far from what I've been told (well, it's a generality, but most Dutch people are as told).

You just have to take a look at supermarkets' shelves (nothing better to guess natives' habits): wide shelf for fresh bread, an other for sliced meat and an other for sliced cheese. It's almost impossible to find a salad in an other form than a pack of washed leaves. Everything's done so Dutch people don't have to take more than 5min to cook.

The sandwich is the inevitable part of lunch. I tell you, in two months in Amsterdam, I've never eaten anything else for lunch but sandwiches!

We could stop here and tell ourselves: "Meh, a sandwich, that's not bad!". Well, it has vegetables, proteins and starches (with bread) in it. Yes... but no. That's what foreigners think a sandwich is. I've been stared at with my ham-cheese-tomato-bell pepper-cucumber sandwich. Because here, the sandwich for lunch is also the "Nutella with chocolate sprinkles on it" sandwich. Anything sweet and/or chocolate-y is welcome for lunch.

And that, I can't stand it.

Chocolate sprinkles, because why not?

Help, my house's leaning!

Sometimes, mostly in the city very center, either in Amsterdam or in Utrecht for example, you'll surprise yourself thinking: "Well, this house is leaning, isn't it? And that one too!"

Your head's spinning, you start to question everything you know, your inner ear tells you to lean to match house's facades.

Leaning house in Amsterdam

You're not crazy and fortunately, there is an explanation! No, Amsterdam's ground is not sagging as the famous Venice or the leaning tower of Pisa. Neither it is the product of an hysteric architect.

The explanation is rather simple and logical actually. Houses are mostly narrow and have several (up to 8!) floors because of the land price back in time. People would buy a small surface of land and build a house with a lot of floors because building floors wouldn't cost more in taxes. With such narrow houses and so many floors, there are many steep staircases in the house. Do you see yourself moving a sofa between floors using the stairs? I don't, and neither do Dutch people.

That's why houses leans on the street and why on top of each leaning house there is a pulley to move furnitures in the house from the street (like your old sofa).

[Miam Time] Keep calm and curry on

The curry sauce is to the Netherlands what ketchup is to France or what BBQ sauce is to the United Stated: THE sauce which is mixed with anything and everything. My sister is mixing her wheat or gnocchis with ketchup. Well, here, they dip their sandwiches, frikandels, kroketten (we'll see that later, don't worry ;)) or fries in curry sauce. Every food is eligible to drown in an ocean of curry sauce.

Hot dog with curry sauce and frikandel

A little birdie told me it comes from German-ish habits they took after some years. How not to think of the German Curry wurst and more globally, the German love for the curry sauce?

I tell you, here, the curry is everywhere. The majority of meat I could by in supermarket where curry-spiced, be it pork, beef or chicken. No meat escapes from the curry-y coating. The culinary combinations are surprising but it is still of good taste.

[Miam time] THE Dutch specialty: stroopwafel


The power of this candy is without limits. To be fully honest, I literally hate caramel and honey (some are made of it) yet, I fell in love with stroopwafels (literally sirup waffels).

It's made of two thin waffels separated by a layer of caramel sirup. Together, it tastes strong and is very sweet, you could reasonably eat only two or three in a row before being disgusted... but your palate would ask for it half an hour later. Very addictive (and definitely not healthy).

This sweet is really famous here, you can find some everywhere, some industrial, some artisanal. It's so much appreciated, they make ice cream taste like stroopwafels (I enjoyed one in Utrecht... Mmmmmmmh that sweet memory). People even make Ice cream sandwiches out of it, two stroopwafels split with a thick layer of ice cream.

Ice cream sandwiches made out of stroopwafels

Most often, the diameter of the stroopwafel is between 6 to 8cm wide, but do not be surprised to find some having a 15cm diameter or even more!

Try it with(out) moderation!

Holland or the Netherlands?

The Netherlands

You're used to say Holland or the Netherlands for that nordic country thinking that's two words for the same thing. Well, I'm afraid I've to tell you you're in the wrong.

Actually, Dutch people don't really care, they seem to have forsaken being mad at foreigners after all these years. But that doesn't forbid us to tell true from false.

Holland is NOT the country (well, there were a County of Holland for four centuries and a Kingdom of Holland for four years) but Netherlands are and actually, the Holland is a part of the Netherlands since it's the union of two of its twelve provinces (North and South Holland).

Provinces of the Netherlands

Amsterdam is situated in North Holland and as it is the biggest city in the country, it would be logical its capital to be Amsterdam. However, that's not the case. Haarlem, a nearby city on the West of Amsterdam, is actually the capital of the North Holland.

For your culture (and because that's way more than I wanted to share in this article), below is a really interesting video on differences between Holland and the Netherlands.

Find a job

It might happen, like me, that you decide to go to Amsterdam thanks to a job opportunity or, like my roommates, that you decide to come to Amsterdam to look for a job. One option is not better than the other. Everything depends on timing or envy.

Anyway, in both cases, the company won't be the one looking for you (that'd be amazing, wouldn't it?), you then have to do your research because believe me, Amsterdam is a city which has the chance to have a plethora of job or internship offers.

Why in hell would I want to work in Amsterdam?

Well, first thing first: Dutch people are almost all (English) bilingual. Therefore, you don't need to learn the Dutch language and that is a really great news (it's not that difficult to understand but there are some sounds I still can't pronounce).

As told by Amsterdam official website's propaganda, the work atmosphere is informal.

Forget the classic, boring, constraining 8am-6pm work hours, in the Netherlands, work hours are flexible. That's a game changer for me!

I don't think you need me to find a job in one of the myriad of multinationals (but we never know, so here or here and that's why I'll only talk about places where you can find a cool job in a start-up.

I'll obviously start with AngelList because that's thanks to them I found my internship in a start-up from Amsterdam. The principle is close to a dating website: you, job seeker, post your résumé online while the companies post a small presentation of themselves and their possible job offers. Each one wander through candidates or companies and once one appeals the job seeker or the company, a mail is sent to the person concerned to know if the appeal is reciprocal.If that's the case, mail addresses are automatically exchanged and people can continue conversing outside of the website. Here is the shortcut to Amsterdam job offers.

Dutch Startup Jobs seems to work on the same principle. Same as before, here is the link for Amsterdam.

You can also look on eu-startup for news on start-ups everywhere in Europe. It's an excellent way to find promising start-ups or the one which did a fund raising (thus, more likely to be looking for someone).

On this website, you'll also be able to find a fair number of start-ups in the Netherlands.

Also, don't forget some start-ups do not have a website or a postal address! Here (and surely like in some other cities and countries), the start-ups are often overseen by accelerators (such as Rockstart in Amsterdam for example). Look for those "hidden" start-ups! You can find a list of Dutch accelerators here.

I wish you good luck in your research!

Get a Dutch phone number

That sounds useless but actually, it's not for anyone willing to settle in the Netherlands.

Well, it could be seen as optional if you plan on paying cash most of the time (remember, not all shops accept VISA credit card !), if you don't want to have any Dutch bank account, which, by extension, prevents public transport subscription (among others) and might prevent your employer to pay you.

I'll only describe "basic", most affordable phone subscriptions. A sine qua non condition is the possibility to terminate the contract whenever I like (well, not everyone wants to stay at least a year). That leaves us with prepaid (or rechargeable) SIM cards since phone subscriptions need the subscriber to have a Dutch account... which in turn needs a Dutch phone number.

Here are two phone providers present in the Netherlands:

  • Lebara

It's a well-known phone provider available world-wide and which allows to call or send messages to foreign countries at low cost. They're also famous for their 10=20 (or 20=40 or even 50=110) offer which means for a 10€ reload, you get 20€ in credit (isn't it amazing?). Moreover, calls between Lebara users are free!

Their SIM card is available almost everywhere and is free (but always bundled with credit, so actually not free).

You can find all rates here: http://www.lebara.nl/prepaid/Tarieven. For your information, calls to France costs 15cts/min to fixed lines and 39cts/min to mobiles.

  • *bliep

*bliep is a new contender and I present it because it's the one I've chosen. This phone provider works as daily subscription. Thus, you pay a subscription which allows you to do different things between midnights. You've three different subscriptions and one option:

  • 0€ subscription: you can freely receive phone calls and messages. You can use your free minutes offered with a reload or pay 25cts/min.
  • 0.50€ subscription: you have unlimited (2GB) access to Internet but with limited speed, you can send unlimited messages to Dutch numbers and phone with free minutes offered with a reload or unlimited calls with *bliep users
  • 1€ subscription: same as 0.50€ subscription but with unlimited calls to all Dutch numbers
  • 0.50€ option to get unlimited (max 3.6Mb/s) Internet speed

When reloading your SIM card, let say with 10€, *bliep offers you 10min call credit (in addition to what your subscription offers).

The biggest drawbacks are the documentation and official papers only delivered in Dutch and the struggle to get one *bliep SIM card (ThePhoneHouse sells it). The SIM card costs 10€ and can be found in shops for 20€ with 10€ worth of credits.

You can change between subscriptions via their app or by sending a message to a (free) special phone number.

You can find the different rates (in Dutch) here: https://www.bliep.nl/#roaming

Don't forget most of French phone providers offer the ability to use your French phone subscription from anywhere in Europe 35 days in a year. Check if your phone provider offers it before subscribing anything.

I voluntarily did not include LycaMobile because of bad reviews (here, here and here).

Get your BSN

After having found your lovely apartment, you have to (you should at least) register as a tenant. Thanks to this registration, you are now able to insure your place, open a bank account.. and pay taxes (it would not be funny otherwise, don't you think?).

You could actually live (illegaly) without this BSN (Burger Service Number) but you would not be able to do most of the things I said earlier and there are also some chances your employer cannot pay you. Too bad, isn't it? Moreover, you being registered might get you some governement help to pay your rent.

I already told you, without BSN, no bank account but you should know that VISA card are not accepted in all shops (the two supermarkets I shop do not for example). You can always withdraw money from an ATM but your foreign bank can charge you because you withdraw from ATM of another bank in another country. In addition, public transports company (GVB, Connexxion, EBS) ask you to pay your abonnement on the Internet via iDEAL.. which is a service only offered by Dutch banks.

To obtain your BSN, you have to take an appointment at the Town Hall (Gemeente in Dutch). You have two options: either you phone them (+31 (0)20 624 1111) or you visit them (Amstel 1, 1011 PN).

Be quick! Like in every public service, you can wait a lot before getting your appointment (at least two weeks!). You'll need your (valid) ID card or passeport, a birth certificate, a rental contract with your landlord, your work contract (if you have one) and a copy of your landlord's ID card if you're his/her first tenant.

Spare an hour and a half of your precious time for this appointment.

You're now a citizen of Amsterdam, how do you feel?




Housing in Amsterdam

After having found a job or while seeking one, it is always a good idea not to be homeless. There exists two different options, one being more temporary than the other:

  • youth hostels,
  • room/apartment rental.

Youth hostels

This solution is only of interest if you're staying for few days or to avoid being homeless, the price per night is pretty expensive. Count on 100-150€ per night in the center of Amsterdam during summer or holidays.

However, if you're a bike fanatic, you could go to "Hello, I'm local" which is an hour and half away from Amsterdam center. Situated in Haarlem, the night costs around 30-40€ in a 14-beds dormitory and the owners are lovely. If you're coming by car, you could have a chance to park it in one of those few free parkings nearby.

Anyway, even if you don't chose to stay in Haarlem, definitely take some time to visit the city, it's worth a look :)

14-beds dormitory at Hello, I'm local youth hostel in Haarlem

Appartement/room rental

As I said, you don't want to stay too long in a youth hostel. It's expensive and you need a bit of privacy, don't you think?

So, now you're looking for a room or an apartment to rent or to share. Again, you've two possibilities: illegaly renting an apartment/room (only for the government, I'm not suggesting you to squat an apartment !) or register yourself at the Town Hall.

However, you can only register if the landlord gives you a rental contract (which is quiet uncommon for cheap places).

Why is it so important? you ask. You have to know that most employers, all banks and some organisms can ask you your BSN (or ex-SOFI number) which is given to you after you've been registered at the Town Hall. Without this BSN, no bank account, which means no public transport abonnement, no mobile subscription, no appartement insurance, etc. I will explain all that in a next article.

How would you know the apartment you're interested in is registrable? Appartement hunting websites and landlords often mention "registration" (kijkavond in Dutch) in their ads. The apartments or rooms that are registrable are often more expensive, due to taxes (on wastewater, wastes, ...) being applied on the number of tenants. You cost them money so I guess it's fair to charge you more.

However, it is rare to find landlors which accept you register for a period of less than a year. The reason is simple: once registered, the landlord cannot unregister you until the one-year anniversary date of your registration. If you forget to unregister, the landlord will pay the taxes for a person which is not renting the room or apartment anymore.

Do not spit on "illegal" rentals, it can save you from homelessness at a way lower cost than youth hostels.

Where to find apartment to rent

Some (paid) websites do their business on it. I passed most of my time on Kamernet and Kamertje which ask you a 30 to 40€/month fee to contact landlords. I (shamefully) paid a two-weeks abonnement to Kamernet and sent around ten mails. 7 were replied to but all turned out to be scams :(

The second possibility is to ask agencies to find you an apartment or take an apartment managed by an agency. Most of them have many apartment to rent and allow you to register. However, be careful, like in France, some agencies sell lists of available apartments which are, of course, for 80% of them, already rented. It is an almost mandatory to deal with agencies if you want an apartment in the center.

The last option is to use social networks, Facebook being the most popular for rentals. There exists a big number of pages linking hunters and landlords and that is how I found my room. Those are the two pages I consulted: https://www.facebook.com/groups/Amsterdamapartmentrentals/ and https://www.facebook.com/groups/amsterdam.apartments/. Don't be fooled, there are a lot of demands and few offers which offers a beautiful playground to scammers.

How much?

For a small room in a big shared apartment, count on 600-800€ per month outside of the center, more than 1000€ per month in the center. Are you looking for an apartment for yourself only? Be rich and lucky or you'll find nothing.

How not to be fooled by scammers

Multiple indicators:

  • quick and long answers (often received 30 minutes after my mail),
  • unclear and generic answers,
  • attractive prices (400€ for a 150m² shared apartment in the very center, come on!),
  • unability to visit the appartement,
  • landlord is not in the country at this moment (last minute moving due to his work, mostly in English-speaking countries like the US or in UK),
  • a VERY basic English (utterly weird for a country in which 95% of the population can speak fluently English),
  • asking you to send money by postal way before receiving the keys (by postal way too), but don't worry, you'll have a copy of a contract signed by a lawyer (yeah, right),
  • pictures (or ad) already used for other ads,
  • almost perfect pictures (shot by a professional), it's not AirBnB,
  • the mail address has already been used to scam.

How to prevent being scammed? Demand to visit the apartment, do not send money. Check the mail address on Google or on scammer hunters websites. Check pictures with Google:

Some common sense people!