Pieter and Andel Olivier
PEOPLE OF THE NORTH PART 3
As Atterbury spreads its wings across the globe, its people follow, leaving Atterbury footprints in malls and developments in a growing number of countries. In part 3 of our series we hear from Pieter Olivier, Atterbury Europe’s development manager in Cyprus, and finance director Martin Olivier in the Netherlands, about living a northern-hemisphere life.
How far are you into your overseas placement, and how have you and your family adapted?
P: After spending two years (2014 and 2015) with Atterbury in Mauritius, my wife, Andel and I, happily relocated to Nicosia, Cyprus. We arrived in August 2016 and welcomed little Theron to our family seven months later!
M: I moved to the Netherlands in January 2017, after travelling between Europa and SA a lot in the preceding 18 months. As a team we committed to relocate probably a year ago, and the admin and planning for the move took quite some time to implement. I’m single, so it’s much easier to pick up and move than for the people who have families. In fact, I left all my furniture in South Africa, and I arrived here with a couple of bags of clothing, and my golf clubs.
Tell us about your home and home town overseas?
P: Nicosia is a city with a very interesting, if complicated history. It’s one of the oldest civilizations on earth, with settlements dating back to the Stone Age, so it really is a cultural hub. We spend a lot of time wandering the old town and enjoying strong Cypriot coffee and the glorious Mediterranean food. These days we are adjusting to life with a baby, so we’re taking it easier. We can’t wait for summer, because the Cypriot beaches are breathtaking and right at our doorstep, so we’ll spend a lot of weekends on the coast.
M: The first month I stayed in Haarlem, which is just a smaller version of Amsterdam. It’s less than 20 minutes per train from Amsterdam, but not as busy and with way fewer tourists. It was a small one-bedroom apartment close to the train station, which made it easy to get around, but it was too small for me to even unpack my suitcases – not to mention nowhere to braai! Since then I have moved to the property Henk [Deist, CEO of Atterbury Europe] rented in Voorschoten, which is a house with quite a lot more space.
What has been the most challenging part of working overseas?
P: We’re quite used to it by now, so we know what to expect. What we miss the most, apart from good braai meat, is the South African people, and spirit. We obviously miss our families and friends, and those milestone events like weddings, but luckily things like Facetime have made the world much smaller and everyone is just a Skype call away. Workwise, it always takes some time for the local stakeholders and ourselves to adjust to a mutually acceptable way of doing things.
M: Not having the support network you have at home is a big one. Moving required a lot of admin, from medical exams,obaining a driver’s licence, and registration at the local “gemeente”, to acquiring the basic furniture needed for the house again. Having to do all of that in between normal work obligations – and then having to do all the chores at home after work – has at times been a bit challenging!
Can you share a culture shock anecdote?
P: We thought South Africans could eat… but we have nothing on the Cypriots. The food just keeps on coming, and everyone just keeps on eating. They treat every meal like a feast, and order many plates of food to share; it often takes hours. Typically my wife and I will share a platter for one, while the schoolgirl at the adjacent table has a HUGE meat platter all to herself!
M: Not having someone to clean the house, or iron my clothes is a bit of a shock to the system. My lack of ironing skills has turned ironing into quite a time-stealer on the weekends!
What have you enjoyed more than you anticipated?
P: The food! We’ve always been fans of Greek food, but the quality of the produce here is incredible. The fruit and vegetables are so tasty. The mountains in Cyprus are surprisingly beautiful and something to behold. We had a lot of snow on the mountains and it is still possible to ski in March.
M: All the challenges and new experiences that come with travelling. Being able to stay in a different country, do business here with the support base from South Africa, and making new friends as we go has been lots of fun, and very enriching. As a golf lover it’s also been amazing to play on European links golf courses.
How much of the local language have you mastered?
P: Greek isn’t easy. The fact that they use a completely different alphabet means it’s harder to pick up words and phrases you would usually start recognising after seeing it in writing. We are trying to organise lessons, but most are intensive courses, where you need to go twice a week at night for three hours. With help from colleagues and friends we are piecing together conversational Greek, hopefully we’ll find the right tutor, because it will make our lives much easier here.
M: Compared to the rest of Europe it’s fairly easy for an Afrikaner to communicate with the locals here. I often get by just speaking Afrikaans to the locals and having them replying in Dutch – it’s also an easy way to learn the language.
What do you miss most about home?
P: Friendly petrol attendants.
M: My brother and I lived and spent lots of time together, and I miss that. But for the rest, the newness and difference all adds to the experience, so I try not to focus on what I used to do in SA and rather embrace the local way of doing things.
Do you see your other “expat” colleagues often?
P: We are quite far from the rest of the Atterbury Europe team, but look forward to having them over for a visit soon, perhaps in the summer!
M: Yes, we do. Raoul [de Villiers] and I are good friends outside of work as well, so we do a lot of things together. There’s also at least one week a month when I travel with other colleagues (CEO Henk Deist, Ansu [Kretzman, who is based in Dubai] or some of my colleagues from SA) to various countries for transactions we are working on, or management meetings, so those are always fun times catching up.
What truly South African item did you bring with you?
P: My wife brought her Kook en Geniet to ensure I get the odd bobotie and some boerebeskuit with my moerkoffie.
M: When I first came, I didn’t bring anything specific, but after a few weeks I had to ask Ansu to bring some All Gold tomato sauce from Dubai, as the local versions just aren’t the same. Ansie (Raoul’s wife) has also baked some “beskuit” for the office, which has helped to make the office feel like home.
Can you share an anecdote of culture shock?
Henk: I must admit, there are not many Dutch culture shocks; it’s a really “soft” landing for South Africans. Oh, except for the cyclists – there are way too many of them and they ride like mad, ringing their bells all the time as if that solves the problem!
Raoul: I distinctly remember my first trip to the grocery store in Austria. The stress began when you had to pack your own bags at the till point. There is an art to packing the bags quickly enough as the teller scans, with no-one there to help, like back home… If the groceries start piling up, the teller just keeps them coming and you end up with three other people’s groceries mixed with yours, which can be really awkward!
What have you enjoyed more than you anticipated about this overseas experience?
Raoul: The “adventure” part. Like many others, we’ve always wanted to explore the world and feel what it’s like to live abroad. This has given us that opportunity and we capitalise on it every chance we get.
Henk: The travelling is mostly good fun, because we are an excellent group of people together. I enjoy all the different people and cultures we meet, and realising we are not all that different.
How is your Dutch? Do you find it easy to communicate?
Henk: My Dutch is nonexistent, but after a week in the Netherlands, I already find it much easier to follow. The language is a fascinating connection – Afrikaans and a sure winner to start any conversation. My kids will have Dutch at school, so I’m keen to learn to speak some of it.
Raoul: Dutch is so much easier than German if you speak Afrikaans! After a year in Austria we mastered only basic German, but now we already understand about 70% of what people say. It makes communication a lot easier – we must just be careful not to use some words that have completely different meanings over here!
What truly South African item did you bring with you?
Raoul: Marina Braai Salt, All Gold tomato sauce and a rugby ball.
Henk: I will be importing most of my wine cellar, and if I run out, I have a contact already that can import SA wine. Raoul found a boerewors contact, so we are sorted with boerewors rolls and SA red wine.
Next month we’ll catch up with the rest of the Atterbury Europe team