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This is Home: Casper Horn, a Hollander in Bow

Bow Road resident Casper Horn speaks to us about British politeness, school uniforms, buying in Bromley-by-Bow and how a West Ham football game inspired his move to Bow.

Dutch-born Casper Horn, 32, lives on Bow Road with his Polish fiancé, Gosia Pasek, and works as a sous-chef for Crossroads Smokehouse at The Bourbon on Roman Road.  

He moved to London from his hometown of Alkmaar, 25 miles north of Amsterdam, in October 2020 after meeting Pasek in the Old George in Bethnal Green after visiting London to attend a West Ham football match. 

What was life like for you growing up in the Netherlands?

As a kid, it is very different from here. For example, school in the Netherlands is different; I think one of the biggest differences is there are no uniforms. You know, as a kid, there’s a big chance you get picked on for what you wear or if you don’t wear certain brands. Like, Paul Frank was a big thing I remember, and Bikkembergs trainers, and Von Dutch caps. I am so happy I never wore any of that shit. But I had one Paul Frank shirt though; my mom said, ‘You can have either three nice shirts or just this one.’ So I chose that one Paul Frank shirt. I was so stoked I wore it every day to school. 

But yeah, that kinda thing can bum you out as a kid. So I can imagine with uniforms here, everybody’s a bit more equal.

What keeps you awake at night?

We’re buying a flat right now so there’s a lot of stuff going on with that. We went through the Help to Buy scheme. If you want to buy something in this area, you have to make a decision and just save up as quick as possible and figure it out. We managed and we got a beautiful new-built apartment in Bromley-by-Bow. But there’s so much to do; you have to submit all these papers. It’s this big decision because, until my 79th birthday, I’m pretty much in lifelong debt but to be able to afford a place in a beautiful city like London, it’s totally worth it.

The UK and the Netherlands have quite the same issues with housing; there’s a big shortage and there’s a lot of new builds being built. When I was in my 20s, I rented three different places in Alkmaar with friends. It’s all rentals because you can’t buy anything in the city centre, it’s really expensive. So when you want to settle down, you move to the more family-orientated suburbs. But it’s a bit of a difference when it comes to London because London is just expensive anywhere.

What British mannerisms are quips do you find amusing and why?

The politeness amongst the public here compared to the Dutch. For example, if you’re on a busy bus and somebody has their bag on an empty seat, people remove it for someone else. Whereas back in the Netherlands, if you forget that your bag is there, somebody will just sit on it, they don’t care. They’re just like, ‘You should remove your bag, you idiot.’ So, instead of waiting for you to be polite, they just act like you should have been. 

I’ll never forget the first week I was in London, I stood on somebody’s shoes and the person said, ‘Oh, excuse me I’m sorry,’ like he was shoving his feet under my shoes but actually I am the one who should be sorry.

I really enjoy these mannerisms. I know it’s a classic but it’s how everybody should be brought up.

What do you do to try and celebrate your identity and culture?

One tradition I will always keep as a Dutch person is our Remembrance Day on the fourth of May. We have a two-minute silence at eight o’clock in the evening on the dot. It’s a really big thing. So as a kid, you have to be inside before eight o’clock because you sit in front of the TV, two minutes silence and that’s a really respectful tradition. 

We don’t wear any symbols or anything on Remembrance Day, not like here with these poppies which are kind of nice, but also a bit weird, because they kind of push people into wearing them. If you don’t, it’s like, ‘Do you think I’m a dickhead today because I’m not wearing one?’ But in the Netherlands people won’t ask you, ‘Hey, wait a minute, did you close your mouth for two minutes yesterday?’ because it’s just how you’re brought up.

What food do you associate with home?

It’s a dish called Stamppot; it’s kale and mashed potatoes with gravy. It’s a very winter dish. We were eating kale before it was cool. 

It’s one of the classic staples of Dutch cuisine although, just like the British, it’s not like we have pizza or pasta that gets exported around the world. I’ve never heard somebody say, ‘We went to the Netherlands, I loved the food.’ 

But my mum and grandmother make that dish. Every now and again I have made it, but my girlfriend hates it. For her, the texture is very mushy.

What does the East End mean to you?

What I liked from the start in the East End is that I’ve met so many people from so many different backgrounds in such a short time. I’m really thankful for that. My hairdresser is from Lithuania, my local off-license guy is from London, I’ve got a British neighbour, and a Bangladeshi neighbour. These are all people’s lives I would never touch in a small town from the Netherlands but every time I walk from my work to home or the other direction, I’m able to experience hundreds of different cultures. 

And even though we live in a big city and all the anonymity that can come with that, there’s still a village vibe in East London. The Polish cashier at my local Tesco, if she asked me, ‘Can you watch my cat for a day?’ I would totally do it. Yeah, so I’m really thankful for that. 

If you enjoyed this, then read our piece on Bow-based psychic medium, Sharmishata Mandal.

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