Photo: Comaniciu Dan/Shutterstock

13 American Habits I Lost in Amsterdam

by Melissa Adams Aug 21, 2015

1. Driving

In California, I thought nothing of jumping in my mini-SUV to drive three blocks to the nearest Trader Joe’s for some Two Buck Chuck. Since totaling that vehicle in 2009 (long story), I haven’t driven a car. There’s no need to in Amsterdam, a village built for horses, where bicycles outnumber people. Since the city is flat as a Dutch pannekoken, and parking is pricey as gold, everyone from CEOs to parents, kids and hookers rides a bike, rain or shine — or more likely rain, wind, and more rain.

2. Riding an expensive bike

While many Americans spend hundreds if not thousands on cycles that hang in the garage for weekend recreation, Dutchies commute on “beater bikes” painted in garish colors to make them easier to find in a mile-high stack, then lock them up with industrial-size chains that could secure an army tank. (Such tactics do little to deter thieves, who naturally repaint their “new” rides before selling them on the black market. )Despite their distressed looks, Dutch commuter bikes, omafietsen (grandma bikes) and bakfietsen (cargo bikes) are the epitome of function. used for carting kids, groceries, plants and appliances, and often decorated with flowers to liven up their looks.

3. Buying on credit

We Americans pay double digit interest on credit card balances, but Dutchies don’t spend more than they have. Debit cards are widely used, helping people live within their means — or until their bank account hits zero. The net benefit is priceless freedom from credit card debt.

4. Political correctness

There’s no PC in Holland, where everyone from the janitor to the CEO can and will criticize and demean you. Dutchies are so direct they can come off as rude. Sufficiently angered, they’ll curse you with a deadly ailment — typhoid, tuberculosis, cholera, small pox, or The Big C. “Sterf aan kanker!” (Die of cancer!), they’ll shout, swearing by disease like no other nationality. While their lack of PC may irritate the thin-skinned, no one ever has to guess what a Dutchie is thinking.

5. Tipping

Americans are known for leaving generous tips. Since restaurant staff in the US earn below minimum wage, waiters typically “brown-nose” customers to earn a living wage through TIPS. Dutch restaurant staff don’t go out of their way “To Insure Prompt Service.” They’re paid adequately, so customers should be grateful they’re allowed in at all. Much less served.

6. Assuming everyone speaks English

Amsterdammers are among Europe’s most fluent English speakers. But the Dutch capital encompasses some 180 nationalities, including many Turkish and Moroccan residents, plus an older population with less polished English skills. In Holland, just as in any foreign country, it’s rude to start blathering away in English before knowing what language your listener understands.

7. Tardiness

Dutchies are a punctual lot. And they expect the same of you. This became clear to me when a doctor explained, “You’re sitting in someone else’s chair” after I arrived 10 minutes late for an appointment. Agendas are taken seriously in Holland — and displayed prominently in bathrooms, where the inevitable Birthday Calendar (De Verjaardagskalender) hangs. Ever frugal and efficient, Dutchies use these perpetual calendars, sans days or years, to avoid purchasing and updating a new one each year. Covertly erasing a few entries from one could wreak havoc in your Dutch friend’s life.

8. Work before play

By Dutch standards, Americans are workaholics who slave 40+ hours, 50 weeks a year to earn two weeks of annual vacation. Europeans average 37.5 hours a week, but Dutchies work only 30.6 — the least in Europe. Even these figures underestimate Dutch idleness, since more people are gainfully employed in America than in Holland.

9. Romance

Your Dutch date may greet you with the obligatory three kisses on alternating cheeks, but don’t expect much romance after that. Plan to split the dinner bill while your sultry eyes compete for attention with the night’s Ajax match. On the upside, Dutchies are typically quite tall and well-built. If you cohabit with one, be sure to document every possession and bank account you have, as without a samenlevingscontract (living-together contract) you might miss more than romance.

10. Ostentatiousness

Dutchies despise over the top behavior. “Doe maar normaal, dan doe je al gek genoeg (Just act normally, that’s crazy enough),” they say, reaching back to Calvinist roots that preach lack of flash and fanfare. That mindset evaporates on Koningsdag (King’s Day), when the orange garb appears and everyone in Holland acts as crazy as humanly possible.

11. Closing the curtains

Again, it’s all about Calvinist roots and having nothing to hide. No matter what they’re doing or how intimate, true Dutchies keep the drapes open.

12. Using a dryer

No one in Europe uses a dryer for anything other than hair. Why use a fancy machine that requires expensive electricity when radiators and the wind provide the same function?

13. Owning no winter clothes

In sunny Southern California, I owned one light coat that rarely came out of the closet. Given Holland’s damp, changeable climate, my wardrobe now includes an array of winter jackets, scarves, boots and mittens. In all weights and colors.

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