No, that’s not a sneeze – it’s Dutch! Although I only know a handful of people who can actually say with confidence that they are Dutch (and I’ve never really met anyone who actually was from the Netherlands), the Dutch seem pretty awesome. Holland and all of its quaint/quirky idiosyncrasies are so notorious that there is even a website for stuff Dutch people like: Stuff Dutch People Like. Even before I knew I was going to visit the Netherlands, I was devouring the content of this website, longing for feelings of gezelligheid and cheering on the Oranje during the World Cup after the US fell out of the competition. Instead of just regurgitating the articles on Stuff Dutch People Like though, I did a little deeper digging to hopefully find some more cool facts about Holland. Of course, there might be a little overlap but hopefully not too much.
How the Dutch Live Amsterdam houses tower over the narrow canals, sometimes jutting 5 or 6 stories into the air. The square footage of these colorful brick buildings might not exceed that of many US homes, though. Because while these abodes are large in the vertical direction, they’re quite narrow in the horizontal, sometimes only about three windows wide. The homes in Amsterdam, the capital of the Dutch nation, are very tall but very slender. The soft, mushy soil that comes standard with a city rife with canals (more canals than the famous canal city of Venice, even) naturally causes engineering problems. Buildings start to sink into the soil over time. Upon realizing this, Amsterdammers of centuries past piled large logs into the marsh and were able to build homes that weren’t destroyed by the combination of soft, wet dirt and gravity. In addition, they built homes very close together so that each house would prop the other one up. Unfortunately, when there’s an avenue to cut corners, corners will be cut. Some would build their houses on top of inadequate amounts of timber, either from sheer lack of resources or intentional neglect. Just like when you were a kid in the backseat of your car with all of your siblings, friends, and neighbors, when one building started to lean, the entire block of houses would lean with it. To avoid this, the government decided to pile logs themselves and charged a tax for doing so – a tax on the width of your house. The result: people were de-incentivized to build houses that were too large, at least length and width-wise. There was no limitations on how high the houses could be (except structurally). This resulted in the tall, narrow houses that sit neatly in rows along Amsterdam’s beautiful canals. Bikes As a former resident of Davis, CA, I can profess how awesome a bike-friendly city is. On over 95% of its roadways, there are bike lanes. Davis residents commute by bike at a rate 35 times the national average. And the city has a substantial budget for bike-facility maintenance. Amsterdam might have Davis beat. Despite being a relatively small capital city, Amsterdam has over 250 miles of bicycle paths. Often, it’s faster for cyclists to get from point A to point B than if they were to drive a car. This encourages riders to ride into town for more than half of their trips into the city center. Amsterdam isn’t an exception in the Netherlands though; with a national population of just over 16 million people, it’s estimated that the Dutch own over 20 million bikes. Bikes are used for going to work, going to the beach, going to a wedding – even if you’re the bride! One interesting revelation that the Dutch might have learned is that bikes and canals don’t mix. Amsterdam officials estimate that there are over 800,000 bikes in the capital city. Also in Amsterdam are the canals – 165 canals stretching over 60 miles. Basic probability might predict that these two numbers might intersect at some point. And they do. Waternet, a Dutch wastewater treatment company, dredges through the canals and helps clean the waters. They estimate that somewhere between 12,000 and 15,000 bicycles are pulled out of the canal each year. It’s speculated that thieves or vandals might throw the bikes into the canals, but it doesn’t seem like a far reach to imagine some poor (possibly drunk) Dutchman accidentally flying into the canal and scuttling his two-wheeled contraption. Faux Pas
- Don’t ask Dutch people what they do for a living – This is actually one that I’ve heard before, but I can’t remember if it was for the Netherlands or for another country. The acronym that is supposed to help with small talk sticks with me (probably because it’s my name): FORD – family, occupation, recreation, dreams. However, in some countries, talking about your job is either considered rude or boring, and the Dutch would much rather talk about their favorite vacation than what they have to do at work.
- Birthday congratulations – This is an odd one, one that we probably won’t run into in the short time that we are there, but birthday congratulations are a big thing in the Netherlands. This is not just wishing a happy birthday but literally congratulating the person for living another year. It might sound weird to outsiders, but in Holland, it’s a feat worth celebrating.
- German comparisons – The Dutch and the Germans are close neighbors and share many similar cultural ancestries. However, the Dutch don’t speak German and seem to appreciate avoiding any comparisons. It’s not that they have any disdain for the Germans; they are just their own people and are proud of it.
- Don’t make hyperboles – Being over-the-top is simply not very Dutch. Exaggerations are seen as boisterous and disruptive while the Dutch seem to appreciate a much more mellow existence.
Leave your own tips on surviving the Netherlands. Hopefully, we won’t have to put any of these to the test!