Local Customs Guide
The Dutch are generally very laid back, except when it comes to their agendas. This means that it is important to keep your schedule very relaxed, but stick to it. In the very least don’t let your own lack of timeliness become an impediment to anyone else’s planner (yes, you will notice, most, if not all of your Dutch friends and colleagues will carry a planner with them at all times).
Social gatherings are generally very cozy, and the Dutch have a word for this coziness, of the comfortable atmosphere, when it is just right: gazellig. An atmosphere can be gazellig on account of close friends, nice music, great surrounding activity, really anything that just sets a general mood of feeling good that is contagious and above all, comforting.
Families that have lived here for generations, the ‘old Amsterdammers’, have a pure aristocratic way of living; they adore literature, fine art, music and fine food. Sometimes they might come off as a bit pretentious, for example they have an everlasting conflict with people from Rotterdam, which they believe belong to a lower class as Rotterdam is a big port with a large labor force of manual workers (this also stems from differences in religion as well). However, most of the time they are lovely people that will make you feel welcome at all times.
If you ever get invited to a formal Dutch meal, the Dutch savoir vivre instructs: washing hands before eating, being on time to the table, and starting to eat at the same moment as everyone else. A parent or host often indicates when to eat, usually by saying ‘‘eet smakelijk’’, which translates as ‘‘eat deliciously.’’ One should not leave the table until everyone has finished eating.
It is not customary for the Dutch to accommodate choosiness or special requests, when it is not specifically part of the job they are meant to do. This might be in reference to a selection on a menu, or it might apply to a procedure in a doctor’s office or at a customer service desk. It is wise to remember that when you hear the phrase “it is not possible” you have asked too much, even if your initial reaction would have you otherwise respond “of course it is! All you have to do is…”
Do not walk in the bike lane. This is the part of the road that has a white bicycle painted on it, which is intended to distinguish this section from the rest of the road; the bike lane on the sidewalk is typically red and will likely have the same white bicycle painted on it as a warning. Be warned, if you are in the bike lane, you might hear angry shouts, you might hear aggressive bells, or you might get caught in the spokes of passive aggressive wheels.
In parts of the centre, vehicles may not be allowed at certain times, so pedestrians falsely use the street as a pavement. Remember that bikers are still around, and they are always in a rush.
No matter how little Dutch you are able to speak, use it when you can. Even if Dutch people respond in English, you will realise that most of them will appreciate the fact that you are trying to learn how to speak their language and not just taking advantage of the fact that they have all already mastered yours.