Going Dutch: Getting Used to the Culture of the Netherlands

Maks Karochkin

Written by  September 28, 2015

The top three differences that one study abroad student notices about Amsterdam.

I have now been in Amsterdam for three weeks and am slowly settling into my role as a pseudo-Dutch person. I have bought a bike, eaten countless Stroopwafels and even successfully given directions to a number of groups of tourists. I’m not quite a local, but I’m beginning to feel more like I belong here.

Our exchange began with a fantastic introduction week organized by the International Students Network (ISN). There, I was in a group of around 20 other exchange students, led by three Dutch coaches who were amazingly helpful in getting us on the right track for our first few days in Amsterdam. During this week, I met so many different people from countries all across the world, and with my group I attended a whole range of events such as a trip to the zoo, a comedy night and a number of exchange parties. One of the most impressive events was SAIL Amsterdam, a festival that happens only once every five years and involves a whole variety of boats sailing down Amsterdam’s canals.

Of course the cultural differences are taking some time to get used to, but I am enjoying the process of finding my way. I have experienced far too much already in these few weeks to write about everything, but thought I would give my thoughts about some of the things that are very “Amsterdam.”

Cycling

At the beginning of my second week, I took my biggest step towards becoming a true Amsterdammer: I got myself a bike.

This was something I had been somewhat skeptical about since my arrival, having not often ridden a bike at home and consequently being somewhat shaky and unconfident on two wheels. Add into the mix the busy streets of Amsterdam with trams, cars and hundreds of other bikes occupying even the quieter roads, and getting to grips with the favourite mode of transport for the Dutch was looking to be a bit of an uphill struggle.

After purchasing my bike (a fetching rusty orange and turquoise model), my next challenge was to master the art of the backpedal brake. This is still a work in progress—on more than one occasion I have had a near-miss collision with a car or fellow cyclist, but I am determined to persevere as cycling is by far the most convenient way to get around the city. Plus, there is nothing like cruising down the bike lane on a rainy day in your waterproof poncho to make you feel like a cultured and sophisticated traveller.

Food

An area of Dutch life that I have not had so much issue integrating with is their food—despite popular belief, it’s not all bread and cheese. I have developed a slightly unhealthy addiction to a Dutch delicacy called Hagelslag (more commonly known as chocolate sprinkles that come in a box). The idea is to have them for breakfast on a slice of bread and butter—which I personally think is a wonderful idea—and one that I might continue with when I return to the UK.

Another personal favourite is a snack called Bitterballen, a type of deep-fried battered meatball that is often served at bars as an accompaniment to alcoholic drinks. Similar to these are croquettes, which are a mix of potatoes and meat fried in breadcrumbs. And of course there are Stroopwafels, which are delicious thin, crispy waffles, filled with sweet caramel syrup. I plan on eating as many of Dutch snacks as I can possibly stomach to make sure I get my fair share over the year.

Nightlife

Amsterdam is, of course, famous for its nightlife, and after three weeks here I can completely understand why. There are hundreds of different bars all over the city, and the busiest squares Rembrantplein and Leidseplein are always thriving with people and feel electric, especially on the weekends.

I have ordered a shot that comes with a marshmallow on a stick, which you can toast off the bar as the barman sets it on fire. On another occasion, I have ended up in a bar that was legitimately called “Club Nasty,” complete with a stripper pole and cheesy songs from the noughties. And despite the number of times I have been for a drink at a bar where it was by far the cheapest drink on the menu, I still haven’t got a taste for beer.

And my favourite thing, above all else (and I really don’t understand why this isn’t a thing in the UK), is that most of the clubs I have been to here serve food. I’m not sure if this is something specific to the Netherlands, or if the rest of the world has already cottoned on and the UK is just missing out, but I have never felt such joy as I have at two in the morning being able to walk into the lobby of a club and purchase a hotdog. It may not be the most cultural of my experiences abroad, but wherever you are in the world you can always enjoy the simple pleasures.

And this just scratches the surface of my time so far in Amsterdam. In reality, it has been mixed in with a lot of boring stuff such as opening a bank account, sorting out a phone contract and even (begrudgingly) getting down to some actual work, but so far the good is far outweighing the bad. Three weeks in and I’m slowly finding my way in this beautiful, quirky city, and I am glad that I am able to call it home.

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Published in Study Abroad Blogs
Emily King

Emily King is a third-year Psychology undergraduate from the University of Sussex in England, and is currently undertaking an Erasmus year abroad at the University of Amsterdam.

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