I first wrote my list of 12 Surprising things about Amsterdam after visiting the city on a 3-day tourist trip in February, 2015. I ended up moving to Amsterdam later in the same year – getting an apartment, a job, and even a bicycle – the whole schebang of Dutch life. And so, here’s a new list of the good, bad, and the ugly of things that surprised me while living in the Amsterdam.
Every time I move to a new country, there are always basic living arrangements that are so different that I find to be very amusing and take some getting used to.
They’re really steep, going up and down is like climbing a Mayan pyramid. When I go down, I hold onto the railing for my dear life in fear of tumbling down. And after drinking, the only way for me to get home is to go up the stairs on all fours.
The shower is not in a separate stall; it’s just next to the toilet on slightly lower ground (doesn’t prevent the water from splashing out). The mirrors are just too high up for me – damn the tall Dutch genes.
A basic setup for many apartments is to have a half-sized fridge, with one small freezer compartment within it. Appliances are literally built into the kitchen cabinets and look identical to the rest of the cabinets. Confused the hell out of the me the first time.
One of my favorite things about Amsterdam is the existence of houseboats. People live on actual houses constructed on top of the canals! Some of these are even real boats. I’ve made it my life goal to dwell in one of them.
Two words: it sucks.
The first things to know about housing in Amsterdam, where quality housing is in short supply with huge demand, is that the housing market is uber-competitive. Surprisingly Amsterdam does not have a comprehensive web service that indexes available housing. While Spain has Idealista, Germany has Wg-Gesucht.de, and even the US has Craigslist, in the Netherlands, unless your friends can hook you up, you have to turn to Facebook. With Facebook, how it works is that you sign up for all the housing groups (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and more), set up your notifications so that you are pinged for every new listing, and quickly write to every new listing you see that you like.
If you find something acceptable, act FAST! Rejoice if you can get any place that is within good biking distance of the city center (less than half an hour) that is not a broom closet. And praise your ancestors if you can get a place in the city center for a reasonable price (rooms usually run from 400-1000 euros a month).
Who rules the world? Bikes bikes bikes! Bikes are at the top of the traffic hierarchy. They are our legs here and we are nothing without them. Not unlike Americans’ relationships with cars, people go everywhere with their bikes and transport all sorts of things with their bikes.
Some crazy things bike feats I’ve witnessed:
- Couples holding hands while cycling
- People cycling with no hands and texting on their phones, not even watching the road
- Bikes hauling large objects
- Grown man getting put in a bike basket, then getting on the bike and cycling off nonchalantly
- Cycling to and from clubs drunk (hey I can do this too!)
- Finally, sometimes you spot very cute things getting cycled around!
Windows are cleaned a person hoisting a large water pipe attached to a brush at the end that can reach 3-4 stories tall! Like a giant toothbrush that spits out water.
The Dutch, in their workplaces, like to eat a family-style lunch sandwiches, with a cold cut and spreads buffet. The Filet Americain is a peculiar spread that they like, which is like steak tartare that you can buy from the supermarket. Not the most appealing part of Dutch life.
Scammers & Theft
Amsterdam is an extremely safe city… it’s totally ok to walk in the streets by yourself at night; muggings & violent crimes are basically unheard of. That said, petty theft and internet scammers are rampant! During my first three months in Amsterdam:
- I was scammed a concert ticket via Facebook (I was desperate for an Oliver Heldens ticket during ADE); the scammer even sent me her passport image to verify her identity, but no ticket was sent to me. You can spot scammers all over popular Facebook event pages.
- I bought a bike via Craigslist, only to have it stolen from me 3 days later (I suspect the seller installed a GPS device on the bike, because I saw the same bike back on sale on Craigslist a couple days later by the same seller)
- An acquaintance of mine had their house broken into & valuables stolen
- Our Party with a Local office & Rockstart accelerator building was broken into, many laptops stolen
I find all of Amsterdam’s quirks charming and even its flaws are endearing to me. And these are just a small part of why I love the Netherlands! Check out other posts I’ve written on the Netherlands.