Everyday Dutch things: window into Dutch homes

Like many people who like to travel and experience different cultures, I absolutely LOVE knowing more about how people live. It was no different when I would visit the Netherlands. Especially in big cities like Amsterdam and Utrecht, it was amazing to get to see the lives of hundreds of people all at once.

Because the way people live in the Netherlands is just so different. And to me as an American, it was the good kind of different.

In October of last year, one month after I had permanently moved to the Netherlands, two friends of mine and Sara’s (Sara’s my Dutch girlfriend) came to visit and stay with us in our apartment in Amsterdam. They had never been to the Netherlands before.

By the end of their week-long trip, they were convinced they wanted to move too. And I completely understood how they were feeling because I had felt that way for the past couple of years before deciding to just fucking do it.

One of the things that really drew me to Dutch cities was the homes I could peek into every time I walked on the busy streets. My favorite thing to do is stare at the lights in apartments. I like to imagine the lives of the people living there, and because I’m extremely weird, I go ahead and make elaborate stories about them that are probably not even remotely true.

But many people don’t realize that Dutch homes and the Dutch way of life is indeed nothing like what people are used to in the US. So I’m going to spend time some talking about the things that really took me by sweet surprise.

Dutch buildings, bicycles, and canals. Dutch houses are usually really narrow.

The first thing you’ll notice is about Dutch houses is the way they look from the outside. They are extremely skinny! Skinny, skinny, narrow houses or apartment buildings. Some of these buildings are tall, and the other are short and tiny, like the pink one in the picture!

So yes, Dutch houses are suuuuuper cute. In Amsterdam, these buildings are so tall and skinny that you can’t actually move into a house from the inside. Yes, it’s as confusing as it sounds.

The Amsterdam buildings are narrow, so narrow that the stairs on the inside are unbelievably steep. I would say one Dutch step is equivalent to two American ones. The Dutch word for stairs, “trap”, says it all.

Now you obviously can’t move in to a fourth floor walk-up with stairs like those. The rest of the insides are also too narrow for any actual furniture to fit, so what you have to end up doing is use a pulley of sorts to HANG your furniture from the outside of the building, and drag it up to the top.

This minute and a half long video will show you what I mean. This is how people move in Amsterdam: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WD1q7DpIsP4

But even though Dutch houses are skinny as hell, they do often have HUGE windows. Really, really huge windows.

Skinny Dutch houses in Utrecht with humongous windows!

Gorgeous, aren’t they? After years of imagining what it would be like to live in a place like that, my dream finally came true with the current apartment I live in. We have FLOOR TO CEILING windows that literally take up an entire wall. A wall of windows!

As a tourist in the Netherlands, you will absolutely notice that you can very easily look into people’s homes and see what they’re doing. Well, that’s because Dutch people don’t like curtains. That’s right, if you’re wondering what a normal Dutch home looks like, well, you can simply find out for yourselves by sneaking a peak.

And if you were to take a look inside, you might actually get to see how old these buildings actually are— and I don’t think Dutch people realize how lucky they are to have these beautiful homes in their country!

One of the things you might notice in the Amsterdam buildings is that many of them have tiles on the inside of the entrances. This is so cool!

Dutch buildings sometimes have beautiful tiles decorating the entrances.

The Dutch really have to understand that in the US, our buildings are all new. You’ll see a lot of shiny glass buildings, which is one kind of look, but it’s not as charming as what the Netherlands has to offer.

Now of course Dutch houses all look beautiful on the outside, but I’m here to tell you that these apartments look AMAZING on the inside as well. Oftentimes, old Dutch houses will have details like a wood panel ceiling or—my favorite feature of all time—stained glass windows!

No, it’s not just churches that have things like that, but some houses are really so old and just so elegant.

But because these homes are old, there are definitely quite some hilarious downsides. The first one being that these apartments are tiny as hell! I’ll be honest here, I’m American, and to us, size matters. So when I first set foot in Dutch apartments, I was completely confused by how some living rooms couldn’t even quite fit a proper couch.

And don’t get me started on the bathrooms! The Dutch are ingenious, so they’ve figured out how to fit in the maximum bathroom necessities into one tiny space. Let’s just say that those Amsterdam apartments are so small, that it is not uncommon to shower and have all the water falling on to the toilet the whole time.

Your bathroom will get completely drenched, and the Dutch just deal with that shit.

Although, that’s if you have a toilet in the bathroom. One of the things I find so funny is how the Dutch just don’t seem to understand how toilets work in modern times. Yes, your buildings are old and beautiful and I’m a huge fan, but why, oh whhhyyyy are your toilets the size of a shoebox?

Many of the Dutch toilets also don’t have sinks in the them to wash your hands. You read that correctly. It’s not that strange to have to wash your hands in the kitchen or something instead. Other times, you’ll find a really really tiny sink in the toilet instead. With no hot water.

I don’t understand why there’s no hot water, but it’s definitely a Dutch thing, and even after four years of this, my hands are numbingly cold in the winter when I try to use it. HOW DO YOU DUTCH PEOPLE DO IT?

To end on a positive note, a final thing that I’ve noticed is that many apartments in the Netherlands have some sort of outdoor area attached to it. If we’re talking Amsterdam apartments, it’s usually a small balcony, but still, that’s something.

In the US we’d be lucky to have a shitty small courtyard in the building (for the ENTIRE building). Whereas Dutch apartments have little balconies in the front or back, and if you live on the ground floor (first floor for us Americans), you’ll often have a backyard or garden. If you live on the top floor, you might even luck out with a roof terrace!

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4 thoughts on “Everyday Dutch things: window into Dutch homes

Add yours

  1. My last visit in 2003 was for the wedding of my mom’s cousin in Groningen. For some reason, my mom rented 2 cottages in Lauwersoog, which was a good 45 minute drive to where her cousin lived. Every night as we drove back, we were amazed at how we could just see into everyone’s living room. “I guess they only close the curtains when they go to sleep,” was what we would say as we drove by.


  2. Hi Eva, do you know why the windows in cities like Amsterdam are so big? There is a logical reason for it. The rooms in these houses are also very deep. With a small window only the front part of the room is lighted, the back of the room is in the dark and candles had to be used since there was no electricity. Candles cost money. To save costs, the windows were made bigger, more light in the room and less candles were needed.
    I like your blog posts. Being Dutch and living in the Netherlands all my live (64), reading your posts makes me appreciate Holland even more.


  3. Ooit vertelde een Zwitserse mij dat de reden dat wij geen gordijnen gebruiken en dat je overal naar binnen kunt kijken, voortkomt uit het Calvinisme. (Calvinisme was ook in Zwitserland: Calvijn in Geneve.) Het was verboden om de gordijnen te sluiten, omdat de politie vanaf de straat naar binnen moest kunnen kijken om te zien of er geen samenzwering plaatsvond. Het Calvinisme is bijna weg uit Nederland, maar vrijwel alle autochtone Nederlanders staan nog steeds onder invloed van het Calvinisme. Kijk maar naar zuinigheid, het arbeidsethos en het op tijd komen bij afspraken, de eenvoudigheid.

    A Swiss once told me that the reason we don’t use curtains and that you can peep inside the homes stems from Calvinism. (Calvinism was also huge in Switzerland: Calvin in Geneva.) It was forbidden to close the curtains, because the police had to be able to see in from the street to make sure that no conspiracy was taking place. Calvinism has almost left the Netherlands, but almost all native Dutch people are still under the influence of Calvinism. Just look at the frugality of stinginess, work ethic and arriving at appointments on time and the simplicity.

    Liked by 1 person

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