Things I wished Americans knew about the Netherlands

Before my first trip to the Dutchlands four years ago, I thought that the whole country was nothing but the city of Amsterdam, which comprised solely of the red light district, weed, and the “I amsterdam” sign.

You can imagine how shocked I was when I found out that wasn’t the case. What was I even thinking?!

But since that trip four years ago, I now know so much about this wonderful country, and it saddens me a little bit to think that I really didn’t know anything about it sooner. Because the country is so small, it isn’t uncommon for Americans to not know much about the Dutch and their culture.

Joey from friends showing you how little some Americans can know about the Dutch.

There are some things that the Dutch are famous for around the world, some of them good, others, not so good. The Dutch are known for loving to bike. People might also know of the Netherlands as a great place for drugs and sex work. And of course, some people might be familiar with the Dutch tulips.

But there are so many things that I would love to add to this list! I want everyone, especially my fellow Americans, to know a little more about the Dutch culture that I love so much.

When I talk to people about the Netherlands, here are some things that I always mention, in hopes that they’ll understand why I’m so fond of the Dutch and their tiny country.

The Dutch Lifestyle

Hands down, the biggest reason I wanted to move to the Netherlands was so that I could be a part of the Dutch lifestyle. The Dutch know how to live life, and I wish this was something that people back in America talked about more because I truly believe that there is so much we can learn from the Dutch here.

The Dutch really believe in work-life balance. They don’t consider their work to be an extension of who they are, and it most definitely does not equal their self-worth. In the US, the average number of holidays that someone with a full-time job has is 2 weeks.

That shit is illegal here.

Many people in the Netherlands also work part-time and they think it’s crazy that this option isn’t available more often in the United States. It is so common to have a work contract that’s only 36 hours a week here.

And to make sure that employees don’t get too stressed, companies will often do a happy hour on Fridays. It’s so common that the Dutch have a word for it, VrijMiBo “Vrijdag Middag Borrel” (Friday afternoon happy hour).

On a different note, it is so refreshing to see that the Dutch believe in a simple lifestyle. They aim to keep their way of living “normal,” as they say here in the Netherlands. This means that people feel that they should try and fit in with the crowd, as opposed to stand out.

It may sound like a negative thing, but actually, what this means is that you won’t see people going crazy over buying the flashiest cars or clothes. Simplicity is the key to life here.

And of course, to top it all off, the Dutch really love their “gezelligheid” (coziness). In the winter, there are lights and candles everywhere. People like to have a nice, pleasant time with friends, and they really value places like restaurants and cafes that give off that “gezellig” vibe.

I also talk about this in my post on gezellige (cozy) things in the Netherlands.

Old Buildings and Canals

Doesn’t this just speak for itself? No, but really, because not many people know the Netherlands very well, there really isn’t an image that they have of the country, or even just of Amsterdam.

People don’t know that the Netherlands is full of canals and gorgeous old buildings. And that blows me away because, of course, I feel like they’re missing out!

Beautiful Dutch cities.

Here’s the real reason why I wished people knew how beautiful it is here. It’s because then it would attract a different kind of tourist.

Even when I was a tourist myself, it was painful to see other tourists throwing trash on the street, yelling while walking on the streets drunk, and the worst of all, being extremely crude in the red light district. I’ve actually seen people yell nasty things at the sex workers, which is totally not okay.

In the Netherlands, being a sex worker is very similar to holding other kinds of jobs— they pay taxes and they have rights. And no one should be treated so disrespectfully at their job.

So yeah, there are some tourists out there giving other tourists a bad name! Boo! But I think if people knew more about what else the Netherlands has to offer, they wouldn’t just come for the weed.

And the most obvious thing to me is to visit to enjoy the country! Even if you’re just visiting Amsterdam, there is SO MUCH beauty around for people visiting to enjoy. The streets are beautiful, the buildings are historic, and there are fucking adorable little cafes everywhere.

You’ll probably see this in the travel guides, but this is just so true that I HAVE to mention it here. In a city like Amsterdam, there are truly several streets are neighborhoods that total gems. The two that are on the top of my list are the “Negen Straatjes” (the 9 little streets) and the Jordaan area.

These areas are honestly built for toursits AND locals to enjoy. The Dutch people I know don’t turn up their noses on these areas just because they’re popular. It’s hard not to love something so beautiful and pleasing.

If only people back home knew!

Dutch Treats

When I want to experience a different culture, I like to try the local food. Many of you probably feel the same way!

Trying out different kinds of Dutch food is something I ALWAYS try and recommend to people. I find it funny when people say they don’t really know what Dutch food is. Many people know that they should try some cheese and fries, but even then, there’s always the danger of going to one of the many stores aimed at tourists. That is NOT where you want to go to experience the treats the Netherlands has to offer.

I wish Americans, and other travellers to the Dutchlands, knew that there was more for them to try than just cheese and fries, even though they are pretty great. I’m sometimes surprised to find out that even expats don’t seem to realize that there are more options than just that here.

Here are a few Dutch treats (snacks, candy, and baked goods) that I always tell people to try when they visit the Netherlands.

Bitterballen

This is literally one of the first things I tell people to try when I hear that they’re visiting the Netherlands. Many people who are visiting will probably want to drink, and the Dutch have a great way of accompanying that drink with tasty fried snacks. Bitterballen are my tasty fried snack #1. So fucking DE-LISH.

This picture of bitterballen is obviously taken from somewhere on the internet.

You can get bitterballen both of the meat and meatless variety. I’ve never tried the ones with meat in them because I’m vegetarian, but turns out no one even knows what kind of meat is in that stuff away. All I know is that both versions seem to be pretty fucking good.

Dutch Apple Pie

Or just “apple pie” when you’re in the Netherlands. Dutch apple pie is one of those things that had me totally convinced that the Dutch KNOW what to do with their sugary fat stuff.

I don’t know why Dutch apple pie is different. It LOOKS different with the pretty laced crust on the top, but I also know that it TASTES different from all the other apple pies I’ve had. Because I have never fallen in love with apple pie before like I have with Dutch apple pie.

I love Dutch apple pie so much that my girlfriend bakes it for me every year on my birthday instead of a regular cake. BECAUSE WHY WOULD I WANT A REGULAR CAKE WHEN I COULD HAVE A WHOLE DUTCH APPLE PIE TO MYSELF?!

And don’t forget to cover your delicious slice of pie with a shit ton of whipped cream. Otherwise you’re doing it wrong.

Kaastengels

This is another salty fried snack that stole my heart. I don’t know how else to describe them other than the fact that they are cheese sticks wrapped generously in a crunchy, thin, crisp outer layer.

Kaastengels are another snack the Dutch like to have when they’re borreling. In the English speaking world, we call borrels “happy hour”.

Stroopwafels

You were waiting for me to list them, weren’t you? How could I not? And these treats are not gaining popularity worldwide. You can find some version of them at the Trader Joe’s in the US. But they’re not the real deal.

Because real stroopwafels aren’t made of caramel, they’re made of stroop! Stroop is some kind of sugary syrup. And it’s delicious. And it’s not caramel. That’s all you need to know.

There are two places to get stroopwafels in the Netherlands, and one place where you shouldn’t get stroopwafels. Let’s start with where NOT to get them. DO NOT GET THEM IN A NUTELLA/STROOPWAFEL TOURIST SHOP IN AMSTERDAM. What the fuck! WHY? Out of all the options.

Now, I firmly believe is providing alternatives. So, the two places you can happily get yourself some stroopwafels are at the supermarket like the Albert Heijn or a store like the Hema. These aren’t fresh stroopwafels, but they’re still tasty.

For fresh stroopwafels, you go to the “markt” (market). They will make stroopwafels for you in front of your eyes and they will be warm, and they will be delicious. And you’ll be thanking me for this tip. And the Dutch will be thanking you for not visiting tourist shops.

Pancakes

And of course, on my list are Dutch pancakes, which are thin like crepes and are eaten for dinner instead of breakfast. My girlfriend insists that getting them at a “pancake restaurant” is just for tourists and isn’t the way to go, but I have to disagree with her there.

Well, we do agree that you can get pancakes that aren’t made at home in a pannenkoeken boot “pancake boat”, where there are pancake buffets that the Dutch can go to. Otherwise making them at home is pretty easy when you’re dating someone who’s Dutch and they make it for you.

To be honest about Dutch pancakes, I like to eat them more often than my girlfriend likes to make them. So I WILL indulge in getting them outside.

Dutch pancakes at a pancake restaurant.

No regrets.

The Dutch also like to put things on their pancakes that are—unusual to say the least—for an American like me. Cheese and bacon are two common pancake toppings, can you believe that? I guess it makes sense considering that’s what they have for dinner.

I like to get my pancakes with cheese, and instead of maple syrup, it is only right to use stroop syrup instead. The same kind of syrup that goes into stroopwafels. You may never be able to eat another pancake again.

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