Cultural Differences

Having been submerged in my new life in the Netherlands for over a month, I feel that I am finally in a position to begin making remarks about its culture. Specifically, as it differs from America. Obviously, the majority of the differences I notice are the ones that I find the most annoying. They impede on every day life (as my American ass knows it), annoy the crap out of me, but sometimes make me think about the relative merits of each new "way."

Let's talk about it!

  1.  Tap water:  You sit down at a restaurant, prepare to order a nice meal, and ask for tap water to drink. The waiter responds by throwing you a look of pure hatred and confusion, as if you have twelve heads and have asked for liquid gold. Most of the time, this request will only cost you said strange/hateful look. Other times, it will cost you actual money. As an avid water drinker, this irks me every time. Clean drinking water is no less accessible here than it is in the US, and I just don't understand why I can't have it for free with my purchased meal.
  2. No free bathrooms/coat checks: Furthering the national conspiracy to support my constant state of dehydration, public restrooms here will cost you actual money, too! If I know that I am going to be out of the house for a few hours, I will consciously refuse my body liquids, knowing that if nature calls, I'll be forking over at least 50 cents to engage in the basic human right they call "the toilet." In a similar vein, you will be asked to choose between your immune system and your money every time you go out at night, as checking your coat at a club costs about 1-2 euros. I constantly think about how much alcohol I would need to drink in order to forgo the coat and save this small amount of money #peasant #healthy
  3. BYOBags: No grocery store clerk here is going to ask you, "paper or plastic?" because you are expected to bring your own bags to the store. This was a real lol during my first visit, when I tried to buy a basket full of food without anything to carry it home in. I ended up buying a reusable bag, which, lo and behold, I re-use every time I go! I'm kind of into this as a society-wide practice of sustainability.
  4. "Going Dutch:" I hadn't really put two and two together before my friends and I started going out with Dutch guys, but this saying has a real origin and modern-day relevance in the Netherlands. These guys might woo you with their charming actually-texting-you-when-they-get-your-number and asking-you-on-a-date moves, but beware. Once the check comes at the end of the night, you're reaching for your wallet (out of politeness), opening it up (for appearances) and then actually taking out money (to split the bill). One of my friends was so offended by this, she actually stopped seeing a guy #feminism
  5. Cheese and bread: This is a traditional Dutch meal. I repeat, MEAL. The first time our program served this in a sack lunch, I naively asked if there had been a mistake. As a former Subway Sandwich Artist, ya girl knows how to make a sandwich, and it definitely includes meat, vegetables and condiments. Truth trumps tradition, and condiments are the TRUTH!
  6. Fragility of bikes: As much as I love biking around the city, I've already made it rain euros on these bad boys and not in a good way. Not only did I have to buy my first set with locks and lights, but a repair and part replacement, and then a whole new set with locks and lights. Call me Dutch, because I've already been relieved of one bike, thanks to kind street roamers and petty thieves. I'm starting to think that bikes are more hassle than they are worth and surprised that this form of transportation has been so sustainable in the Netherlands.
  7. Atheism: !!! I know this is a very shocking word in the US, but among Amsterdam university students, it's commonplace. I've gotten into quite a few interesting conversations with native Dutch students, regarding cultural differences (and similarities, too!). Religion comes up every time. With a smirk on their face, they each ask if I believe in "God" or a "higher power." I respond, "Yes, I identify as a Christian," and their reaction is priceless. They are shocked that their notions about American stereotypes have been confirmed, awestruck and incredulous at what they see as a blind and naive faith. Fortunately, the culture of tolerance in the Netherlands keeps the conversation friendly and curious, rather than judgmental and demeaning.

I could write essays on the topics of religion or sustainability or gender relations in Amsterdam, but in an effort to maintain concise and readable on this blog, I'll spare you my highfalutin thoughts. This list is nothing more than an illustration of cultural oddities, as seen through the eyes of an outsider. It's brevity indicates a much deeper, emerging idea, which is that despite a disparate language and position on this Earth, social workings in the Netherlands do not differ that significantly from those in the United States.