As the first tulips tentatively start to stick their heads up after an extended winter, they remind me of my two months spent in Amsterdam and all the other wondrously cliche Dutch stereotypes I encountered that the Dutch laugh about.
In 2011, after sweating through Sumatra and watching ROUS (rodents of unusual size) swimming for dear life in the streets of Bangkok after the record flooding, I decided to grab one of the cheap flights to Amsterdam to retain some sanity.
First, the Dutch are just so ridiculously nice and laid back that they really deserve a little badgering. The Dutch travelers I meet on the road are incredibly intelligent and well traveled.
Here are a few of my favorite Dutch stereotypes analyzed:
The Guttural Language
I wasn’t sure what to do. I desperately tried to remember the Heimlich Maneuver learned years ago in Army first aid. The woman across from me was obviously choking but no one seemed to care! Just before I could grab her from behind and start cracking ribs, I realized that others in the room had objects stuck in their throats as well. Entire families were choking in front of each other!
Don’t get confused if you just want to grab a cup of coffee before wandering around. Coffee shops are famous for something entirely different, and ‘cafes’ are places you go to get a beer. You’ll have to find a boring koffiehuis (coffee house) if you just want some good old caffeine.
The CIA World Factbook claims that the Dutch have a problem with illicit drug use. But every time I strolled past a coffee shop in Amsterdam, the only people giggling in the doorways were young Americans.
Dutch cheese is fantastic. But ask for “goo-dah” and see what happens. The correct pronunciation of the much loved Gouda requires getting a sizable chunk of the same cheese stuck in your throat.
The Red Light District
Don’t get too excited when you see ‘XXX’ flags flying everywhere and on lots of historic buildings. No, the lions on each side aren’t trying to claw their ways into a sexy show. The XXX we associate with naughtiness are actually St. Andrew’s crosses; the symbol appears on the Amsterdam coat of arms and has an entirely different meaning.
The Red Light District is actually only a small neighborhood in Amsterdam. Yes, you can see girls on display in windows but certainly don’t expect the stereotype of a tall Dutch woman beckoning from behind glass; most aren’t even Dutch!
Too bad our modern day bankers and investors forgot the historic lesson of tulip mania (I didn’t make that up) and the subsequent market collapse. During the Golden Age, supposedly 1,000 pounds of cheese or 12 fat sheep would be exchanged for a single bulb of the prized Viceroy tulip.
There is a sprawling tulip market in Amsterdam, but just as with the coffee shops, you see only American tourists — still giggling — buying bags of bulbs rather than locals.
The famous wooden shoes are known as klompen (again, I didn’t make that up) in Dutch. The heavy, painful-looking shoes were worn by people who spent a lot of time working in the mud. And since most of the Netherlands had to be wrestled back from the sea, there is a lot of mud.
Now days, you don’t see many Dutch families klomping along in the streets, although some people still wear them while gardening. The wooden shoes mostly end up pushing tourists’ bags to overweight at the check-in counter when they leave Amsterdam. Hopefully, no longer giggling.
Tall and Beautiful
Well, according to the stats, Dutch people are tall, and I can attest that they are quite beautiful. The average height for a Dutch male is around 6 feet tall, and lots of studies have pegged the Dutch as the tallest people in the world.
The irony is that the Dutch were famous for being short in the 19th century. So, Dutch people mysteriously began growing; the average male height increased by 3 centimeters between the 1980s and 2000! Now they get picked first on basketball courts across the globe.
With so many immigrants and mixed nationalities living in Amsterdam, people climbing off of the plane hardly realize they are visiting a land of giants.
With an average of 1.2 bicycles per person, there are more bicycles in the Netherlands than people. I’ve never seen so many sprawling lots of leaning, entangled bikes. How someone can find their specific ride in such a mess, I will never understand.
What surprised me most was that Dutch bikes are incredibly ugly. The wobbly, rusting, antique frames are not what you would expect in a country where bikes are taken so seriously. Forget mountain bikes, gears, lightweight frames, or anything beyond the heaviest, ugliest two-wheelers imaginable. The reasoning? Any bike not repulsively low-tech is fair game to be stolen in 15 minutes or less.
And strangely, even with millions of bikes that hit their prime during World War II plying the streets, bicycles are still relatively expensive if you purchase one legally.
But at least Dutch people ride their low-tech bikes. In fact, they average an impressive 900 kilometers per year — good thing the country is so flat. In America, we purchase the fanciest cycle available with NASA frame, hydraulic brakes, 52 gears, and built-in GPS then throw the damn thing into the garage behind the SUV.
All ugly bikes aside, Amsterdam is certainly one of my favorites in the world and Dutch people are the best. But don’t take my word for it: grab a cheap flight to Amsterdam and go see for yourself!