When I initially sat down to brainstorm for this article, it was quite difficult to think of a topic that had not been discussed by writers before me about integrating into Dutch life.

Every author who writes about Holland talks about the same themes and usually begins by stating that Holland is the land of clogs, tulips, cheese, bicycles, marijuana or something along those lines.

However, it was only after hours of pulling my hair out that I realized that most had forgotten one crucial thing in their articles: to discuss what an immigrant really needs to know once they arrive in The Netherlands.

When I say what they really need to know about integrating into Dutch life, I’m talking about how to integrate as seamlessly as possible into life in the lowlands. While everyone knows the boring facts about obtaining your BSN or finding the best mobile data package, I have compiled a list of the do’s and don’ts to living in Holland and really integrating into Dutch life, this to ensure that your fellow Dutch inhabitants will not be able to tell that you have just stepped off the plane at Schiphol.

The most obvious place to start on our journey to successful integration into Dutch life begins in the first place you find yourself in after the airport: The Train Station.

bikes in the netherlands
Get yourself a bike when integrating into Dutch life. They say there are more bikes in the Netherlands than people! Image: djedj/Pixabay

The train stations in Holland are incredibly scary and if, like me, you come from a country where you miss the train, think “f*ck it” and go to the nearest pub for a pint until the next one comes along, then being in a train station in Holland will probably send you into a stress-induced coma.

The station is a hotpot of lost tourists, time-conscious, working commuters and beautiful blonde-haired creatures, gracefully Olympic sprinting through the station and down the escalator to catch their departing train with a minute to spare. Then… there’s me, one foot below the rest of the Dutch population, squinting at the departure screen, furiously scrolling to find when the next train departs to Amsterdam Centraal, while also weighing up the potential success rate of me obtaining a koekje from the Albert Heijn before catching my train.

However, after several episodes in various train stations across the country, I have finally cracked the code of how to blend into the crowd in the train station and have compiled a simple list of dos and don’ts to ensure that you too can fit into this mystifying maze of excellent time-keeping and public transport in the Netherlands.

1DO purchase an OV Chipkaart and DON’T buy paper tickets

ov-chipkaart
Step one of integrating into Dutch life: buy an ov-chipkaart! Image: Elisa Triolo/Flickr

Having an OV Chipkaart is the equivalent of having a backstage pass to the Oscars if you’re a tourist. No longer must you face the embarrassment of carrying around a paper ticket for every journey you embark upon.

Now, you hold the holiest of all grails: For just €7.50, you too can be the owner of such a magical card and can strut into the station, nonchalantly avoiding the pay machines and arrogantly swiping your card at the check-in point without even stopping in your stride (that is until you realize that you have no credit on your card and have to return red-faced to put €20 on your Chipkaart.)

If used correctly, this card will ensure that Dutch people will have a very hard time identifying you as a tourist and if you can manage to find yourself a Dutch friend (with a special discount card that you mere mortals wouldn’t even understand), it will allow you take advantage of a 40% discount on every journey. Ka-CHING!

2DO attempt to board the train as soon as possible and DON’T allow on-board passengers room to disembark

No matter what country you come from, the majority of individuals are brought up to obey certain public transport etiquette such as letting an old person have your seat or thanking the bus driver on your way off the bus.

One such train etiquette for those waiting to board any form of public transport is to allow room for those disembarking the vehicle to safely exit so as to avoid any injuries or potential stampedes. Such etiquette is not the case in Holland and should you stand back to allow your fellow commuters to disembark, you have failed at your attempt at Dutch integration and must return to your home, pack your bags and head for the airport.

No, this rule is one that is not and probably will never be practised in Holland and should you wish to remain living in the Netherlands you must follow these crucial steps to blend in while boarding a train:

  1. Wrap your belongings as tightly to you as you see the train approaching in the distance.
  2. Slowly begin taking steps closer to the edge of the platform, linking up with fellow passengers on your left and right to create an impenetrable, compact herd.
  3. As soon as the train stops, rush with your herd towards the opening door.
  4. Those in the middle may find themselves obliged to create a small pathway to allow those on the train to get through the masses to the platform, however, should you find yourselves on the side of the herd, feel free to continue to push your way towards the door.
  5. If you feel that your herd is failing you and not making progress, you can always jump ship to the next entrance and push from the rear.
  6. Board the train and elbow your way to the nearest free seat in second class.

3DO stare at your fellow passengers and DON’T mind your own business.

Success! You’ve boarded the train and you have now taken your seat along with your fellow peasantry in second class.

Now, to complete the initiation process, you must focus all of your intentions on your fellow passengers. Dutch people on trains have an incredibly annoying habit of staring at anyone who opens a bag of crisps, answers their phone or sneezes and coughs too loudly. To become one of them, you too must stare at these culprits, boring your disapproving, inquisitive eyes into their soul until they are shamed into a cone of silence for their entire journey.

Should you find yourself as the culprit, well, I usually just stare back and wink until they look away.

And there you have it! You’ve done it. You have passed as a Dutchie in the train station and stage one of your integration process is complete. 

Are there any do’s and don’ts we missed out on? Let us know in the comments below!

Feature image: Jan Oosterhuis [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Editor’s note: Last published in September 2015, updated to October 2019 for your reading pleasure.

20 COMMENTS

  1. 1. The advise about OV-Chipkaart is good, but IMHO not complete. The complete one is: buy a PERSONAL OV-Chipkaart and enable automatic reload on it. Then and ONLY then you can feel the real power behind this card: from now on you will be able to board ANY means of public transport in ANY place inside NL, without thinking about cash or enough credit on the card. So the mentioned issue with less than 20 euro balance on the card is also solved.

    2. The mysterious train subscription that gives you 40% discount is not mysterious at all, and luckily you don’t need to have a Dutch friend to get it =) There are plenty of NS subscriptions that give you (and your friends) 40% discount, and I would actually say that the “full” price is something that you are not supposed to pay with NS, unless you are really a very occasional train user. The simplest is to buy Dal Voordeel for just 50 euro per YEAR. And – surprise! surprise! – you get the Personal OV-Chipkaart for free, which saves you 7.50 mentioned above =) oh yes, and every year NS offers this subscription for less than 50… so they really don’t expect people to pay the full price =)

    3. What is really mysterious to me is this thingy about people not letting other passengers to step out of the train… I’ve read this like 1000 times in this blog, and I simply cannot understand what people are talking about! I use the train every working day twice, in peak-hours, and I simply cannot agree that this is how they behave in NL! So either I come from a country where this is much worse (so my perspective is different), or you are judging just by the route Schiphol-Amsterdam, which is overcrowded (and 70% of people there are probably not even NL residents). Anyway, it is very strange… I simply cannot confirm this experience, although you are definitely not the first one who mentions this!

    • Agree with you, especially on 3rd point. I have never experienced any such staring/bothering behavior. People do mind their own business most of the time.

      – Proud owner of Dal Voordeel subscription in 29 euros 🙂

    • ” The complete one is: buy a PERSONAL OV-Chipkaart and enable automatic reload on it. ”
      this is a mistake, imo
      charge it manually because their ‘auto charge’ is overcharge, it dose not work right from my experience.

    • Totally agree with the third point!
      Also, if you don’t want to get stared at, maybe respect the rules and be quiet in the stilte carts? Most people use commuting time for working or resting in silent carts, I believe it is only logical to respect a simple rule such as “keep quiet”, specially when you have other carts in which you can talk normally.

  2. Spot on!! You forgot to mention that we Dutchies also fail to understand the “stand right, walk left” principle on station escalators! As soon as you touch the metal of an escalator you simply stop moving, right there on the spot. Be it left or right. The thing is moving for you and who cares if the person behind you needs to catch their train and would like to pass? 😉

  3. Don’t sit in the areas marked “quiet” on the trains with a talkative friend. Everybody will burn into your soul with their eyes.
    And, use the bus from the airport. Actually, use the bus instead of the tourist jammed trams, throughout the city.
    Asking for help at the trains can get you a personal escort if you look helpless.

  4. As a foreigner who has lïved in NL for 2 years I can safely say that the information about OV cards in this article is very good!
    The rest is satire and should be ignored.

  5. Most over exaggerated para I’ve ever read. Stations are busy, but can’t agree at all with this

    —–

    “The train stations in Holland are incredibly scary and if, like me, you come from a country where you miss the train, think “f*ck it” and go to the nearest pub for a pint until the next one comes along, then being in a train station in Holland will probably send you into a stress-induced coma.”

  6. Cool but the thing about not letting people disembark the train is just horribly untrue. Have experienced it in many countries but never in the Netherlands. Also, remember that Holland is not a country 😉

  7. I’ve never experienced people rushing to the trains as soon as it arrives. In fact I’ve only seen good etiquette by the Dutchies who leave enough space for the passengers to disembark and then, calmly, embark in a respectable manner. I just simply can’t agree with number 2! I’m from India and I’ve learnt this etiquette living in the Netherlands.

  8. You forgot to mention the shameless group of people who board the train through the gates of first class and then come and grab the seats in 2nd class while the people are still queuing outside second class gates to get in . This is the most disgusting habit of Dutch people . Have some class people !

  9. As a non Dutch living in Netherlands for 3.5 years. Totally agree with point 1,2.
    But I disagree with point 3. That type of behavior I see more in the station of Amsterdam than any where else.

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