10 things you’ll notice your first week in the Netherlands

So, you just moved to the Netherlands. Congratulations! Be prepared to be confused.

Navigating the hellscape, erm, labyrinth, that is, the world of the Dutch can be difficult. So many new words, new places, and new people offer ample opportunity for moments where you just have to say, “wait, what??” 

Here are just a few surprising things you might notice during your first week in the Netherlands — and the explanations behind them! 

1. Public transport is a maze — so get your maps (and wallets!) out

One thing anyone new to a country might notice is the public transport. Whether it’s the bus, tram, train, or metro, you’re going to need two very essential things: tickets and cards. 

In the Netherlands, the public transport system can seem very confusing to newcomers. 

READ MORE | Public transport in the Netherlands: the complete guide

There are multiple different carriers for the different modes of transport, and sometimes it feels like the amount of different tickets, cards, and prices would make your head explode. 🤯

With so many options, it can be hard to choose the best way to get around! Image: Depositphotos

The cost of public transport can also seem extortionate to many internationals. In fact, as of 2019, the Netherlands had the most expensive public transportation system in all of the EU. 

READ MORE | The ultimate guide to taking a train in the Netherlands: from OV cards to saving money

For most, a return day train ticket can cost up to €20, while a 90-minute-fare ticket for bus and tram services can cost €6.50. Money better spent in places such as coffeeshops and vintage stores, we think. 👀

Tip: Perhaps the easiest way of navigating public transport in the Netherlands is by getting an OV-Chipkaart. With a chipkaart, you can tap on and tap off all the different modes of transport, no tickets needed. Hooray to zero paper waste! 🌲

Also, it’ll take a while to figure out which exit to take 

Another really fun (!) aspect of Dutch transport, and Dutch trains specifically, is how large the train stations are. As a newcomer, you might find it impossible to navigate them. 

Most of the larger stations have multiple exits, one leading in towards the city and the other leading out from the city. 

In such a big station, it’s understandable to get lost in Amsterdam Centraal. Image: Despositphotos

So, if you find yourself spinning in circles trying to get your Google Maps to align, maybe check to see if you’ve taken the correct exit! 

2. Bathroom out on display? Yep. That’s a public urinal

Picture this: it’s your first week in the wonderful city of Amsterdam. Fresh out of the chaos that is Schiphol airport, you’re enjoying the sights, the wonderful canals, and the hordes of tourists until you smell something a bit… off. 

Don’t be shocked because what you’re looking at (and smelling) is a public urinal. Gross! 🤢

Due to the high charges associated with using public bathrooms in the Netherlands, most of which you will be charged a fee of €1 per use, a solution to the rogue-peeing issues has been to install public urinals. 

And, if you’re a dumb Dutch tourist who happens to be under the influence in Amsterdam, maybe you might misidentify public urinals as water fountains. 

No, thankfully, we’ve never heard of that happening. 😅

A common public urinal in Amsterdam. Image: Depositphotos

Previously, Amsterdam has attempted to prevent tourists and locals alike from publically urinating by installing hemp urinals

You might notice that lots of buildings and alleyways in Amsterdam have odd curves to them — these oddly curved buildings are built to pee back, so watch out! 💦

Public urinals are a saving grace for the people who can use them, but for those of us who need to crouch, fat luck finding somewhere to go. 😬

Perhaps you could try asking a friendly Amsterdammer? Otherwise, prepare a purse of euro coins to keep yourself in the clear.

3. You came to get high, but you’re leaving low

It’s your first week in the Netherlands, and the prospect of getting high is seeming more and more appealing. 

But, you’re out and about, and you’re noticing something; there are not very many Dutch people in the coffeeshops. 

READ MORE | The do’s and don’ts of smoking weed in Amsterdam

On top of that, you’re getting odd looks for the suspicious lollipop you’ve been sucking on walking down the street. 🙄

It might be a shock, but Dutch attitudes towards drug use might not be what you expect. In fact, it’s very much a tourist activity to even partake in it at all. 

Don’t expect to get many happy looks for smoking on the streets of Amsterdam. Image: Freepik

Less than 25% of Dutch people actually smoke. So, don’t expect to make many Dutch friends when high. 

Do, however, expect to find yourself clinging to the ground in Amsterdam for fear of falling into the canals because you made the rookie mistake of splitting the high-strength stuff with your bestie. 

READ MORE | Smoking weed in Amsterdam: the ultimate guide

It happens to the best of us; don’t worry about it!  

Note: Beware of edibles outside of Amsterdam; they’re a lot stronger and might leave you in a bit of a state for a while afterwards. (No, we haven’t learned from experience. Thank you. 🙃)

4. Cities in the Netherlands are so close!

If you’re new to the Netherlands, you might not have realised just how compact (and flat!) the country is. 

In fact, you can easily get from one major city to another, usually in just under an hour — and sometimes less. (Especially if you’re living within the Randstad.)

The Randstad has some of the Netherlands’ most iconic cities, such as Amsterdam, The Hague, and Haarlem. Image: Pixabay

For example, if you were looking to make a quick trip from Amsterdam to Rotterdam for the day, you can get there in a speedy 39 minutes. 

Or, you could go to Eindhoven and almost cover the distance of the entire country in less than an hour and a half!

Though to us newcomers, the distance seems negligible, for most Dutchies, a trip from Amsterdam all the way to Utrecht might seem like a long journey. 

READ MORE | Full speed ahead! Amsterdam to Berlin train will be even faster by December 2023

That being said, it’s not unusual for Dutch people to work in entirely different cities than where they live due to the frequency of transport between cities.

READ MORE | Is the 9-5 dead in the Netherlands?

It’s just a hop, skip, and a jump from home to office, if you think about it! 🦘

5. What’s a BSN, and why do I need it for everything!?!

One thing you’ll soon realise about life in the Netherlands — you’re going to need some very important numbers. They’re attached to three letters: BSN.

What is a BSN? A Citizen Service Number (BSN) is a unique personal number used to register every citizen in the Netherlands in the Personal Records Database (BRP).

In order for you to do most things in the Netherlands, such as being paid or signing up for a job, you’re going to need a BSN. 

If you’re looking to pick up a part-time gig, you’re going to need a BSN. Image: Pexels

The good thing is you’ll automatically get a BSN once you register where you live at your local municipality.  

But, if you’re staying for less than four months, you can also register for a temporary BSN and still be able to get a job. Hip-hip-hooray! 🥂

6. Help! My card won’t work

Ah, yes, The quite universal experience of heading to your local Dirk, doing your weekly bout of shopping, only to realise, verdorie! (gosh darn it!), my card’s been declined!

There’s nothing more humiliating than your card being declined. Image: Depositphotos

The unfortunate thing for lots of us internationals is that many Dutch stores don’t accept Visa or Mastercard, only Maestro. Which means many of us are left surprisingly stranded and ashamed at the till.

However, it’s fairly easy to get a Dutch bank account and, therefore, a usable card if you are moving over. 🎉

READ MORE | 7 incredible things you can ACTUALLY do if you get a Dutch bank card

But, if you’re stuck in the danger zone (aka that in-between moment when you haven’t quite gotten around to getting a bank account just yet), there are some ways to get around.

Though you may not be able to use your card in many places, lots of stores still accept cash.

Note: Many online transactions require iDeal to verify your purchase. To use this, you’ll need a Dutch bank account, but a way around it could be to use the now internationally recognised bank, Revolut.

7. You’re getting stared at in the queue — why?

You’re wearing your favourite bright red puffer jacket, holding a litany of post-work snacks and a cheap mug you found on discount, and you notice you’re getting odd looks. 

@dutchreview Internationals after moving to the Netherlands 🫢 #voorjou #voorjoupagina #foryou #foryoupage #internationals #netherlands #lifeinthenetherlands #internationalstudent #internationalsinthenetherlands ♬ Pink (Bad Day) [From Barbie The Album] – Lizzo

A shocking thing for those new to the country to have to learn, but the Dutch have a saying they like to call doe normaal.’ 

READ MORE | 9 things to know before coming to the Netherlands: a survival guide

Roughly translated, the phrase means ‘act normal’ and perfectly encapsulates the Dutch attitude of staying part of the crowd and not sticking out. 

Although one of the most inter-cultural cities in the world, it’s better to stick in Amsterdam than stand out. Image: Depositphotos

Basically, try not to stick out like a sore thumb in Dutch society. Being average and humble is the respected thing, rather than being a show-off with your red puffa. 💁‍♀️

8. And now you’re being looked at weirdly for strolling into a restaurant

Another aspect of Dutch culture and attitudes is strict adherence to their agendas — basically, everything is planned! 

Popping out for a quick bite to eat isn’t always an unplanned affair in the Netherlands. Image: Unsplash

It’s very common for Dutch people to call ahead and book a restaurant for a meal out rather than just walking in because they feel a bit peckish. 

Lots of Dutchie’s will have an agenda they stick to and will have made advance plans to hang with friends and eat. 

READ MORE | Dutch Quirk #6: Live by their agendas when making plans

This can be unusual for many internationals, who might have come from cultures where the norm is just to stroll in, no previous plan needed! And if you do, you can expect some confused frowning at you and the restaurant’s agenda. 

9. Wall food? Food from a wall?

So, you’re walking down the streets of Amsterdam. You’re a little peckish, and you’re on the lookout for food places. 

But, instead of a counter or sit-down restaurant, you keep seeing food stacked in rows along the walls. What is that?

Well, that, our dear friends, is a food wall! And trust us, it will become your best friend eventually. 

Our friends at FEBO are a great example of food walls in the Netherlands. Image: Depositphotos

READ MORE | A FEBO for Vegans? The Health Food Wall has just opened in Amsterdam!

A very Dutch conception, the food wall is an invention brilliant for nights out. You can simply buy your meal from one of the little windows in the wall, usually paid for by card (but, again, be careful if you don’t have a Dutch bank account!). 

But, if the wall makes you a little shy, you can always go up to the counter inside and order directly there. 

Otherwise, it’s a great idea for us introverts who’d like to avoid as much social interaction as possible. 😍

10. Cycling isn’t all you think it is

Now, there you are in the Netherlands, your brand-new bike in hand. You’re ready to hop on, have a lovely cycle around the major Dutch cities, and generally have a good time.

Haha. No. Not-a-happening, boys, girls, and thems. 🙅‍♂️

When cycling your bike around the Netherlands, the first few tries will most likely start off full of excitement but quickly descend into chaos, panic, and just being plain overwhelmed. 

Cycling in Amsterdam may not be the relaxing activity you expect. Image: Pixabay

Firstly, you made the mistake of bringing a bike helmet, but you don’t have a bell on your bike — rookie mistake. 

Secondly, there are so many rules when riding a bike. In fact, there are many things you can be fined for doing while cycling — such as using your phone or not indicating the direction you’re going to turn. 

Plus, cycling in the Netherlands can actually be a dangerous game. In 2021, 207 people were involved in fatal crashes on their bikes, and the bike was the most dangerous form of transport for that year. 

Unfortunately, it’s not all relaxing cycles! 

That being said, your first week in the Netherlands won’t be all doom and gloom. With endless things to offer, you’ll soon be familiar with all things Dutch, such as having weird birthday traditions or carrying emergency snacks

What are some things you noticed during your first week living in the Netherlands? Tell us below! 

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in October 2022 and was updated in September 2023 for your reading pleasure. 

Feature Image:Depositphotos
Heather Slevin
Heather Slevin
Heather is a Dublin native, addicted to catching the Luas, the Irish version of a tram, for one stop, and well used to the constant rain and shine. Seeking to swap one concrete city for another (with a few more canals and a friendlier attitude to cyclists) here she is with the Dutch Review! As a Creative Writing student, she can usually be found sweating over the complicated formatting of her latest poem or deep inside the pages of a book, and loves writing, writing, writing.

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