Amsterdam expats are getting a heavier dose of Dutch culture during the pandemic

It’s springtime in Amsterdam. The trees are green with fresh new leaves, flowers are in bloom, and the sunny days keep getting longer. The natural world seems to all be in working order, but the streets tell another story—one that might give Amsterdam expats their first real taste of Dutch culture without leaving the city. 

This year, spring has been replaced with the pandemic season. What is usually the time of year for long weekends, holiday celebrations, and terrace drinking is now the time for DIY projects, working from home, and spring cleaning. But aside from the quieting everyday effects of social distancing, an even more noticeable change can be felt from the marked absence of tourists.

This spring, you aren’t hearing the howls of hen and stag parties taking over the city with their debaucherous weekend pub crawls, leaving piles of puke and penis paraphernalia in their wake.

Rather, you’re more likely hearing the squeals of rosy-cheeked children playing in the streets with their bicycles, water toys, and sidewalk chalk, leaving behind little more than a few puddles and traces of hopscotch.

The familiar sounds of rolling suitcases have been replaced by neighborly chit chat, and the countless languages and accents exchanged for, well, mostly Dutch.

Amsterdam is characterised by its tourism

Until now, it would rarely cross my mind that I lived in the Netherlands as I’d dodge tourists staring at their phones, the buildings, their reflections in the windows, anywhere but their immediate surroundings.

I simply felt like I lived in Amsterdam—the international city where tourists flock for the Red Light District and coffee shops, stocking up on wooden tulips, clog postcards and canal selfies before running, bleary-eyed through the airport, to barely catch their flight home.

Don’t get me wrong, I love this city. It also has world-class museums, a rich history, impressive architecture, and a longstanding culture of tolerance. But all the things that make Amsterdam wonderful and unique are also the things that draw somewhere around 20 million visitors each year.

That overwhelming taste of tourism can sometimes taint the palate, and tends to overshadow the Dutch side of the city’s culture.

Now, with this abrupt (and dare I say, welcome) shift, it’s almost as if Amsterdam has morphed into a completely different city, and suddenly, it feels a whole lot more like living in the Netherlands.

Spotting the undeniably Dutch

Like everyone else, I’ve always accepted that if I want to experience Dutch life I have to get out of the city. But now that the fog of tourism has lifted, aside from the smattering of expats, Amsterdam is likely as Dutch as we’ll ever see it. Every day, all around, I’m noticing things like:

  • People with relentlessly high spirits, in spite of the rampant coronavirus.
  • Families and friends still managing to get together for circle parties, balloons and all, in spite of the rampant coronavirus.
  • Streets lined with people enjoying drinks and meals outside for as long as there’s any hint of sunlight, in spite of the rampant coronavirus.
  • Flowers in hands, in homes, in planters—everyone keeping their flowers fresh, in spite of the rampant coronavirus.
  • People who trust in their healthcare system (or perhaps the power of paracetamol) enough to go predominantly mask-free in public, in spite of the rampant coronavirus.
  • Parks packed with sunbathers and tans that resemble something closer to those of tropical beach dwellers, in spite of the rampant coronavirus.
  • An air of unphased confidence, giving the impression that everything will be okay, in spite of the rampant coronavirus.

Of course, this cultural evidence was all here before, but it was often hard to detect through the pot smokey haze of tourism. Now, these characteristics are highlighted even more by the, you know, rampant coronavirus.

It’s the little things

The unfortunate truth, however, is that Amsterdam thrives on its tourism and the pandemic has had enormous economic repercussions, not to mention the impact on many individuals, families, and everyone involved in healthcare.

Since I can’t change those things, these days, I’m finding gratitude in the little things—things I want to savor because I know they won’t last for long. Things like:

  • Cycling through the bike lanes without having to keep my thumb hovering constantly over the bell because everyone knows how bikes and bike lanes work.
  • Walking around, admiring the city center, and the canal belt no less, without being asked to take pictures of people.
  • Practicing more than just my goedemiddag when I go to the grocery store because the cashier doesn’t automatically assume I can’t speak Dutch (they’d be mostly right but I so desperately want to try).
  • The sound of the Dutch language everywhere, which (though admittedly wasn’t always my favorite) has come to sound like home.

Let’s be clear, nothing about right now can truly be considered “typical Dutch life,” just like nothing in the world can be considered typical anything while we’re in the middle of a global pandemic. But excusing the fact that the whole world is off-kilter, I, for the first time since living in Amsterdam, feel like I live in the Netherlands. It’s a new experience, and one I’m afraid I’ll miss when the sweat pants and tiaras make their grand return.

What cultural changes have you noticed since the coronavirus pandemic? Let us know in the comments below!

Feature Image: MabelAmber/Pixabay

Brin Andrews
Brin Andrews
Brin is an avid ice cream eater from the US, calling Amsterdam home since early 2019. As a lover of mountains, life below sea level has been a bit of an adjustment, but she manages to stay afloat with long runs, wine, and frequent travel. Incidentally, these are a few of her favourite topics to write about.


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