In the Netherlands, rules are rules (but only when it’s convenient)

When did it become cool to break the rules? Okay, rhetorical question since the people who break the rules are always seen as the cool kids (hello, Breakfast Club). But the Dutch? They take this one step further. 

Walking to my local Albert Heijn one day, I saw a cyclist talking to a policewoman.

I realised quickly it wasn’t just a friendly chat — it was a “you-are-getting-a-fine” kind of conversation (a.k.a, it was juicy!)

What could a cyclist have done to catch this policewoman’s attention? Well, apparently, said cyclist was getting a fine of €140 because he had ridden through a red light.

Allow me to repeat that — €140. In the Netherlands. For running a red light. On a bike.

READ NEXT | 7 things that will get you fined while cycling in the Netherlands

When I think of all the things €140 could buy and the money-saving mentality of the Dutch, I can imagine that this sum of money is not easily given up — especially in exchange for not stopping for 30 seconds.

The rules don’t apply

I get that all cyclists want to get on with it and reach their ultimate destination, but don’t we all? And why is it so hard to do that safely and in a considerate way?

The consequence of ignoring that one small but important rule is so high that I have to wonder if it’s more about exceptionalism — the rules are meant for everyone else.

Without traffic rules, crossing the road would become a free-for-all. Image: Unsplash

We see a lot of examples of Dutchies completely disregarding the rules, whether it’s using smartphones on bikes or renting out Airbnbs despite regulations.

But come on, Dutchies, can’t we stick to the rules we have in play? (We’re not even talking about all those unwritten rules.)

Changing times in Amsterdam

In Amsterdam, the rules are generally pretty loosey-goosey, so maybe it’s good that a bit of public decorum is enforced occasionally.

The city is changing rapidly, and new rules are popping up to match the pace.

Gotta be careful of your neighbours when at Dam Square. Image: Depositphotos

On the way home one day, I noted a sign around Dam Square advising visitors to keep the noise down and be mindful of the neighbours.

Bless their souls. Isn’t it heart-warming to see society taking better care of one another?

So, should rules rule the roost?

Perhaps the question is: are rules good, or are they meant to be broken?

Maybe it’s only once the lack of a rule begins to affect your life that it becomes a problem — like when too much public drunkenness in Leidseplein begins to affect your beauty sleep.

But still, you’d like to be able to cycle as you please with no rules and regulations. As long as you look left and right, can’t you just be allowed to cycle and live your life?!

Many years ago, my dad was driving us home, and we stopped at a red light.

It was night, and the road was pretty empty, so I asked, “Why don’t we just go?” To which my dad replied something along the lines of, “Society is made up of rules and regulations, and we respect those even when it isn’t convenient for us.”

I didn’t have a response and was more than happy to wait at that red light for as long as it took.

Rules are (sometimes) cool

I hate to take an innocent cycling fine and blow it out of proportion, but it all comes down to this: rules are made, and sometimes it’s okay to break them.

But sometimes, rules are made to protect and take care of society.

They ensure that you’re able to lead a life as pleasant and easy as we are lucky enough to have here in the good ol’ Netherlands.

Without rules and regulations, the Netherlands wouldn’t be the wonderful country it is! Image: Pixabay

That, my friends, is something that we should all strive to protect — no matter how ‘uncool’ it sometimes seems to follow the rules.

Are rules made to be broken or followed? Let us know in the comments below!
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in August 2019 and was fully updated in October 2023 for your reading pleasure.

Feature Image:Pixabay
Shaakira Vania
Shaakira Vania
20-something year old traveller, coconut lover (Seriously-anything coconut), and Libran. I recently made the cross-continent move to Amsterdam and spend my weekends exploring the country, meeting new people and telling myself I will finish a book every month (a promise I'm yet to keep). If I had to sum myself up in three words they would be: quirky, curious, and meme-lover.

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What do you think?

  1. Rules are meant to be followed; deal with it. We made them so society runs smoothly, and without too much hassle. Shouldn’t have ignored a red light if you didn’t want a fine, even on your bike. We agreed to these laws and rules when they were made.

  2. Amsterdam is not the only city in the Netherlands. Just because it is a touristic city, does not mean that different rules will be applied, especially regarding the example given about red light…all other locals who are living in other cities respect those rules, just being a non-Dutch speaking expat or new in the city cannot save you from fines…so 140 EUR…fair enough…

  3. Rules are of extreme importance to prevent a country from becoming a jungle (the country I live in will soon become one…) .Let me believe that at least my homeland will continue to give rules the support and maintenance that are necessary to continue being a healthy society….

  4. Not all Dutch residents, nor neighbouring countries, are happy about the Netherlands tolerant approach to soft drugs, pushing a conservative government to announce plans to stem drug tourism. The original plan was to implement a national ban on selling to foreigners, by requiring a membership card only available to local residents. However, after local tension and debate, the Dutch law was revised to allow local councils the choice whether to implement the new rules or not; Amsterdam scrapped it, as did most towns, but Maastricht, on the border of Germany and Belgium, kept the ban in place.

  5. Rules, though not always, tend to keep each other safe, least to be said.

    I have encountered many time in my life in The Netherlands (either at big city or not); Cyclists and even pedestrians have the tendency to “break-one”, to name the few: just crossed the road, don’t follow traffic-lights, cycling/ walking together on the road (includes chatting) that have to be shared with motorists (in certain location, there are no “fiets-pad) & lists go on.
    So, if they (cyclists) got fine, so beat it!!
    Im happy for those who breaks-one!

  6. Unfortunately my country has become so bureaucratic, the only thing left to do sometimes is to break the rules. We have indeed become a jungle. A jungle of contradicting rules. A true Dutchie would boldly break them! But sad enough we’ve also become a country full of faint-hearted wimps. Nothing left of the Netherlands I used to know ;(


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