Week 8: Boat Sharing and Darth Vader

1. All week I had been noticing backpacks hanging from flagpoles on houses around the neighborhood. After a quick Google search, what first seemed like a prank actually turns out to be rooted in tradition! Putting the flag out and hanging your child’s school bag on the pole is a sign that they have passed their high school exams! You will see this all over Holland around the second week of June. I like to think of it as the Dutch equivalent of the “my kid is an honor student” bumper sticker in the US.

2. Those orange carrots you eat? The Dutch introduced them to the world. Dutch carrot growers developed orange carrot in the 16th century through careful breeding of existing varieties. At the time, carrots were a range of colors, from pale yellow to purple, the OG.


3. A person who is overstepping his authority here is said to be “Buiten z'n boekje,” which means “outside his little book.”

4. For locals or those spending a significant amount of time in Amsterdam, there are some really awesome boat sharing programs so you don’t have to buy your own. You pay a yearly membership fee and then an hourly fee every time you take one out. Like Zipcar, but nautical!

5. My favorite lessons learned are the ones I stumble upon by accident. When walking River around the corner from my house, I saw these tiny houses (pictured) built in between real houses. As it turns out, a design firm noticed that the real houses on the street jumped in address from Westerstraat 54 to 70 for no reason, so they installed these little houses to account for the missing numbers. Aren’t they just the cutest?

6. Singel 7 is the narrowest house in Amsterdam and is about the width of a door. Go find it!

7. Vader = father in Dutch, so when in Star Wars, everyone loses their minds when Darth VADER is revealed as Luke’s father, all Dutch people face palmed in unison.

8. If you had not yet noticed a theme, I absolutely love finding ‘hidden’ gems in plain sight. One of my faves? The Vondelbunker hidden under a bridge in Vondelpark, one of the main parks in Amsterdam. Here, you can find lots of counterculture activities/events: concerts, cinema, art exhibits and dinners. There is even a micro beer brewery located here called Bunkerbier. It’s all built in actual bomb shelter from the Cold War. Cool beans.

9. If you are a proactive person, the Dutch say: “Hij laat er geen gras over groeien” which means directly, “he doesn’t allow grass to grow over it,” i.e. he’s taking action immediately. As a relatively type A individual, I relish in this phrase. Get ‘r done!

10. Street organs are a distinctive part of Dutch street culture: on any given day, they can often be heard, although they are more likely to be blaring out pop tunes rather than the more traditional melodies. Tourists love ‘em, as they embody Dutch charm at it’s finest. As a resident? The things drive me absolutely nuts - especially when they park outside my house when I’m on a conference call.

Bonus #11: The Dutch have a phrase which goes “Uit het oog, uit het hart” which means “out of eye, out of heart” or as we like to say it back home, “Out of sight, out of mind”.


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Week 6: Waterongevallenwagen and Subpar Tacos

1) When the Dutch have a misfit in a group of people, they don't call it a misfit, they call it ‘a small outside leg’ (Buitenbeentje). They seem to have a thing with legs, as the Dutch also don’t wake up in a bad mood, or get out of bed on the wrong foot…they step out of bed 'with the wrong leg’ (Met het verkeerde been uit bed gestapt). Funny folks!

2) People are obsessed with keeping the sidewalks clean of dog poop (and dog owners seem to be notoriously awful at cleaning up their dogs feces!) River dog stumbled over this delightful sign saying 'Poep Niet Op De Stoep' (pictured below) which Google Translate says means, "Shit Not on The Sidewalk." #class

3) Tacos here are so, so terrible. Having tried 3-4 places in town, absolutely nothing compares to Mexican food from California. And the funny thing is, the best place (i.e. most tasty) I've found here has the worst ratings online. The Dutch are not well versed in burritos and queso!

4) King's Day is imminent! On April 27, everyone in the Netherlands dons orange clothing for an all day city wide street party, an annual Dutch national holiday in honor of King Willem-Alexander. Really, it's just an excuse to party your face off. If you like a good crazy party (SF friends, think Bay to Breakers x 100), then plan your Amsterdam visit around it!

5) As the sun is starting to come out, people are emerging from their winter caves, and everyone makes a habit of sitting on their front stoop in the late afternoon/early evening sun. Finding a place with a solid stoop set up is considered a major win. All the better if you've got one large enough to host the neighbors. #stoopgoals

6) I've said it once but I'll say it again: Amsterdam and the Dutch are leading the way in Sustainability/Circular Economy efforts. There are so many groups here who are heavily involved in leading initiatives to ensure Holland is at the forefront: Impact Hub AmsterdamPlastic WhaleCirclInstockMarqtHolland Circular HotspotAmsterdam Airport Schiphol. The list goes on. I'm planning to attend an event early this evening put on by World Wildlife Fund and the Impact Hub Plastic Ocean Accelerator, followed by a Global Waste Dinner at Heineken as part of the Young Professional network of the UN Global Compact. #eliminatefoodwaste All on a Wednesday evening! There's so much going on in this space, which is really inspiring for people passionate about these global initiatives (more to come on this, as I plan to soon share more on my work/learnings on these topics :))

7) Some words are extremely long and seemingly even more random. Yet here I am, walking around the hood and confronted with the "waterongevallenwagen" (pictured), which translates directly as "Water Accident Car". You can’t make this stuff up.

8 ) The Dutch also have a word which means to "walk in the wind", 'Uitwaaien'. It's their way of saying to go for a walk, often out into the countryside, or to clear one's head. I think this is the closest they come to a word for 'hiking', my favorite activity.

9) Odd laws: it is against Dutch law to urinate in a canal – but acceptable if you are pregnant. When you gotta go, you gotta go! But really: there are strangely exposed yet private street urinals available for men on pretty much every street, so there's really no excuse.

10) While Americans slave away at their jobs 40+ hours a week (I'm v. guilty of having done this in the Bay Area tech bubble), most Dutch professionals enjoy a 36-hour workweek and a generous 4-6 weeks of holiday per year (yes, this is how I am able to travel so often over here). Spoiler alert: The Dutch are doing just fine. In fact, better than fine.

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Week 5: Frozen Canals and Small Shoes

1) The Dutch refer to nearly everything in the dimunitive. Example: “Ik doe mijn schoentjes aan om met het hondje een blokje om te gaan” (I’m putting on my shoes to take the dog for a walk around the block - but literally: I’m putting on my SMALL shoes to take my SMALL dog around the SMALL block.)

2) It’s hard to find medicines which I would buy at home here. When shopping for my Nepal trip and trying to find altitude sickness medicine, the best they could sell me was ginger pills which are supposed to help with altitude (to be fair, they did). Alka seltzer, Benadryl, standard Advil - not to be found here. It goes along well with the Dutch concept of “uitzieken” which literally means ‘outsicking’ or ‘to sick it out’: when you just let the illness run its course and rest until it is over.

3) The Dutch don’t order a cup of coffee…they order ‘a little cup of solace’ (Een bakje troost). Gimme summa dat!

4) There is a private island east of central Amsterdam called Vuurtoreneiland where you can enjoy a 5-course meal in a temporary structure with a view over the water and a tiny lighthouse, followed by a boat ride back to the city. We were the only non-Dutch on the adventure; others were so surprised to see us on board as English speaking expats that they wondered how we even found out about the experience. It’s a MUST-DO experience for anyone visiting and an absolutely gorgeous building! http://vuurtoreneiland.nl/winterrestaurant/

5) In keeping with Dutch simplicity and directness, they tend to avoid creating unnecessary words. For example, they call gloves “handschoenen” a.k.a. hand shoes, shoes for hands. Makes perfect sense, really!

6) Europeans will be familiar with this, but maybe not so much Americans: always add in a buffer of 15 min when expecting to leave a cafe/restaurant if you are telling someone you will meet them, or if you are going to order an Uber etc. It takes what sometimes seems to be an inordinate amount of time to get the waiters attention, get the check (bill) and then to account for the Russian roulette event of whether or not your card will work. Customer service is much much slower here as part of the culture (I do miss American efficiency!) and shops at times seem extremely arbitrary in the cards they will/will not accept.

7) Another entertaining word (there are soooo many of them here & all amusing): “mierenneuker” or literally: somebody who is intimate with ants. To the Dutch, this means someone who is way too caught up in the details. I fight the temptation daily to tell my clients to stop being such a mierenneuker when it comes to contract negotiations and to just sign the dotted line 🙂

8 ) In the US, we are accustomed to our friends/colleagues doing something special for us on our birthdays - whether it be cake, a gift, a special lunch, etc. In Holland, (this was similar in England), you are expected to bring your own cake/treats to work for your birthday. So much for birthday month!

9) Mayonnaise on fries. This has become such a normal part of my life that I don’t even blink at it anymore but it’s all they do out here is add mayonnaise and various types of sauces onto their fries/frites. Just a sampling of regular topping options from our favorite local shop include: curry, tartar sauce, citrus mayo, spicy ketchup, American ketchup, ketchup curry, Belgian mayo, cocktail sauce, English mayo, garlic mayo, mustard sauce, chili sauce, truffle mayonnaise.

10) The canals (of which there are 165 in total) only freeze over in winter about once or twice a DECADE - so this past week’s frozen canals were a very special treat! And they only lasted for 48 hours before melting! (Photo proof below)