Week 7: Koningsdag and Pinderkaas

1) Having experienced my first Kings Day a.k.a. Koningsdag in Amsterdam, I can confirm: it is possibly the most epic holiday celebration I have ever been to. This past Friday, what seemed like every person in the Netherlands dressed in orange and descended upon the city for a massive celebration. Not only is it celebrated on Friday, but Thursday night was a city-wide block party as well, with every block filled with bands, beers, & people. I can't believe no one ever told me to come to Amsterdam for Kings Day before, as it's incredible - I'M HOSTING NEXT YEAR, so book your tickets now!

2) Get this: the Dutch usher in the beginning of the spring season with Rokjesdag, a Dutch term which literally means "skirt day," aka the first sunny day of the year when women start wearing short skirts again. If I were to guess, rokjesdag was probably sometime last week when we had our first sunny spell 🙂 Classic!

3) When people think of Holland/Netherlands, they commonly think of a few things: Heineken, canals, and windmills. But there are actually only 8 windmills in all of Amsterdam, as most of them have been dismantled or destroyed. There are still ~ 1,000 historic windmills spread about elsewhere throughout the Netherlands.

4) I recently saw a humorous 5 commandments of biking in the Netherlands, which I found accurate, so I'll share: 1) Thou shalt only cycle on the right side of the road, 2) Thou shalt not cycle on sidewalks- only on bike paths, 3) Thou shalt ALWAYS lock your bike when unattended. Preferably to something. 4) Thou shalt ding your bell when passing people, and move to the side when bells ding for thee, 5) Thou shalt ignore Dutch people shouting about how much you suck balls at cycling.

5) Many places in the U.S. were actually named after Dutch cities: Flushing, Brooklyn, Harlem, Bloomingdale, and many others! https://en.wikipedia.org/…/List_of_place_names_of_Dutch_ori…

6) I continue to be shocked at how loose the Dutch are about certain things: in a city where everyone ride bikes and are exposed to numerous opportunities to get injured, not a single person wears a helmet while cycling. On Kings Day? Someone set up a swing off of a canal bridge, and drunk people climbed to swing out over the canal all day long - and noone did a thing to stop this. These are just a couple examples of things that would never, ever fly in the US or the UK.

On the helmet front, many argue that helmets are simply not necessary in Amsterdam as the Dutch have created an intrinsically safe road environment. There are bike lanes EVERYWHERE here (literally, we did a 40km ride from Leiden to see all of the tulips this weekend and were on a dedicated bike lane nearly as wide as the road the entire time - if only it were like that everywhere!)

7) Amsterdam has been making a concerted effort to plant more tulips around the city itself. The motto of the Amsterdam Tulip Festival the last couple of years has been "a tulip for every Amsterdammer". Last count, they had planted around 650,000 which means they are getting close (current population hovers around 850,000).

8 ) You know how when you spill a secret, you "let the cat out of the bag?" Here, the expression is 'Nu komt de aap uit de mouw' or "the monkey comes out of the sleeve." The supposed backstory: in the past, street artists would often perform tricks by hiding a monkey in their coats. At the end of the performance the monkey would “come out of the sleeve” and reveal the trick!

9) Pindakaas = peanut butter. But why it's weird is: pinda means peanut, and kaas actually means cheese. So really, this translates to: peanut cheese. The reason? The word ‘piendakass’ appeared in the Surinamese dictionary in the mid 1800's and referred to a large block of crushed peanuts that locals sliced in a similar way to that of a block of cheese and ate on bread. Peanut butter, as you and I know it, was not introduced until 1948. However, it was not possible to market it under the name of ‘pindaboter’ due to the ‘Butterlaw’, which stipulated that only butter could call itself butter. So there you have it: why, to this day, Dutch peanut butter is really called peanut CHEESE!!

10) The Dutch have a way with insults; so much so, that there is even an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to them. I'll leave those right here for you, but my favorite is to call someone a pannenkoek, an idiot, or more literally: a pancake. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_profanity

koningsdag amsterdam
leiden amsterdam bicycle

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)