Ten Ways To Fit Into Dutch society
It’s another beautiful day in the Netherlands, time to sit on a terrace and have the pleasure of inhaling cigarette smoke from those sitting nearby. If Van Gogh and Rembrandt were alive today, their paintings would feature buxom ladies with cigarettes hanging out of their mouths while simultaneously holding a conversation and looking at their smartphones. Or the sight of a group of Dutch men, watching the ladies, and staring and staring….. which brings me to the subject of today’s post.
The Shallow Man after ten years in Amsterdam feels comfortable making such statements as I’ve learned the hard way, how to fit into Dutch society, the secret of which dear reader, I’ll share with you. Forget the nonsense they teach you on the Inburgering course, that’s just there to confuse foreigners and hopefully scare some to choose not to remain in the Netherlands once they are taught that not placing the divider thingy on the conveyor belt in supermarkets is a serious social faux pas. The course also advises that Dutch women sunbathe topless. To be of real value it would provide a list of all the places topless sunbathing takes place so that they could be avoided by sensitive souls who might be put off at the site of naked boobies and cigarettes. Anyhow, I digress.
I’m often asked “Shallow Man, how can I fit better into Dutch society? My Dutch isn’t very good and I don’t work with many of them, if I was to fit in couldn’t I make more Dutch friends?” The Shallow Man, as always, keen to fulfil the wishes of his United Colors of Benetton Multikulti flock, has decided to risk the anger of the local population and will reveal what it takes to fit into Dutch society. Remember that freedom of speech, is part of the Dutch constitution, don’t shoot the exceptionally well-dressed messenger. The things I do for my readers!
The things I do for my readers!
1. Learn to love Zwarte Piet
Once upon a time Amsterdam’s snarkiest expat wrote a post on a blog called they are not black, they came down the chimney. This caused an uproar. There was also a lot of publicity last year about various Dutch cities including Amsterdam who changed ZP’s appearance as not to cause offence to minorities. What the many debates and comments from angry Dutch people can be summarized quite simply as:
- We are Dutch, we can never be racist, therefore our Zwarte Piet tradition is also not racist
- If you don’t like it go back to where you came from
- Our blackface is good black face (I’m reminded of the line from Madonna’s Vogue, “Rita Hayworth gave good face”)
No foreigner is ever going to win the argument about Zwarte Piet. If you find it offensive, keep quiet, don’t say a word, smile and nod when they tell that he is black (including curly hair and bright red lip with gold earrings) because he came down the chimney, bite your tongue, agree, and if you really want to impress them, say something like “the racism in the USA is much worse than in the Netherlands, they should fix their own problems before complaining about Zwarte Piet.” I guarantee this will win you major credibility points. Learn to love that funky brother (
I guarantee this will win you major credibility points. Learn to love that funky brother (Zwarte Piet) who is not funky at all, because he’s not black, it’s chimney soot hoor!
2. Take up smoking
Smoke people, smoke till you are coughing and your lungs fall out on the table on the terrace of an eetcafe. The Dutch ladies will love you, and the men will say “what a stout chap.” Forget cycling or bitching about Moroccans, smoking is the most popular past time activity in the Netherlands, and its biggest organized religion. Foreigners have a habit of not smoking, or not smoking enough, fit in and light up a pack of ciggies today. Preferably on a terrace or in a bar after eleven pm. If you’re going to Happy Italy, have a good smoke beforehand as it will help hide the taste of the food.
3. Change your shoe wear
If you’re a man, throw out any shoes that are any colour other than brown. If you’re female, download the old musical Calamity, Jane. Check out the cowboy boots worn by the men and women on the ranches and in various other scenes in the movie. The lighter brown the cowboy boots, and the more ridiculous the better. I guarantee that if you put on a pair of cowboy boots and jeans, people will think that you’re Dutch. You’ll make friends. Trust the Shallow Man on this. I won’t even mention ordering some Uggs.
4. Park your bike where you goddamn, please
It’s your bike, you park it where it’s convenient for YOU. Everyone else can hou op. The front door of an apartment house? Perfect. Directly in front of the door of a Cafe, waarom niet? Park that bike wherever you please, it’s the right of every Dutch male or female to do so, do the same.
5. Stop going to the hairdresser once you turn thirty
You’re female, you’re in a serious relationship, time to give up. Going to the hairdresser costs money. Invest in a good fruit bowl and a pair of scissors and start cutting your own hair. This will make you less suspicious to the locals.
6. Stop working full time
Stupid expat women insist on working forty hours a week, or MORE!!!! This is not Dutch. The right to work part-time is guaranteed under law, cut back, work random hours. Confuse your colleagues with long and complex out of office replies showing the peculiar hours you work, doing so will endear you to your Dutch colleagues.
7. Save your money as much as possible
If you invite Dutch people round to your home in the middle of winter, nothing is likely to offend them more than seeing the heating turned up above 18 degrees. This is a sign of wastefulness that will not go down well. Keep the central heating as low as possible. Offer your guests jumpers to wear inside the house and tasteless coffee from Senseo.
8. Use Tinder all the time
Ignore men and women in bars that might be attempting to flirt with you and instead spend the entire time swiping through Tinder. Only really old people bother to meet people without using apps.
9. Have sex on the second date
You’ve had your first Tinder date, drill for oil or open the gates to the mansion on the second. If you don’t you’ll be considered to be an uptight expat virgin.
10. Make no effort to dress up
Doe maar gewoon normaal! People should accept you for who you are, not how you look. Yes, it’s a funeral, but so what? Fleece is good for any occasion. Wear several layers of clothing on top, with only leggings underneath, it’s comfortable, what’s the problem with that? Don’t dress up. Wear jeans, leggings or fleece.
If you follow the ten tips above, you’ll fit into society more comfortably than a smartphone thief on the back of a scooter.
No refined gentlemen or ladies in fleece were hurt during the writing of this post.
Irony: when the person who just finished lecturing you on the ‘fake politeness’ of Americans (very offensive) and extolling the virtues of the ‘direct speak’ of the Dutch (not offensive at all) takes umbridge (extreme offense accompanied by several well known English four letter words and a suggestion as to what disease you should catch) when you employ the much extolled virtuous direct speech (as per the lecture) to communicate how much you would appreciate it if they smoked their stenchy cancer inducing cigerette down wind from you… light bulb moment. I just realised why that particular form of cursing is popular here… its actually a real possibility.
hahah, so true. as a shallow expat woman, I totally agree.
especially remarks about how women cannot dress and dont care (brrrrrrr!!) and the smoking…so annoying. in some bars maybe it is more strict, but go to a party where there is a smoking room – people will still smoke anywhere they please 🙁
You call this entry a “sarcastic response,” but I find it’s a pretty simplistic play on stereotypes that fails to cause humor, at least for me. I also am an expat and have been living in Amsterdam for 5 years, and while I do understand where you’re coming from with some of your points, most are generalizations and not a fair representation of Amsterdam culture or society.
In any case, if you’ve lived here for 10 years and still frequent places like Bar Italia, most definitely not meant to be a high class cuisine restaurant, but more a place intended for exchange students who know no better and people who like to pretend they’re sophisticated, then you’ve definitely not seen enough of what this place really has to offer.
Well that’s told me off good and proper. I’ve eaten in many places from michelin star to eetcafes and have seen plenty that Amsterdam has to offer. If you think that I only go to Bar Italia, then you obviously haven’t read much of my blog. 🙂
That is true, I have not read much of your blog, so I may have got the wrong impression I guess. I do have to say I agree 100% with the Zwarte Piet part, but I think I’ll have to take your advice and bite my tongue, smile and nod, it is the best thing to do for everyone involved :).
This is hilarious and of course a little exaggerated but I recognize all of it to be true. And yes there maybe a ban on smoking in bars but it’s hardly ever adhered to in The Hague! And why isn’t there a proper name for the thingy divider on supermarket converyors? My daughter and I tried to invent a name to see if we could start a trend, but I’m old and have forgotten what we called it!!
Man, Im Australian and have been going out with a Dutch girl and living in Holland for a year. This is all classic!
heheh, most of the girls in Amsterdam stop going to the hairdresser way before they turn 30…
I dont recognize myself (nor any of my friends) in the brown shoe part btw, but perhaps its the older generation.. I’ll ask my dad;)
But who was rookpauze??
I like it! Totally exaggerated ofcourse, but whatever! I wonder what happens if everyone takes your advice. That should be fun! I will sit on the terras and watch them, and then stop tindering to talk to my friend about them. Maybe laugh a bit. And then smoke another cigarette and sigh with content 🙂
Actually, I don’t recognize any of this. Maybe the dressing up thing is partly true… But come on, man..
Lol most of this article is bullshit.. 😛
First, the main reason the dutch want to keep “Zwarte Piet” is because it’s simply tradition. We like to stick to our traditions. When I was little I never even related “Zwarte piet” to a black person 😛
I don’t know about the smoking part. I smoke but I have a lot of friends that don’t..
Lol @ cowboy boots. I don’t know any guy (or girl) that wears cowboy boots. I rarely even see them anymore.
The part about the bikes is a bit exaggerated but I guess it’s true lol.
I really don’t get how you came up with the part about the hairdressers, oh well :’)
Women do work part-time a lot yes, but it’s usually so they can take care of their kids…
We do like to save money, yes, but again, you are exaggerating.
Tinder is definitely a hype atm, can’t argue with that 😛 But it’s not like everyone has sex on their 2nd date. The people I know either look for people to hang out with on tinder, or they only look for sex 😛
Last but not least, I guess you’re partly right about the not dressing up part, but I can’t imagine that’s any different in, for example, the US. There are people that dress up and people that don’t…
Thanks for the feedback Sanne. All of your comments are fair, and yes of course I exaggerate ever so slightly in some areas. 😉
I agree, nobody likes smokers anymore in the Netherlands.
“Preferably on a terrace or in a bar after eleven pm. ”
I don’t know if you been here since 2008, but since then it is prohibeted to smoke in bars. So you might change 2. take up smoking as about 20% of our population above 18 smokes.
In Amsterdam, there are still lots of bars that allow people to smoke after 11pm.
There are some bars indeed, but in most of them you can’t. The rest of the Netherlands (except from 2 cities) are smokefree and you say:
“smoking is the most popular past time activity in the Netherlands, and its biggest organised religion” which is by far the biggest bullshit I have ever heard. I know you need to exaggerate and you do that well with the other ones, but this isn’t even partly true.. Only 20% of the dutch people smoke, and its not considered ‘cool’ anymore
20% of Dutch people smoke? LOL!!! Ok Paul, sit on a terrace outside any Amsterdam eetcafe, for example Cafe Wildschut and count how many people are not smoking. You’ll find that non-smokers are in a minority.
dude, Amsterdam IS THE WORST PLACE to judge the entire country by.. what is stereotype in Amsterdam is not stereotype in ‘normal’ parts of the country, Amsterdam is the capital of the tourists now, not of dutch traditions
I will only comment on the smoking, and this by saying that you need to travel more, if you think the Dutch smoke a lot.