Last Updated on 23 September 2009

I’ve been living in Amsterdam for 10 months and love it. It is a beautiful town full of nice people. Despite American stereotypes there is more to this town than the Red Light District and coffee shops selling marijuana!

Among broader observations, I’ve noticed nuances between Amsterdam/Europe and America. These differences are what a place interesting. Embracing these differences (versus labeling them wrong from what I was brought up with) make the experience of living abroad much more rewarding.

I hope you find them interesting as well…

Push vs. Roll

‘Pushed In’ Bag vs. Folded/Rolled – This one is subtle… but when you buy a fresh food item (sandwich, fresh baked good, etc.) instead of the paper bag being rolled and folded to hold in the contents (see bag image, left). Here, folks push in the bag to close it (see bag image, right). Seems to work just as well. I wonder when/how this tradition started?

900 vs. 800 Numbers – If you need to contact the bank, phone, or cable company for assistance you dial a 900 number… and you pay 10-cents per minute or so for the call. Instead of all customers paying for an 800 number, only the people who use/need the help pay. Being used to free help in the US, having to pay to get help from the cable company was disappointing at first… But this system makes perfect sense to me.

Personal Insurance – In Amsterdam everyone carries personal liability insurance. This is extra insurance you get in case you accidently do something that harms or damages someone else’s stuff. If my bike falls over and scratches your car, my liability insurance would pay for that. It’s a refreshing switch in perspective that we assume responsibility up-front if we harm something vs. being pursued by the victim.

No Top Sheet – Throughout Europe most hotels don’t offer a top sheet for your bed… When you buy a sheet set in the US it comes with a bottom fitted sheet (with the elastic to hold it in place), and a top sheet that lies on top of you and under the bedspread or other blanket covering. Folks in Amsterdam (and across Europe) have bottom sheets and use a duvet cover as the only cover.

When we first moved in to our apartment, before our own stuff arrived by container ship, we had rented furniture. It included linens and bedding. We called to complain that they had given us bottom sheets and a duvet, but no top sheets… They had no idea what we were talking about…

Toilet Brush

Toilet Brush – Bathrooms across Europe are equipped with an easily accessible toilet brush. They are mounted on the wall right next to the toilet paper. The idea is, if you make a mess… clean it up. It prevents people from jamming toilet paper down the toilet to clean it… and makes the bowl clean for the next occupant.

Mint Tea

Fresh Mint Tea – I’m writing this from one of my favorite restaurants called Lunchroom Klavertje 4 (translates to four-leaf clover)… I just ordered one of my favorite new hot drinks, a drink that I haven’t seen yet in the US… Fresh mint tea. It’s simply hot water with fresh mint leaves. It’s clean, fresh, and delicious.


Hot Chocolate – One of my few dislikes… is that when you order hot chocolate at most restaurants in Amsterdam, they serve you steamed Chocomel. A bottled “ready to drink” chocolate milk beverage, much like Yoohoo. But it’s the personal taste of Amsterdamers… I asked a restaurateur friend of mine and he said that folks here don’t see the value in paying for hot water with powdered hot chocolate mix added (what you get in an American restaurant).

Saint Nick / Jesus’ Birthday – In the Netherlands the celebration of Saint Nick/Santa Clause (Sinterklaas) is separate from the celebration of Jesus’ birthday. In mid-November they celebrate the saint known for being kind to children. Then on December 25 they celebrate the birth of Jesus. No need for the reminder slogan “Jesus is the reason for the season,” out here – they “get” that.


Bike Stop Lights – It’s especially cool that in Amsterdam bikes rule the roadway. Not only are there marked bike paths everywhere (separate from road and sidewalk), but bike riders have their own stop lights.