Is This Normal? Taking in the Strange Sights of Amsterdam

What's New — By Anna Bandurska on November 29, 2010 at 12:13 pm

In my early days in Amsterdam I worked as a tour guide, and I was frequently asked by visitors if certain things they saw were typical Amsterdam behavior, of if they got lucky and stumbled across a crazy show.  After a while I noticed that people were asking about the same things, which illustrates that even though these things may be strange to visitors, they are actually typical for Amsterdam.

  • The city is always full of bikes,and many people are surprised at how they are left anywhere and everywhere, frequently locked to nothing but themselves (with a chain running through the frame and wheel).  This is typical for Amsterdam because there are just so many bikes and not enough spots to lock them to.  Bikes locked upside down or over bridges are always typical, as are the massive industrial strength chains on rusty, decrepit bikes.  Crazy colorful bikes with all sorts of decorations are also common; they’re way easier to find in a crowd, and less appealing to bike thieves.
  • People really throw their bikes into the canals.  In fact, this appears to be the most common way to dispose of an unwanted bike.  Once in a while a boat with a crane goes through the canals scooping out the bikes.  You can buy postcards with a picture of this in action, and if you’re lucky, and if you’re lucky, you may see it for yourself.

    Bike removal from Amsterdam's canals

  • Most Dutch families do not have blinds and you can stare into their apartments.  This has been historically linked to the Calvinist aesthetic of not having anything to be ashamed of and therefore nothing to hide; however, this is just one theory.
  • Children frequently ride around with their parents in a bakfiets (a bicycle with a large cargo box in the front).  This may offend some people’s sensibilities about safety, but in Amsterdam, it’s a very popular mode of transportation for families.  If you ever see someone on a bicycle with a huge piece of furniture attached to the back, that’s normal too.  The Dutch have mastered the art of extreme urban biking.
  • There is a reason the saying “Going Dutch” (where everyone pays for themselves at a restaurant) exists.  In Holland, it is very common for everyone to pay for their share of the meal at a restaurant.  Sometime, house guests even offer to pitch in for the dinner their host prepared.
  • And finally, an irate prostitute in the Red Light District yelling at a tourist who took a picture of them, or even pointed their camera in their general direction, is a typical sight.  That’s why it’s very important to never take pictures of the women working in the windows.