Friday, April 19, 2013

7 Reasons I think We'll Love Amsterdam

As we drove to Amsterdam I read aloud from the wiki page on the Netherlands. There is a lot we don't know about this country we are moving to, but we will have plenty of time to learn. Amsterdam has a certain ring to it. It's a global city that nearly everyone has heard of, and I have this feeling that we're going to like it here.

Here are my reasons, in no particular order:


As the Kiwis celebrate the legalization of same-sex marriage, the 13th country to do so, the Netherlands stands proud as the country that blazed that trail on April 1, 2001 when they became the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. They are widely known as one of the most liberal countries in the world, with liberal policies on same-sex marriage, soft drugs, prostitution, euthanasia, and abortion. Of course not every Dutch citizen may be on board with each, but generally speaking the Dutch are proud of their liberal culture. It is a breath of fresh air when these exact issues are extremely polarizing in the US and become the center of major political campaigns. It feels good.


One of the things that I loved about living in Germany was speaking German. It was fun and rewarding to learn a new language, and provided some much needed intellectual stimulation to this stuck at home mama. When you accomplish something in a foreign language, whether it's a telephone call sbout sewing machines or a casual conversation at the playground, the highs are so good and encouraging. And my German was constantly improving, I was finally starting to really get it.

But the lows can be low and equally discouraging. It was frustrating to be in the dark and to have trouble finding basic information. It can be very isolating. I don't think I realized how isolating it really was until a trip back to the US where I felt so liberated by being able to communicate with everyone. It was exhilarating and totally eye-opening for me.

And, I don't know why this even matters as I rarely go to the movies, but the movies are in English! I think it's just a matter of principle that I am not a fan of films not in their original language. I can't imagine watching La vita é bella (Life is Beautiful) dubbed into English. How can you judge Roberto Benigni's Oscar winning performance if you only see him perform, and lose the subtleties his voice brings out in the character? Well, not a problem any more! (Except that probably would be a problem, as subtitles would be in Dutch, but you get my point.)

So, as arrogant and ethnocentric as this might sound, I am so excited that the Dutch love to speak English. It's not just speaking Dutch, many websites a available in English as well. Whether that's for tourists or expats doesn't matter, it's good for me all the same! I am already finding it very easy to navigate things here,and the language is a big part of it.I do plan on learning Dutch, but I am relieved that I won't have to navigate the school system in Dutch. Although, I have heard that the Dutch make it very difficult to learn their langauge....I will persevere!


Amsterdam is world famous for its bike culture. Some say that there are more bikes than people, and more than 50% of all inner-city journeys take place on 2 wheels! A trip across the city takes 1/2 the time by bike as it does by car. It serves as a model for cities worldwide that are trying to cut down on vehicles (and therefore pollution, traffic, and parking problems) and increase sustainability. They are increasingly looking to Amsterdam where bikes rule the road.
Note the handwarmers!
We biked everywhere in Düsseldorf, but it wasn't an inherently bike friendly city. There were bike paths here and there, but they do not rule the road. Here, you see mamas (and papas) with any number of kids safely stowed on their bikes, women in heels and short skirts heading out on a date, and businessmen sporting expensive suits on their way to a business meeting. Everybody's doing it!

Amsterdam Mamas

No, I am not referring to a certain way of parenting or my deep admiration for all Dutch mothers. Amsterdam Mamas is an organization run by and for expat mamas living in Amsterdam - and there are a lot of us! It's so great to have a place to go to look for answers and ask my questions. There is a FB group as well, so I was asking questions even before I got here. There are resources on schools, langauge, parenting, traditions, shopping, etc. that are a gold mine for all foreign families. This will make it easier to connect with people and just figure out life here in Amsterdam.

Happy people

Forget Disney World, the Netherlands is one of the happiest places on earth. It's ranking varies on different happiness indices, but they are a decidedly happy people. And happiness is contagious. And happy people are friendly. I like being around happy people.

It also trickles down to the little ones - Dutch kids are some of the happiest kids in the world! UNICEF recently conducted a comprehensive assessment of child well-being across 29 industrialized countries. The number one spot went to the Netherlands! Sweden and Germany were not far behind at 5 and 6 respectively. But my home country? Well...they weren't dead last. At 26 only Lithuania, Latvia, and Romania trailed us. Gulp. (You can see the full report and how it was developed here.)

Chocolate sprinkles

Have you ever had a chocolate sprinkle sandwich? One of the first times I was in the Netherlands visiting family, my (sort of) cousin offered me a chocolate sprinkle (hagelslag) sandwich. She could not believe that I had never had one. Spread some butter on a slice of bread and smother we chocolate sprinkles. This wasn't just a funky sandwich invented by a quirky relative, this a Dutch thing. The selection of hagelslag at the grocery store rivals american peanut butter. It's serious business. They even have it on menus at restaurants (for kids). I have found they make a great topping for Swedish pancakes or go incredibly well with a peanut butter sandwich. (It's like a Reese's peanut butter cup, but a sandwich. Brilliant!)
Enjoying Dutch cuisine at its finest!
How can you not be excited about a country that takes chocolate sprinkles so seriously?

Innovative and forward thinking

Want to ride public transport? Just get a chip card, load some money, and off you go. Pay for parking? There's an app for that. Don't want to stand in line at the groceries? Just scan as you go, plug your scanner in, and pay all by yourself! The Dutch are some innovative and forward people who think outside the box. Just look at these toilets at the Vondelpark.
Or this clever lost-and-found, also at the Vondelpark.
It may not seem like much, but there is a certain creative and open way of thinking here that permeates every day life. I love it!

So stay tuned, but I think this place is going to be alright.