The number one question I get from almost everyone while I’m visiting the States is “so how do you like Amsterdam?” And I almost always say, “I love it!” And I do. I love it. But sometimes I have to back up and remind people, as well as myself, that it’s no utopia. Although it comes close for me, not even Amsterdam can be perfect. So while I’m away, I figured it would be a nice and cowardly time to mention a few things I don’t like about the Netherlands and (some of) her people. This way, I won’t have to look anyone in the eye right away. It’s not a lot. Just a few things.
1) Say “excuse me”
Dutch people will bump the shit out of you and just keep walking. It’s never or rarely intentional. But it can hurt, emotionally and physically. And they never seem to care. On a tram, in a bar, on the sidewalk, in your house. Saying “excuse me” just doesn’t seem to be a thing. At first I found this shocking and incredibly rude. I’m the type of person who will apologize for just about anything. Even if I bump into a table, I’ll thoughtlessly say “I’m sorry.” My father tried to break me of this habit with little success, other than making me conscious of my craziness. So from my place of crazy, I probably overreact to inconsiderate Dutch bumping. But is this what it’s like when at one point, hundreds of years ago, you briefly ruled the world, Dutch people? No one matters but you?! Not impressed.
One theory I’ve heard about the lack of “excuse me” culture is due to the fact that it’s a peaceful, non-confrontational society. Since everyone is aware that no harm is meant by an unintentional bump or entrance into someone else’s personal space, there is no need for apologies. Alright. I get that. But as a sensitive American who bruises easily, I’m going to need you to say “excuse me.”
2) Forget about Sundays
Unless you live in central Amsterdam, you can forget about finding a store open on Sunday. There are a couple of exceptions I’ve found in my neighborhood. But since store and restaurant owners seem to operate on a whim, no guarantee ever exists that something will be open this week simply because it was last week. Don’t get me wrong. Lazy Sundays are great. But I also have a tendency to have lazy Saturdays. So more than once I’ve failed to get things accomplished earlier in the weekend, leaving me without many options to get things done until Monday – or even Tuesday if I’m counting on one of those places closed on both Sunday and Monday. That’s annoying.
3) Politically incorrect
Don’t tell a Dutch person what can or cannot be said. It seems to bring up the strongest emotions they can muster. “Hell no. I won’t succumb to being politically correct!” Calm down.
I believe this resistance stems from a time in the ’60s and ’70s when political correctness was almost a mandate. And now the concept of political correctness is despised because it implies a lack of critical and/or independent thought. That alone I would accept if it was accompanied by some critical thought about the issues at hand. But instead, it usually just seems like an excuse for being inconsiderate of historical and social matters, and just plain rudeness. Offensive depictions of people of color on television as childish, stupid, and/or uncivilized are pretty common and unquestioned in the name of “humor” (these stereotypes are clearly understood even when the language isn’t). I’ve heard countless hateful remarks about Muslims immersed in anti-immigration debates. And let’s not forget my favorite annual blackface tradition.
I’m sorry, Dutch people. But it’s not funny and it’s unacceptable. No, f* that. I’m not sorry (my dad would be proud). You’re just wrong.
4) Ignorance is bliss
So I hear schools in the Netherlands only recently began teaching students about the history of Dutch imperialism, slavery, and other shameful aspects of their past. And I’m not sure what they’re actually teaching young people now. But this explains why folks my age and older seem to be oblivious about matters of race and how they actually ARE relevant to the Netherlands. “Racism doesn’t exist here” is such a common phrase. It would be nice if it were true. And it would be true in the absence of all history. But it’s just not. When the majority of non-white people in the country have immigrated from former Dutch colonies, where white social, political, and economic power have dominated for generations, and they continue to hold a subordinate position in Dutch society, the effects of history are undeniable. But when you don’t know anything about the history of Indonesia or Suriname, for example, it’s easy to genuinely believe that everyone’s equal, opportunity is available for all, and those who live in poverty have chosen to do so. Must be nice to live in a bubble of equal opportunity and color blindness. But the rest of us live in a much crueler reality.
5) Dude, make a move
I’m still single. STILL. And now I’m looking to fall in love and marry a Dutch man to help me stay in the country (slightly joking). But my efforts on this front are going to be harder than I expected. I’m not exactly sure what’s going on with this situation. What I gather from asking around a bit is Dutch men are less likely to make a move than Dutch women. But I’m shy. And I have no moves. So does this mean I’m out of luck? Perhaps not if I step outside of my comfort zone and begin approaching the fellas. But haven’t I already done enough by moving? This one might be more my problem than anyone else’s. But it’s my right to place blame. So in this case, I’d like blame cultural differences for my present single state.
And there you have it. The things that frustrate me about the Netherlands. Alas, no place is perfect. At least I haven’t found it yet.
21 thoughts on “Here’s What I Don’t Like”
Thar hilarious. That was my same experience in Barcelona. Do they invade ALL of your personal space? I miss Europe daily and would return in a NY minute to live out my life if circumstances were different.
YES! Good point. Personal space is another issue. Standing in line, you can feel people breathing on your neck. So funny.
If I can only convince my girl (who’s from Kenya) that we Americans really are sensitive…
Out of curiosity do you interact with immigrants? Of color? Does Amsterdam have a large (or any size) African community? Other than the Muslim community that is.
And maybe that breathing on your neck is their way of expressing interest. Solution: Don’t bathe for a week; they’ll keep their distance.
I definitely interact with immigrants of color. In fact, this is the predominate make-up of my neighborhood. And plenty of Africans. Not so many black folks in central Amsterdam. But if you know where to look, definitely there…for decades.
@1 Don’t bother. They don’t react if you crash into them and say “sorry”, either. Tried that 2 hours ago.
@5 Sorry, I don’t think we are compatible, I like St. Nicholas & Zwarte Piet (Singular, mind), don’t like Amsterdam…
Ha! Okay, I understand. Though someday I hope to convince you that the Piet guy is no good (well, not necessarily Piet – but the way you guys represent him).
Hey, by the time we are talking about Piet representation, we are in full agreement,we have a beloved, powerful, good black character and what do they do? They cut him up in myriads of flat stupid black smurfs, only to be played by white guys, at least that was the case in SURINAM during the youth of Truus Simons. Taking into account that Surinam was the only Dutch colony where Dutch was the “colonial” language, in the mid 19th century, we come to the stunning conclusions that whites thought they had to impersonate fragments of a black character, in a country which is not only full of black people, but also the character’s most probable home country…
The parades and dressing up and all that rub me wrong too. But really, attacking the most beloved Dutch annual event as a blackface event, is such a show of being culturally insensitive Not that there is anything wrong with that, you are just not political correct yourself, and that shows you are fitting in well. 🙂
Interesting! But as far as my being culturally insensitive for challenging the zwarte piet tradition, this is a fundamental disagreement. Since the tradition is historically rooted in a mockery of my ancestors (both as an american and european practice of blackface and minstrelsy) and presently offends me and other black people throughout the world, I think I would be politically incorrect NOT to challenge, criticize, and despise it. So perhaps we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one.
But I hope to continue getting your perspective. Super insightful!
Well, you are making a claim about the historical roots, I tend to reject until further notice, the use of black paint to disguise faces in the festivities associated with St. Nicholas seems to be an older local tradition in some parts of the Netherlands than the minstrelsy show.
We are talking here about hitting the buttocks of unmarried ladies with a switch, and other mischief, definitely not fit for civilized urban child literature, so it seems likely to me that Schenkman “civilized” notions about a black face, by introducing a negroid sidekick, one devoid of the sexual, erotic, romantic and mischievous aspects of the original teams of black painted youngsters… 🙂
Have you considered Sjimmie of Sjors & Sjimmie? On the one hand he looks like a chaicature of a charicature, on the other hand Perry Winkle never had a bestest friend who was black…
OOPS, I wanted to write:
“Well, you are making a claim about the historical roots, I tend to reject until further EVIDENCE IS PRESENTED. “
So — I’m curious about Zwarte Piet and the celebration. Do the locals dress in blackface and behave like Piet would (an assistant/helper to the Saint, right?) or do the locals also put on Afro wigs, wear gold chains, talk in slang and act “black” in their definition of black?
I did lots of research on zwarte piet this past semester for a popular culture class. I had an opportunity to interview several people, including black and white locals, and a Dutch folklore historian, who added plenty of insight into the history and modern-day perceptions of the character. I’m going to write a post all about it….soon! So slow down, fellas. Let’s save the discussion for that one (when I’m mentally prepared for it).
OK, but to answer David’s questions:
” So — I’m curious about Zwarte Piet and the celebration. Do the locals dress in blackface and behave like Piet would (an assistant/helper to the Saint, right?)”
“or do the locals also put on Afro wigs,”
Wigs, certainly, Afro ones do occur, but there is the beret to consider.
“wear gold chains,”
Gold chains? No, just golden earrings.
“talk in slang”
No, not really, though “black accents” are used.
“and act “black” in their definition of black?”
To a degree.
On the other hand, many people impersonate Piet without dressing up at all, it’s really not much more common than wearing those silly Santa hats in the US.
Let me get a bit more into that, you seem to experience Dutch city culture, bumping into somebody is if the density of human beings is great enough such a common occurance that it hardly registers. Stuff like that is different in small villages, rather luxury suburbs and the like, provided you avoid the tourist places. And really, you should stop being so formal, just saying “sorry” is MORE than enough.
Got it! I agree that the city is very different from the smaller towns. I need to be better at making those distinctions. And is “excuse me”too formal? Sorry! Whoops, I mean…oh, forget it 🙂
Your writing makes me smile. One day I’ll get to travel the European world. Lord knows my passport is naked and in need of stamps. And as for #5, I can be Vanity to your Tiamak.
Thanks, Danny! And Europe would be honored to add to your passport stamps, I’m sure. But you as Vanity? I just don’t see it.
In The Last Dragon he wanted her to show him some moves… I wasn’t getting all drag queenish on you. lol.
BlackGirlGone.. I’ve just read your Blogs on thoughts / life in Amsterdam & I find you so interesting (also hilarious!;)) I’m planning to move my life & start a business over there also. Being black & from the UK I find myself smiling over how similar your views are to mine & naturally I have concerns / questions that I would love to share with you? Wishing you all the best.. Are you still over there?;)
Thanks so much for reaching out! Indeed, I’m still in the Netherlands. Although I recently moved to the Hague (less than an hour from Amsterdam). And I’d be really happy to hear more about your plans. You can reach me here: blackgirlgone(at)gmail.com.
Looking forward to hearing from you!
Hi. I admire you’re writing skill; you seem quite bright, and remind me of myself… in terms of the writing, not about being bright [giggling]. I have so, so many questions about the Netherlands. I’m 60 and not in great heath, but feel the Netherlands is calling me. Would you be willing to chat with me via email ?