If you’ve ever asked me what my favourite country is, other than my home country of New Zealand, you would have been answered with the Netherlands. Over the last wee while I’ve had several conversations with locals, who are equally intrigued as to why I rate this little flat piece of land so highly. As I haven’t thrown a post on here in a while, I thought I’d elaborate!
There is no shortage of blog posts on why this is a great country, and they cover a range of reasons, from advancements in environmental protection to the variety of tulip colours. However, I’m not going to clone those lists and instead will list some of the reasons why I made the decision to move to Amsterdam.
Canals and boats. Now, this one is mostly relevant to the summer months, but while the weather is warm, this definitely deserves a spot on the list. A lot of the cities boast as many canals as they do roads, meaning they have as many boats as they do cars. Well, not exactly, but there are a lot of boats. One of my favourite times in Amsterdam is being out on my friend Renato’s boat and cruising around bar hopping (bars have docks to moor your boat).
Another one is cheap, government subsidised study. While this doesn’t apply to all, if you’re Dutch, or are from a country that’s part of the EU, study is a LOT cheaper here than it is in say, New Zealand. Back home, a year of bachelor study would set one back about 8,000 Euros or more; here it’d be around 2.
How liberal it is. And I’m not just talking about the stance on drugs. The Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage, in 2001, around the same time euthanasia and prostitution was legalised. Basically, when it comes to a pragmatic approach to social issues and freedom of choice, Holland beats the shit out of a lot of other first world countries. There is an overwhelming sense of freedom when you walk around here. And I like that.
Croquettes. Fuck. Yes. These are deep fried crumbed rolls with goulash and other delectable fillings, and are equally as bad for you as they are delicious. You can buy this sort of stuff all over the place, and you don’t even need to speak to anyone. You bang a euro into the slot and open the little door and BOOM. Get some mustard on that bad boy and shove it in your gob! Lekker.
Bicycles. I never thought that exercise would be a reason to like a country but this mode of transport is so ingrained in society that you’re kind of made to work out. It’s as flat as a pancake here and everyone cycles everywhere, which gives off a nice communal vibe and also keeps everyone in shape; you hardly see overweight people anywhere.
The direct way of communicating. Sometimes perceived as rudeness or impatience by foreigners, the Dutch will typically get right to the point. It’s not that it’s encouraged to blurt out unsolicited advice without being asked (but if you do ask, expect to receive an honest answer), it means that leaving out insincere and time-wasting chit chat is appreciated. The check-out dude won’t waste your time by asking how your day was while he beeps your groceries, because we all know he doesn’t really care, and won’t pretend otherwise. Business meetings typically get straight to the point, and nobody will be taken aback by stating what you’re after, what you have to offer, or coming out with what your issue is; on the contrary they’ll appreciate you being clear with where things stand so they don’t have to wade through the bullshit. I love it. I think it probably has something to do with how productive the country is.
The optimistic attitude to life, and feeling you get just being part of society. Dutch people will tell you that all they do is complain about the weather (it’s either too cold, or too warm) but even then nobody is ever really angry about it, it’s kind of just a tradition. There’s an unmistakable difference in attitude here; the best way I can describe it is a distinct attitude of working to live, as opposed to living to work. You won’t score points by staying late at the office each day, or telling everyone how responsible you are by having stayed at home in the weekend. There are several occasions each year, such as Kings Day, where every inhabitant of the city goes out and uses the city as a party ground. Everyone gets involved, because life is all about having fun. Go to a festival on a Sunday, if you want.. just don’t call in sick to work on Monday, because you’re part of a team, and no more special than any of your colleagues.
Many big cities have a subtle air of hostility to them, where people tend to be kind of on edge all the time.. but not Amsterdam. Every single person that gets on a bus, no matter the time of day or night, will beep their transport card and say hello to the driver, who will smile and say hello back, every time. While it is a big city and by default people will keep to themselves, 99% of the time everyone’s friendly and happy to help out. There’s this feeling of, “Well, we’re all in this life together, let’s enjoy ourselves, right?”
It’s a stimulating environment. While a busy pace of life doesn’t suit everyone, I find that being in Amsterdam inspires me to concentrate on ideas, concepts and visions. When meeting a new person the conversation is less likely to revolve around what they do between the hours of 9 and 5 and more likely to be centred around their passions, projects and dreams. Living here inspires me and encourages me to keep self improvement in mind.
The beauty of the city. I’ve been here a while now, and prior to that I visited Amsterdam more than any other city in the world, but I still feel like I’m on vacation every time I jump on my bike and cycle around the canals. Looking around at all the crooked buildings, quirky little shops and interesting people, I don’t think there will ever come a time when I’m not struck by how pretty it is. Cycling to work isn’t a chore, it’s a small adventure. I often just cycle around the city for enjoyment.
The fact that everything happens here. Concerts, conferences, events, parties, meetings, workshops, you name it… there’s never a shortage of interesting things happening. You can bet that the band or DJ you’re in to will play a show here when they’re on tour, and you don’t have to take time off to attend a seminar… just go there after work, it’s probably held down the road from your house. Amsterdam is a central hub for just about anything you can think of.
On that note, it’s cheap and easy to visit another country. Where I come from, New Zealand, I have to be on a plane for three hours before I hit the next closest country, Australia, and even double that time to go somewhere I’d actually want to go on vacation. Here I can take a train which spits me out in the middle of the airport terminal and I can be on a $30 flight to a strange land in no time, so heading to another country for some foreign food in the weekend is not out of the question.
Public transport is AMAZING. People will complain about it, naturally, but having visited close to 40 countries I think it far surpasses any other public transport system I’ve seen. Buses, trains, metros, trams… it all runs like clockwork and is timed to the minute. You can get from anywhere to anywhere else with ease, and where there isn’t a bus route, there will be an automatic bicycle rental station, paid for by the same transport card. It’s not cheap, but you get what you pay for.
I could probably go on and on, but I’ll cut it there. I love living in this city, and can’t see myself leaving any time soon. It may sound cheesy, but I know I’m not the only one who feels a connection with this place. For now, I’m proud to call Amsterdam home!