Every culture does their own thing and has it’s own customs, the Dutch are no exception. Here are a few random facts about the Netherlands which may surprise you.
1. Biking is the number one way of getting around and there are some really strange and unusual bikes. There are delivery bikes with large wooden topless storage compartments in the front. Bikes modified for physically challenged people with hand pedals. And you can customize your bike to your needs with an extensive selection of accessories: child seats, infant cradles, saddle bags, front rack, crates, and various other accessories.
It really doesn’t matter if you live in the heart of a city like Amsterdam, or in a small rural dorp, there are bike lanes connecting one corner from the next. In fact having a bike allows you to use very scenic routes devoid of cars through woods, fields, and along long stretches of beaches and dunes. Not even water will keep you from getting to your destination, there are reasonably priced ferries at critical junctures. And there’s always plenty of places to park your bike and something sturdy to chain it too.
Just be more mindful in the city bike lanes. The locals don’t have time for your lingering touristy ways of trying to soak it all in. They are just trying to get to their destination and many are doing their best to get there as fast as they can. So, pay attention!!!!
2. Big wheels of cheese is big money and a large part of the economy. With pastoral fields are filled with cows, goats, and sheep, the dairy industry is strong and has a long a history. The main cheeses are Edam, Graskaas, Gouda, Leerdammer, Leyden, Limburger, Maaslander, Maasdam, Mimolette, Nagelkaas, Parrano, Roomano, Prima Donna, Blauwekaas, Kruidenkaas, and Vlaaskaas. They even subdivide those into three categories: new, middle aged, and old. And even that get’s subdivided into really new, somewhat new, and old new and so forth. Really, old cheeses have been aged at least 65 months or more. The longer cheese ages the richer and sharper the flavor becomes and the more crystalized the salts in the cheese become. Were the younger cheeses are milder in flavor and creamier in texture. There’s a variety of cheeses which are infused with herbs such as parsley, chives, nettles, chili, mustard, and fenugreek.
There are weekly summer markets such as the one in Alkmaar. Where men in funny costumes carry gondolas of cheese wheels into an old weighing station before loading them onto trucks for export. It’s big tourist draw and there’s plenty of stands selling smaller wheels to take home.
3. The Dutch believe in openness and being up front and clear and not just in speech but in the way they live and shop. Most people have no curtains especially on road side facing windows. They make a point of displacing plants, sculptures, candles, and various objects in their windows but leaving a clear view into their living space. And yes, you can see them eating, watching TV, and moving about. The point of it is that it’s a normal household with nothing to hide. this applies to food as well. You won’t find too many canned foods on the grocery shelves, but you will find jarred food. The Dutch want to see what they are buying, and not just a picture of it.
4. Hot beverage anyone? If you’re going to the hairdressers, government building, lawyers office, and even the grocery store you’ll be asked or have access to a free cup of coffee or tea. Even when invited to a persons home, the first thing they’ll ask you is if you’d like a cup of coffee or tea. It’s the polite thing to do.
The Dutch love going out for a cup of something warm, and when ordering a warm beverage in a restaurant, cafe, coffeeshop, or bar it will always come with a cookie, or small piece of cake, even if you ordered, a piece of cake to go with it. It’s just the the way it’s done. So, if you love your sweets, but are watching your waste line it’s the right guilt free amount.
5. One of the number one exports of the Netherlands is flowers. There is a massive warehouse outside of Schipol Airport which holds the worlds largest flower market. The warehouse is listed as the fourth largest in the world. That’s big! Everyday millions of flowers arrive, are inspected, sorted, wheeled out in front of buyers, bid on, and shipped. All in less than 24 hours from farm to market to your local grocery store.
If you can manage to get up early in the morning you can watch the whole thing from catwalks which criss cross above it all. The auctions are silent with a big clock on each auctioning area wall which slowly moves from one hundred to zero. As each lot is displayed it starts over and whoever stops the clock first has purchased the lot in front of them. It’s an amazing sight to see and well worth the loss of a few hours of sleep.
6. Continuing on the topic of flowers. The fields of flowers that you see in hundreds of pictures with the quint windmills in the backdrop are allowed to bloom fully in the fields, because they are the bulbs that you will find in your garden center next year for sale. Depending on your timing there are fields not only filled with tulips, but hyacinths, daffodils, peonies, and crocuses.
There are flower festivals in various villages were large murals and displays are made of just hyacinth flowers. Businesses, groups, and residents can participate. People on bikes get a map of the route to see them all and vote for their favorite displays. By the way, everyone wins something, they don’t believe in letting anyone not winning a prize.
To understand how valuable and precious flowers are to the Dutch, here’s a little story about tulips. They first bulbs arrived in the 1600s from Turkey and they quickly became so valuable that the entire economy was based on them. As the tulip became cultivated and mass produced the economy collapsed and there was an economic depression. At the height of their value there’s a record of a young man who mistook a tulip bulb for an onion and was hung for eating it.
7. When it’s your birthday, you’re in charge of how to celebrate it. You have to throw the party, bake the cake, make the food, decorate, and invite the friends and family. They still bring presents. But, don’t expect anything fancy for a gift, it’s often just a card, flowers, and something small. But, do expect for everyone to hang out and just chitchat or hours sharing stories and laughing.
8. Mushrooms are not legal, however truffles are. Concerned people thought that mushrooms where too dangerous and so a compromise was made with the growers and sellers. Someone convinced someone that fungi grown under the dirt and which aren’t above ground or allowed to cap are less psychedelic. To find out you’ll have to visit.
9. Most of northern Holland lives almost under the sea. If you get an altitude app on your phone or PC you’ll realize that. Well over 20% of the Netherlands is below sea level and roughly 50% is no more than 3 feet above it. The Dutch are amazing engineers at keeping the sea at bay and creating land. However, with global warming and the threat of ever rising seas, has raised concerns that eventually it will all be lost to the North Sea. But no worries, they’ve purchased a large land mass in South America to move everyone to when the battle is lost.
The North Sea Flood of 1953 which was brought on by a sever winter storm which effected several countries, effected the Netherlands the worst. It happened suddenly over night when there was a very high tide in effect. The combination was to much for the levies and sand bar barriers and breached. Many people where trapped in their homes sleeping. The final count was 1,836 people dead and millions in property damage. This is one of the main reasons every first Monday of the month at high noon you’ll hear the sirens being tested. So, if you ever hear them at any other time, please tune into a radio or TV immediately.
10. Weed is not as legal as you think. Sure, you can walk into a “coffeeshop” purchase it and smoke it. Even walk the streets smoking it as long as your discreet about it. However, how it got to the shop was not legal. It’s against the law to transport pot for sale, so everyone who supplies the shops is breaking the law. Also, the grower cannot use grow lamps. The best types of soil, and hydroponic equipment is all illegal not only to use but to sell. So, technically the government can shut everything down anytime. However, it is the big draw for many Europeans who can’t buy it legally in their own countries. So, many people from all over Europe plan several trips throughout the year to Amsterdam to stock up on weed, hash, cannabis oil, seeds, and treats. And this generates income not only from the taxes the sellers must pay, but the filled hotel rooms, restaurants, and clubs.
FYI… the general population doesn’t really smoke weed and if they do you’ll find them working in those shops.