top of page
  • Gemma Fottles

Things I’ve learned as an expat in Amsterdam

I’ve been living in Amsterdam now for the past two years – which is absolute madness. It was never my intention to live in the Netherlands for so long and, really, my move here was the result of not really having anything to do back at home after I graduated and travelled the world for a year! But, here I am, two years later, living in a very quirky little Amsterdam canal side apartment, riding around on my big Dutch bike every day, and eating far too many Febo snacks, frites and, my all time favourite, stroopwafels. Here’s a list of 10 things I’ve learned about Holland and life in my Dutch expat adventure.

The canals of Amsterdam

There are NO RULES to greeting kisses So when I first moved here, it was a three kiss greeting demanded of the Dutchies. Three kisses is a lot of kisses when you just want to say hello, and so this took a while of awkward head bobbing, ‘Shall we do one, or two… or… three?!’ kind of moments before the whole kisses thing was finally a-o-kay. But now that we’ve known people for some time, everyone seems to be changing the three kiss rule once again. Is it one? Is it none? Is it two? WHAT IS IT?!

Women don’t have to wear barely-there clothes to be ‘dressed up’ This is a nice one. Although I wasn’t a huge fan of really dressing up back at home (I can’t deal with heels, and I lack the patience for extravagant hair and makeup), I still did it. In Amsterdam though…? It’s almost completely unnecessary. Jeans, a cute top and converse are the call of the day. Superrrrr casual = no hassle = awesome.

There’s no better day in the year than Kingsday I think some Dutch people may disagree, but for me, Kingsday (ex. Queensday until two years ago!)  is the BEST day ever. Firstly, it’s a national holiday, so no work. Hurrah! Secondly, the whole country goes wild, dressing up in orange and generally drinking and enjoying the festivities. I went on a boat for both of my Kingsday experiences and it was so much fun. The hangover the next day? Not so great.

Kings day on the canals in Amsterdam

People don’t like curtains If you walk around Amsterdam, take note that nobody draws their bloody curtains. Nobody. This becomes very awkward if you can’t avert your eyes when walking by ground floor windows. Which I can’t. Ever.

It’s okay for adults to eat Nutella sandwiches and milk for lunch So to me, Nutella, bread and milk for lunch is – dare I say it – a lunch fit for a child, and a child only. But since living and working in Holland where adult people regularly take a glass of milk with their Nutella/peanut butter/hagelslag/cheese sandwiches, I’ve had to come to grips with this weird phenomena. But it’s still weird. Right?

It’s also okay for men to wear trousers of any colour It’s not uncommon to see Dutch men in trousers plucked from any one colour of the rainbow. Even at work in an office, coloured trousers are a thing. They’re a thing. People wear them. I’m pretty sure in England that men’s trouser colours consist exclusively of various shades of blue denim, black or grey sports trousers, or – if you’re really adventurous or really posh – beige coloured chinos.

Sitting in a busy street when the sun is shining is not weird Like the British, the Dutch fully embrace any amount of sun that is shone their way any way they can. And as a British person, I like this. A lot. We don’t get a lot of sun, so sitting out pretty much anywhere – slumped in your doorway, out of your window, on the tiny bit of balcony you may be lucky enough to boast – drinking wine, smoking cigarettes and eating bread is a generally accepted thing if the temperature is anything over mandatory winter coat temperatures.

If you don’t own a bike, you are weird The Netherlands is renowned for its dedication to cycling, and the vast amount of bikes lining the streets of Amsterdam is kind of unbelievable at first. You get used to it, obviously, and once you become accustomed to getting quite literally everywhere via a bike, it becomes like a third leg. Or arm? Whatever, bikes are so ingrained in Dutch life, that you are definitely very weird if you don’t have one. Public transport is for losers.


Dutch is really, really hard Much to the amusement of all of my Dutch amigos, I am still very, very, very bad at Dutch. Jaaa, I can exclaim if something is SUPER LEKKER (really delicious) or if I’m excited for a FEESTJE, FEESTJE! (pardy, pardy!), but anything beyond that, I tend to get pretty embarrassed at my horrible pronunciation and so more often than not, opt to speak English. I will eventually learn Dutch, but it’s just so hard when everyone here speak better English than most English people. And it’s hard. Very hard.

Everyone here is a giant Honestly, they are giants. I often find myself in groups of these giant people, cursing my five foot 3’’ height as I crane my neck upwards to be able to speak to people. It’s ridiculous.


Though I love my life living as an expat in Amsterdam, the time has come to get my feet back on the road – at least temporarily! In a few days I’ll be back in England, getting the final bits and pieces together before I head to Heathrow to start my three month South American adventure. Ahhhhhh!

Check out my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for more travel stories, pictures and updates!

#Amsterdam #Lessons #Europe #Culture #Food #Holland #Expat #Adventure #Netherlands #Travel

0 views0 comments
bottom of page