Seven Weird Things Tourists do When Visiting Amsterdam

By: Stuart Billginhurst

Tourists are strange. Anyone who has ever encountered a tourist will know this to be true. They do strange things and ask strange questions. It is as if the simple act of leaving their own country for a short while frees them of the restraints of all normal and understandable behaviour. This is no more evident than in the city of Amsterdam in The Netherlands.

At the start of spring confused looking tourists clutching maps will suddenly appear on every street corner of Amsterdam like members of a badly organised invasion. If they are not busy interrogating the locals for hotel directions they are trying to work out if the Dutch euro is the same as the euro back home (if they are from Europe) or using the phrase ‘monopoly money’ a lot (if they are not).

But this kind of behaviour can be found in any tourist visiting any country. What is it that makes tourists visiting Amsterdam so uniquely strange?

1)      They visit the Red Light District:

While visiting Amsterdam it is considered entirely normal to go ‘sightseeing’ in the Red Light District. In fact, entire families of tourists will take a casual stroll around the red light district simply because it is ‘famous’ and ‘has to be seen’. This is very strange, especially when considering that they would never dream of taking the children for a day trip around the porn section of their local video store because it would be considered indecent. It’s double standards if you ask me.

2)      They visit the Red Light District:

And of course there are also the tourists who want to do a little more than simple window shopping. It is not uncommon to be approached in the street by cheeky or nervous looking tourists asking for directions to the red light district. Occasionally there are also tourists who want to know a little more than just directions. Sometimes they also want to know what to do once they get there and they seem to think a random person on the street is the best person to ask. I personally have been asked by tourists if I knew how much it costs and how ‘it’ worked. I was unable to give him a price comparison and I really felt that the ‘special relationships’ between men and women was something his parents to explain.

3)      They visit Coffee Shops:

Tourists also seem to consider it quite normal to approach random Dutch people in the street and ask them if they know any good coffee shops in the area. In any other country you might think such a tourist was simply looking for a place to get a good latte but in Holland ‘coffee shop’  is code for an establishment that sells weed.

This would seem to suggest that the average tourist is under the miss guided impression that every Dutchman is deeply familiar with every coffee shop in Amsterdam and probably constantly stoned. This is not true (and if it were the passive smoking alone would keep the whole country high all the time).

Luckily, Amsterdam has a lot of coffee shops. This makes it entirely possible to point in a random direction and tell tourists that they will find a coffee shop there because they probably will. Although sometimes it’s just fun to give them directions to Star Bucks and see how long it takes them to notice.

4) They think that the Dutch still wear clogs:

Many tourists are disappointed to discover that the Dutch don’t actually wear wooden shoes any more (or live in windmills). Although it is something that is considered ‘traditional Dutch’ it’s not really practical to wear half a tree as footwear in the 21st century. Shoe shops would have to be much larger for starters and can you imagine the sound of thousands of Dutch people clomping around the city’s busy concrete streets... It would be deafening.

5)      They talk... very... slowly... to... the... Dutch:

A lot of tourists who have never visited Holland before make the mistake of thinking the Dutch can’t speak English. They can, and although it is still polite to ask a Dutchman if he can speak English before bombarding them with questions about the local area it is not entirely necessary. This is because asking the average Dutchman (in Amsterdam) if they can speak English is like asking them if they can count to three.

6)      They go to Amsterdam just to drink:

There is something that seems  slightly pointless about going all the way to another country to get blind drunk. Especially since it means they won’t actually see the country they are visiting.

And if they are visiting Amsterdam just for the beer,  it’s possible to argue that they are in entirely the wrong country anyway. All the good beer in the Netherlands comes from Belgium. Even the Dutch know that. It’s the only thing they like about them.

7) They only visit Amsterdam:

Although the mayor of Amsterdam would like to believe that his city is the only place in Holland you need to visit,  that is not entirely true. Holland has a lot more to offer. There are lots of cities, towns and villages that all have a unique charm of their own. It’s not all coffee shops and red light districts. 

About the author

Expat Blog ListingStuart Billginhurst is a British expat living in Netherlands. Blog description: The story of an accident prone Englishman in Holland
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Contest Comments » There are 25 comments

Martijn wrote 10 years ago:

Well said; I often wonder if many a tourist is under the impression that "when in Amsterdam, do as the Amsterdamned do" is really a saying :D

MissNeriss wrote 10 years ago:

My father-in-law still wears clogs (for gardening). In fact, last year he had to get a replacement pair as he wore a hole in his!! And you're right, the best beer in Holland is most definitely Belgian. The best beer in the entire world is Belgian!

Antoine wrote 10 years ago:

And I thought I was the only one … :-) I did think to ask for "coffee shops" in Amsterdam but the smell alone can guide you to the right ones. And I apparently look dutch enough to have been on the receiving end of the "Do you know where the Red Light district is" question too. What about tourists who think they're in another country (I love that one)? Nice one, Stu! A

Ann Billinghurst wrote 10 years ago:

I would never be able to find a "coffee" shop by the smell. I can be standing right outside one and not smell it. My husband reckons I'm the only person in the world who can't smell it. Now Star Bucks is a different matter. That I can smell a mile off.

Terri wrote 10 years ago:

As always Stu, the humor in your posts brighten my day.

Annette Knape wrote 10 years ago:

I think you about nailed that. Fortunately I've never been asked those questions. I still only manage to get into the red light district by accidents. It would be really awkward trying to explain that you've studied in Amsterdam, but still don't know that. In my defense, my uni was on the outskirts. And about point 6 and 7, I really don't get the reasoning behind doing such a thing. Fortunately it's getting cheaper to fly to eastern Europe where beer is cheaper, so we will see less of those tourists. But keep up the good work! PS: a follow up called : 7 dangerous things to watch out for when you're a tourist in Amsterdam?

Ahmed Salama wrote 10 years ago:

Awesome writer and stand up comedian go get them man :)!

Luke Botham wrote 10 years ago:

I've been stopped by Tourists many times and asked for directions to places marked on a map, I point them in the right direction and 9 times out of 10 they'll disagree with me and walk in a different direction completely.

Ana wrote 10 years ago:

Fun and accurate. A shame about point 7, as an expat I think Amsterdam is not very representative of the rest of the Netherlands and there are so many interesting places outside Hamsterdam.

Martin wrote 10 years ago:

Hehe, funny blog post. :) I always try to help lost tourists find the Red Light District though. :P

Graeme wrote 10 years ago:

What puzzled me when I lived in Amsterdam was the number of people who asked me how to get to the Anne Frank House, especially since most of the time they were only about 200 metres from the place! In fact, on the very day I left Amsterdam, the last thing I did was to point out the Anne Frank House to a couple who were just across the Prinsengracht from the place!

DVK wrote 10 years ago:

The English are always complaining about how Hollywood portrays them, but it seems to just be as bad for us Dutch. We always seem to be drug-runners or involved in the porn-movie business

Rinda Scheltens wrote 10 years ago:

We don't just like the Belgians for their beer. They're such fun to joke about Although I heard a wicked and super fun Dutch-are-greedy joke from a Belgian woman when she overheard me telling one of my Belgian jokes.

Alison wrote 10 years ago:

Beautifully summed up! I will never understand the fascination with the red light districts, especially when it's whole families wanting to see it. And as for your last point, it's funny how few people realize that lots of other cities throughout the country have all of the same kinds of attractions Amsterdam has, but probably cheaper and with fewer drunken tourists. :)

Ashley Moore wrote 10 years ago:

Exactly. When I tell people that I live in Amsterdam they always joke about how much pot I must smoke. Like it is not possible to get in other countries.

Henri Bik wrote 10 years ago:

5)Dutch people think that they should understand English. So the answer to the question 'do you speak English' is invariably 'YES', even if that is the only English sentence they understand and 'I don't know' may be the only English sentence they can say. 7) Not only the mayor but the vast majority of born 'Amsterdammers' are convinced that east of Diemen starts the desert. Actually there is even a well-to-do group believing that life outside the 'Amsterdamse grachtengordel' is not worth living. In many 'Amsterdamse kroegen' will sooner or later sound 'Geef mij maar Amsterdam, dat is mooier dan Parijs' (I prefer Amsterdam, it has more beauty than Paris) often sung by people who have never ventured outside Amsterdam.

Barbara TELLERIA wrote 10 years ago:

I'm actually heading off to the Netherlands in a week's time. I'm glad that I read this post prior to my visit and I'll try to keep #5 and 7 in mind. :)

Sergios wrote 10 years ago:

Another awesome article by Stuart.. And as always, to the point ;)

Perovskia wrote 10 years ago:

I don't understand the families wanting to see the Red Light District, but whatever floats their boat. I still see people wearing wooden shoes up here in Friesland; I still can't get over it (slight culture shock there). I have gotten a pair for myself, but just for the shed/outdoors :)

Bas Bijpost wrote 10 years ago:

Stuart is definitely my favourite 'Dutch' writer. As always, through wit and a keen eye he manages to paint a funny but spot-on picture of life in Amsterdam and The Netherlands.

Hannah wrote 10 years ago:

Your posts always makes me smile! After reading number 3, I am now really considering showing tourists to Star bucks or Douwe Egberts when they ask for coffee shops.

Leanne wrote 10 years ago:

Spot on! It's also quite funny to see the look of confusion when the tourist realises he/she has asked a fellow English person for directions. One of these days I'll respond with my Goldmember impression and see if that makes them feel better.

Jochen wrote 10 years ago:

I believe it was a wise man who once said. 'F*ck tourists, we shall drown every single one in the ocean.' Something perfectly acceptable for the time but frowned upon nowadays. Stu deliverers, as always, a witty, observant piece of writing on the 'tourist'. A phenomenon that never seizes to amaze and wonder.

Laurens Jacob Liezenberg wrote 10 years ago:

Thanks for taking the time to talk about this, I feel strongly about it and really like mastering more on this subject. If feasible, as you acquire experience, would you mind updating your blog with much more information and facts? It is very helpful for me. Gewichten Gymbal Halters Dumbbells Fitnessbal

Joe wrote 10 years ago:

This happens in almost all countries and sometimes its amusing to see the tourists with their silly questions. Next month I am making a trip to Amsterdam and hope to get some wonderful pictures (for my blogs)

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