I did it! I’m here! I made it! How surreal is that? As of now, I’m able to wrap my mind around the idea, but for the first twenty-four hours it did not feel real. It wasn’t until last evening that I was wandering around the canals that I stopped to really take it in, and it sunk in–holy crap, I’m really here.
I’ve never travelled alone to a city where English isn’t the first language, so the first twenty-four hours were very hectic and stressful for me, but the easiest way to learn is immersion. So, that’s what I did. Head first. With my backpack in tow, I headed for the transportation center in the Schiphol airport, ready to begin my four-week long Holland adventure. Here are the top five things I’ve learned in Amsterdam within my first twenty-four hours.
The most incredibly important piece of knowledge about Amsterdam is that cyclists always have the right of way. Even when they don’t, they do. Gone are the days of pedestrian rule as done in the States. Cyclists are coming from every which way, and I swear some even drop out of the sky. Stay out of the bike lanes, or you will get yelled at in Dutch and possibly hit. Cyclists here do not let you know when they are approaching, either. They are quick and they are silent, and they won’t wait for anyone. It is important to stick to the sidewalks, and always look both ways before crossing any kind of road.
Never put your feet up on anything. Just don’t do it. You will get an aggravated employee chastise you and then mutter angry sounding Dutch as they walk away. Unless you know for certain it’s a foot rest, keep your feet firmly planted on the ground.
In Amsterdam there are people from all over living and working there; English, therefore, is the common denominator for language, so everyone can speak it and they can speak it well. All the signs, though, and transit announcements are in Dutch. I learned to ask local people how to pronounce street names so I knew what to listen for. Sounding it out doesn’t work well here! From the airport I needed to get off on a street called “Leidseplein”, but after going over twenty-four hours with no sleep my brain wasn’t on its A-game and I was pronouncing it as “Led Zeppelin”. Yes. Like the band. I learned very quickly that that was not how it was pronounced.
Gratuity. In the States it’s expected to leave a tip of 15-20% for any sort of service-oriented job, but in Europe every country has different rules for tipping–for example, in Spain you don’t tip at all. I asked my first waiter what was common, and he explained that generally you round up. For example, my bill was€13, 50, so I rounded up with an even €15. This is the common gesture, but it is not expected. He explained that, on average, 5% is their takeaway on tips, but it makes no difference to them if you tip 15% or 0%. Unlike waiters and waitresses in the States, they aren’t living off their tips.
Always have a map. Amsterdam is filled with small alleyways and side streets that are not listed as routes on maps, so it is incredibly easy to get all sorts of turned around and lost if you aren’t paying attention to where you are going. Not to mention the street names aren’t in the obvious places I’m used to them being like the States. I got horribly lost while I was running yesterday, and I didn’t have a map with me. The map application that came installed on my iPhone doesn’t work as well if it isn’t connected to Wifi. I quickly downloaded Google Maps after I found my way back yesterday, and have since been able to get my bearings for Leidseplein square.
That’s it for now! I have so many stories already in my short two days in Holland, and I’ve already met some amazing and interesting people! There are only two outlets in my room at my hostel, so it’s very difficult to keep my laptop and phone always charged, but I am diligently writing everything down, so eventually everything will make its way on here.