It is a widely excepted fact that tourists are strange. It is also a widely accepted fact that they do strange things.
At the start of spring confused looking tourists clutching maps 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 tourists keep themselves occupied by trying to put money through the card slot of the ticket machines at central station or by asking several times if a tram is going to the destination which is clearly written upon it in very large letters. They also get confused trying to work out if the Dutch euro is the same as the euro back home if they come from Europe and use the phrase ‘monopoly money’ a lot during their visit if they don’t.
When communicating with locals most tourists (especially the English) try to smash through the language barrier with the brute force of talking louder. When this fails (and when said local has been appropriately deafened) tourists will then attempt the opposite and employ a strange kind of sign language that involves a lot of pointing at maps.
People start doing strange things to try and please these visitors. The appearance of tourists suddenly makes it acceptable to stand in a public place and enthusiastically rant about nearby buildings. Such behaviour that would normally have locals crossing the street in avoidance will instead attract crowds of devoted listeners who want to hear about the time the architect visited Greece and got his foot stuck in a bucket.
Tourists also do things that they normally would never do in their own country. For example; entire families of tourists will happily take a stroll around the red light district because it is ‘famous’ and ‘has to be seen’ but they would never dream of taking the children for a day trip around the porn section of their local video store (and to suggest such things is apparently considered ‘crazy talk’. It’s just double standards if you ask me).
Tourists are strange… And that’s not even including the ones who only come for the red light district and coffee shops.
If you spend a lot of time walking around Amsterdam it is inevitable that at some point a tourist or a group of tourists will ask you for directions. They seem to have a habit of getting lost in cities that they are unfamiliar with and requesting directions. It’s one of their defining characteristics in fact.
Some people might find it strange but I actually enjoy giving directions to tourists. It gives me a warm feeling inside knowing that I have helped someone while putting my knowledge of the city to good use.
I was recently presented with another opportunity to do my bit for mankind and help those in need of directions when my wife and I were approached by a group of five Russian sounding tourists on the streets of Amsterdam.
“Excuse me. We are lost. Where is Van Goth Museum?” The female leader of the group asked.
“Er…” I quickly looked around to get my bearings, “It is that way.”
I pointed in the direction of Museumplein and was about to expand upon this information with a full set of directions but before the words ‘left at the end of the street’ could leave my lips I was suddenly cut off.
“No! It is here!” She insisted sternly and stared me directly in the eye.
I was a little taken aback by this response. The smile fell from my face and my finger stayed in the air, mid-point, as I tried to process her strangely hostile reaction. Was she in denial that she was lost? Had she not just declared in her opening stamen that she was lost? Did she not understand the definition of lost? Was this some sort of test? I quickly looked around to check but there were definitely no museums in sight.
I quickly decided that the best thing to do was to show her. I finally lowered my arm and reached into my pocket for my phone, “I’ll look it up for you.”
“No. Here is map,” A map was suddenly grabbed from one of her associates and thrust into my hands before I could open Google maps.
I glanced at my wife. She looked just as puzzled as me. The man who had seconds ago been holding the map simply looked un-phased, as if this kind of thing happened all the time.
“Right… well… we are here,” I paused for a second as I pointed to our location on the map. She did not shout at for making wild accusations so I continued , “and the Van Goth Museum is here.”
She seemed satisfied with my answer this time. And by that I mean she was not satisfied with my answer at all but she did seem to believe it this time. The map was grabbed back out of my hands, something that might have been a thank you was mumbled (it also could have been a rude word in Russian) and the group started to walk off, back in the direction they had come from.
My wife and I continued our walk towards the tram stop, trying to work out what had just happened. We had no clue.
At the tram stop another Russian sounding woman approached us, “Excuse me? This tram? Dam square, yes?”
“Yes,” I replied, deciding it was best not to argue.
Every summer my parents come over to Holland to visit. This is always great fun because I get to show them around the areas of Holland that I have discovered as well as be a tourist myself and discover a few new areas. This also tends to lead to a few funny stories. During an active week of theme parks, zoos, boat rides and more I have:
Proved myself as a man by winning a fluffy giraffe for my woman at the Efteling fair ground.
Experimented with live twittering from the queue of a rollercoaster (live twittering ‘on’ the rollercoaster did not go as smoothly even with the help of predictive text).
Drove my parents around in my girlfriend’s car. They had not ‘experienced’ my driving for 15 years but it seems the fear was not so easily forgotten. Every time my girlfriend handed me the car keys my father would ask, “Are you sure that is a good idea?”
Ended up with a few ‘patches’ of sun burn were I was not very ‘thorough’ with the sun screen.
Met my nemesis, a small monkey criminal mastermind at Apenheul who used his cuteness to lure me in so he could attempt to steal my camera. When that did not work he bit me and ran away. He shall be known as; Moriarty.
Witnessed my father empty a sashay of mustered into his tea when he mistook it for a sashay of milk and still drink the whole thing even after he realized his mistake. Apparently it was, “not too bad.”
Managed to completely confuse a waiter at a pancake restaurant (Full story here).
Head-butted a mosquito. It had been buzzing around my ear all night and when I suddenly threw my head of the pillow in frustration I felt the tiny blood sucker bounce off my fore head. It was unintentional but it had it coming.
Visited the city of Den Bosch and went on a canal trip that went ‘under’ the city. It felt like something out of a Dutch version of a Dan Brown novel (but less confusing and much more suitable for a movie adaption).
Bumped into blogger VallyP in a way that probably has her now worried that I am stalking her (standing outside her boat while my mum took photos).
Sailed the waters of Leiden with the most terrifying crew to ever raise anchor in Holland; my father in a pirates hat and my mother in a life jacket.
Today’s lesson: How to deal with tourists in Amsterdam who have asked you for directions to a coffee shop with the intention of purchasing and inhaling marijuana.
Step 1) Pretend to be in deep thought for a moment.
You don’t actually need to think about the question you have been asked, you only need to appear as if you are. To aid you achieving the correct look you may wish to use this opportunity to think about what you would like to eat for dinner or what kind of gift you should buy for a loved one.
Step 2) Choose a random direction.
Any direction will do fine but it must be random. You may wish to use a randomizing technique such as ‘eeny, meeny, miny, moe’. If you decide to do so you must insure that you do not say it out loud. It is important that your tourist does not hear the selection process or know that it is random.
Step 3) Point in the random direction you have chosen.
The arm should be raised and the finger extended to indicate the direction.
Step 4) Repeat the following:
“Yeah. There is a really good coffee shop just a short walk that way. You can’t miss it, mate.”
Be sure to say this clearly and with confidence so that it is believable. Why not practice saying it now in the mirror.
Step 5) Bid fair well to your tourist and wish him a pleasant stay in the Netherlands.
Congratulations. You have just dealt with your tourist. You can now go about your day confident in the fact that they will soon find the coffee shop they desire. After all, you are in Amsterdam and there is always a coffee shop within two minutes walk of any direction. Just because you don’t know it is there does not mean it is not there.
Join us again next week when we learn the advanced technique of giving them directions to Starbucks just for fun.
A few people have asked me about the process of moving to Holland and what they might need to do with in the first few days of arriving. For this reason I am going to take a break from my usual style of writing and attempt explaining a few things which might be useful.
Most of the information I am going to give will be from personal experience so I would still suggest checking other sauces of information for more details. Most companies will also help new employees with moving to the country and give them information on the essential things they need to organize upon their arrival.
It may not be necessary to bring everything with you when you move to Holland. There are a lot of stores in the country where you can buy everything that you might need for modern life. The question you have to ask yourself is will it cost more to transport all your belongings or buy new ones?
Stores like Hema and Blokker are good for essential kitchen, bathroom, cleaning and other house hold items. Media Markt is a place where you will find lots of electronic equipment you might need and there is no shortage of clothing stores either.
A lot of Dutch towns also have second-hand (‘tweedehands’) shops if you are looking for cheap furniture and other items.
If you are a non-EU citizen one of the first things you will need to do is apply for a Residence Permit so you can stay in the country. For EU citizens a passport is enough to allow them residency in the country. Although a Residence Permit is optional for EU citizens it can still prove useful as an extra form of identification when organizing other things.
EU citizens do not require work permits. However, they do need a Sofi number to register in the tax/financial and social system (non-EU citizens also need one). This is usually straight forward and can be done by taking your passport to a local tax office and asking for a Sofi number.
Finding a House:
Finding a reasonably priced place to live in Holland is not always easy if you are looking for accommodation in Amsterdam, Utrecht, The Hague or Rotterdam. However it is not impossible.
If you are looking for a place to rent you will normally be asked to pay a waarborg (deposit). This can be between one and three months rent. Some employers will help new staff find a place to live (maybe as a temporary situation) if the job is the reason for them moving to the country.
Opening a Bank Account:
If you are planning to stay in Holland it is advisable to get a Dutch bank account. There are several major banks in Holland such as Rabobank, PostBank, Abn-Amro and ING Bank.
You will require health insurance when living in Holland. There are a few companies that offer different packages (from basic to premium). Some employers also have health insurance (and pension) deals that employees can join.
You will also need to register with a general practitioner in your area. Most medical insurance companies will provide you with a list of general practitioners near your home.
If you do not know anyone who speaks Dutch but need something translated Babel Fish can come in handy. However, it is not the most accurate translator so you may wish to try other means as well.