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10 ways to fit into Dutch society

10 ways to fit into Dutch society

It’s another beautiful day in the Netherlands, time to sit on a terrace and have the pleasure of inhaling cigarette smoke from those sitting nearby. If Van Gogh and Rembrandt were alive today, their paintings would feature buxom ladies with cigarettes hanging out of their mouths while simultaneously holding a conversation and looking at their smartphones. Or the sight of a group of Dutch men, watching the ladies, and staring and staring….. which brings me to the subject of today’s post.

The Shallow Man after ten years in Amsterdam, feels comfortable making such statements as I’ve learned the hard way, how to fit into Dutch society, the secret of which dear reader, I’ll share with you. Forget the nonsense they teach you on the Inburgering course, that’s just there to confuse foreigners and hopefully scare some to choose not to remain in the Netherlands once they are taught that not placing the divider thingy on the conveyor belt in supermarkets is a serious social faux pas. The course also advises that Dutch women sunbathe topless. To be of real value it would provide a list of all the places topless sunbathing takes place so that they could be avoided by sensitive souls who might be put off at the site of naked boobies and cigarettes. Anyhow, I digress.

I’m often asked “Shallow Man, how can I fit better into Dutch society? My Dutch isn’t very good and I don’t work with many of them, if I was to fit in couldn’t I make more Dutch friends?” The Shallow Man, as always, keen to fulfill the wishes of his united colors of benetton multikulti flock, has decided to risk the anger of the local population and will reveal what it takes to fit into Dutch society. Remember that freedom of speech is part of the Dutch constitution, so don’t shoot the exceptionally well dressed messenger. The things I do for my readers!

1. Learn to love Zwarte Piet

Last year, Amsterdam’s snarkiest expat wrote a post on a blog called they are not black, they came down the chimney. This caused an uproar. There was also a lot of publicity last year about various attempts to have the ZP tradition changed or toned down as not to cause offence. What the many debates and comments from angry Dutch people were can be summarised quite simply as:

  1. We are Dutch, we can never be racist, therefore our zwarte piet tradition is also not racist
  2. If you don’t like it go back to where you came from
  3. Our black face is good black face (I’m reminded of the line from Madonna’s vogue, “Rita Hayworth gave good face”)

No foreigner is ever going to win the argument about zwarte piet. If you find it offensive, keep quiet, don’t say a word, smile and nod when they tell that he is black (including curly hair and bright red lip with gold earrings) because he came down the chimney, bite your tongue, agree and if you really want to impress them, say something like “the racism in the USA is much worse than in the Netherlands, they should fix their own problems before complaining about zwarte piet.” I guarantee this will win you major credibility points. Learn to love that funky brother (zwarte piet) who is not funky at all, because he’s not black, it’s chimney soot hoor!

10 ways to fit into Dutch society

I had red hair before going down the chimney

2. Take up smoking

Smoke people, smoke till you are coughing and your lungs fall out on the table on the terrace of an eetcafe. The Dutch ladies will love you and the men will say “what a stout chap.” Forget cycling or bitching about Moroccans, smoking is the most popular past time activity in the Netherlands and its biggest organised religion. Foreigners have a habit of not smoking, or not smoking enough, fit in and light up a pack of ciggies today. Preferably on a terrace or in a bar after eleven pm. If you’re going to Bar Italia, have a good smoke beforehand as it will help hide the taste of the food.

10 ways to fit into Dutch society

It’s my right to smoke

3. Change your shoe wear

If you’re a man, throw out any shoes that are any color other than brown. If you’re female, download the old musical Calamity Jane. Check out the cowboy boots worn by the men and women on the ranches and in various other scenes in the movie. The lighter brown the cowboy boots and the more ridiculous, the better. I guarantee that if you put on a pair of cowboy boots and jeans, you’ll be confused for being Dutch. You’ll make friends. Trust the Shallow Man on this. I won’t even mention ordering some Uggs.

10 ways to fit into Dutch society

Calamity Jane, Dutch fashion icon

4. Park your bike where you goddamn please

It’s your bike, you park it where it’s convenient for YOU. Everyone else can hou op. The front door of an apartment house? Perfect. Directly in front of the door of a Cafe, waarom niet? Park that bike wherever you please; it’s the right of every Dutch male or female to do, so do the same.

5. Stop going to the hairdresser once you turn thirty

You’re a female, you’re in a serious relationship, time to give up. Going to the hairdresser costs money. Invest in a good fruit bowl and a pair of scissors and start cutting your own hair. This will make you less suspicious to the locals.

6. Stop working full time

Stupid expat women insist on working forty hours a week, or MORE!!!! This is not Dutch. The right to work part-time is guaranteed under law, cut back, work random hours. Confuse your colleagues with long and complex out of office replies showing the peculiar hours you work, doing so will endear you to your Dutch colleagues.

7. Save your money as much as possible

If you invite Dutch people round to your home in the middle of winter, nothing is likely to offend them more than seeing the heating turned up above 18 degrees. This is a sign of wastefulness that will not go down well. Keep the central heating as low as possible. Offer your guests jumpers to wear inside the house and tasteless coffee from Senseo.

8. Use tinder all the time

Ignore men and women in bars that might be attempting to flirt with you and instead spend the entire time swiping through tinder. Only really old people bother to meet people without tinder.

9. Have sex on the second date

You’ve had your first tinder date, drill for oil or open the gates to the mansion on the second. If you don’t you’ll be considered to be an uptight expat virgin.

10. Make no effort to dress up

Doe maar gewoon normaal! People should accept you for who you are, not how you look. Yes it’s a funeral, but so what? Fleece looks good at any occasion. Wear several layers of clothing on top, with only leggings underneath, it’s comfortable, what’s the problem with that? Don’t dress up. Wear jeans, leggings or fleece.

 

If you follow the ten tips above, you’ll fit into society more comfortably than a smartphone thief on the back of a scooter.

No refined gentlemen or ladies in fleece were hurt during the writing of this post.

 

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Simon Woolcot

Simon Woolcot

Writer, Freelance journalist at Amsterdam Shallow Man
I began my expat journey when I moved to Amsterdam for a six month assignment ten years ago. No longer a hamster on the corporate wheel, I am the author of two books, The Amsterdam Confessions of a Shallow Man, and The Shallow Man Guide to Dating the Dutch. I also work as freelance journalist for a number of publications and as well as presenting a show on English Breakfast Radio.
Simon Woolcot