What are quirky local customs in Amsterdam?

Answers from Our Experts (1)

Cecily Layzell

Don’t be alarmed if a request for a pint of beer in Amsterdam is refused. Half pints topped with a thick head of foam are the norm here, and just one of the quirky local customs you are likely to encounter in the Dutch capital. The small measure, called a vaasje, and foamy head—ideally three fingers thick—are both meant to enhance the drinking experience: the beer stays cool and the foam ensures a creamy mouth feel.

Also the norm is the use of bicycles for just about everything. In a city where parking space is limited and waiting times for a parking permit can be years, bikes are the favored mode of transport for commuting, school runs, grocery shopping, even moving house.

Generally reserved—with the exception of celebrations like Queen’s Day—the Dutch are nevertheless remarkably tactile. Shaking hands with everyone present is customary in business as well as social settings. Close friends and relatives will give each other three kisses on the cheek when they meet and again when they say goodbye.

Visitors to Amsterdam are often struck by the locals’ apparent dislike of privacy. The blinds of houses are rarely closed, even at night, leaving their residents on full display to neighbors and passersby. This custom is usually attributed to Calvinism and a desire to reassure the world that nothing shameful is going on inside. Ironically, it is considered incredibly rude to check whether that’s actually the case.

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