An American in Amsterdam

Posted on September 30th, 2013 by

This is my debut in the Amsterdam café-writing scene.

Truth be told, this is my first time in any kind of establishment in Amsterdam, and I have been here for four weeks.  Maybe I created an association between spending time in the city with being moderately underwhelming thanks to orientation week.  This is not entirely the fault of the study abroad staff here; what could possibly be appealing about obligatory diversity-101 seminars and IKEA when one is thoroughly jet-lagged?  (In fact, when could IKEA ever be exciting?)

Suffice it to say things got off to a slow start here.  For the first ten days I could not help but feel like a foreigner, not because I am, in fact, an American in Amsterdam, but because everyone here seems busy with something, while I could only busy myself with (im)patient waiting for my classes at the conservatory to start.

Fret not ye hearts, o readers: this anxious musician finally has work to do.

But for the sake of thoroughness, I will recount some of the past three weeks:

Hoge Veluwe National Park.  This was the highlight of orientation week for a Minnesota boy already pining for the Northern woods and lonely loon calls on lonely lakes.  Imagine if the Arb were a hundred times as big and there were free rental bikes, and you will come close to understanding what this place is.  The largest national park in the Netherlands also is host to the Kröller-Müller art museum; here I became an admirer of Vincent van Gogh’s work.

A panorama of a woodland section of the park.

A panorama of a woodland section of the park.


Speaking of the Netherlands, let us pause to clarify: the Netherlands ≠ Holland.  While I am in Holland (North Holland, to be accurate), Holland is a correct name for only the two largest provinces within the Netherlands.  There are ten others of lesser renown (but by no means lesser charm).  To make matters even more complicated, the Netherlands partly comprises the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which includes three other countries (Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint-Maarten).

People living in the Netherlands are called Dutch, and they speak Dutch.  However Dutch is not Deutsch, which is the German word for the German language.  Dutch speak Dutch in the Netherlands; Nederlands sprekende Nederlanders in Nederland.  Germans speak German in Germany;Deutsche sprechen Deutsch in Deutschland.  It would be much more simple if we called Dutch people Netherlanders and German people Dutch, but this clearly has not caught on (except for the Pennsylvania Dutch, who are actually German and not Dutch).


There are four times as many bicycles as there are automobiles in Amsterdam, so in the spirit of embracing my new culture, I am renting a bike for the semester.  The infrastructure for bicycling here is impressive: bike lanes are almost always marked, and most times there are separately paved bike paths adjacent to the roads, complete with their own traffic control signals.  Unfortunately, Dutch bicycles themselves are not as impressive.  The majority of pedaled-vehicles here are of the single-gear, back-pedal brake variety.  There is, I admit, something hip about riding quaint bikes in a modern city; this is what I tell myself when tackling inclines with a headwind on my single-speed wonder.

Since orientation week passed and I acquired my main means of transportation, most of my going out and coming in has become conservatory-related, something that remains true into the present.  The conservatory and things related deserve their own post, and I am sure you will thank me for not adding it on to the end of this entry.

Tot ziens!

A typical view from one of Amsterdam's many canal bridges.

A typical view from one of Amsterdam’s many canal bridges.



Comments are closed.