Things I’ve learnt in Amsterdam

We’re only three-and-a-half weeks in, so I’m by no means “proficient” in the city or the lifestyle, but here’s what I’ve learnt:

  • A coffee shop is where you go to smoke weed. If you ask for a coffee shop, that’s essentially what you’re asking for. If you’re looking for coffee, then rather say just that.
  • There are sex shops all around the centre, and not just in the red light district. I walked past one the other day, and then seconds later saw an H&M.
  • You can get a 100 euro fine for speaking on your phone and cycling – my friend Tracy was stopped by a policeman and fined. For a place that’s so progressive with so many things, they like their rules.
  • On the first Monday of every month, a siren goes off through the whole of The Netherlands. I heard it on my first day at work on a Teams call, and panicked a bit. As my husband was Googling what on earth was going on, my colleague from Rotterdam explained that what we were hearing in the background was a test siren.

Here’s an explanation about it, via

“All over the Netherlands, the public warning sirens are tested at exactly 12.00 noon on the first Monday of every month. The siren sounds for 1 minute and 26 seconds without interruption. This is a test signal so there is nothing to worry about. The sirens are never tested on a national or religious holiday or Remembrance Day, even if they fall on the first Monday in the month.

In an emergency, the siren will sound repeatedly

If the siren sounds repeatedly, it means that there is an emergency of some kind. You may also hear a warning over the public address system or from a loudspeaker van. Follow the instructions and advice of the public authorities.”

  • I’ve seen more hummus and falafel balls here than when I was in Israel. They have so many varieties, and there are loads of vegetarian and vegan foods in supermarkets. My favourite is “pampoen hummus”, aka pumpkin hummus.
  • There are magical chocolate sprinkles called hagelslag, and apparently kids eat it on their sandwiches for breakfast. My kids love them on ice cream, and on treat days, I eat them in yoghurt. The other day I thought I was buying white chocolate sprinkles but they were anise, and tasted like sambuca, which basically reminds me of my drunk nights out when I was 18. A reminder to always use Google Translate when shopping.

  • People are friendly in our neighbourhood, and every dog walker has said yes to my toddler patting their pooch. She adores “doggies” and always asks the owners if she can pat their dogs. Win-win: the dogs get some more love and Rebecca gets to giggle.
  • Everything works really well.
  • The best purchase one can make is a cordless vacuum cleaner. Every time we suck up crumbs and dirt, I thank my husband out loud or in my head for this brilliant purchase. I bought a dustpan too, which, ironically, is gathering dust because it’s essentially redundant.
  • Most of the yoghurt comes in what look like milk cartons.
  • There’s still no chocolate that matched Cadbury Dairy Milk (sorry guys but Tony Chocoloney doesn’t come close, no matter what you say)
  • Beauty treatments can be costly, something I knew before coming. A gel manicure costs around 30 euros, and a normal pedi around 40 euros. This is usually without the scrubbing and buffing. I’ve not yet looked too closely into waxing, hair and Botox, but I might not be joking when I say that going to SA for all my treatments might not be the worst financial idea, once things are up and running.
  • Some people ride with two kids on their bikes – one in the front, one at the back. I’m too scared to ride with my toddler – hopefully in a few months’ time I’ll be ready, to coincide with our Thule seat arriving in our shipping cube.

Yours in bike rides,



Feature image: Shutterstock

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