The question I get asked the most is: “Why Amsterdam?” and even more often, I hear “Why would you leave London for Amsterdam?!”. For me, it is straightforward and the answer is clear. Amsterdam is one of the best cities in the world to live in.
In 2014, Mercer ranked Amsterdam eleventh in the global life index. The city stood tall against 460 others a number of worldwide names such as Stockholm, Berlin, Brussels and Montreal. This is rightly so. The quality of life in Amsterdam is not only exceptional, but in many ways it is also unmatchable. The Dutch culture is unconventional to say the least. Besides the infamous tolerance policies, the Dutch have their own eccentric way of being.
Few nation states resemble the Netherlands and this is because it stands on hundreds of years of rich history. The Dutch have done well to preserve the integrity of their historical foundations and it is particularly inescapable when you are out in the city centres where almost every little narrow street and antiquated house makes you feel as though you have stepped into a time machine. The Dutch education system also makes it a point to instil strong Dutch values into young children, which for all intents and purposes, has produced a well-harmonised society. However, despite the historical traditions that have come to define the countries intense values and norms, Holland has a profoundly unique character because of it unwritten, non-codified social rules.
The Dutch are known for many attributes, all of which possess some truths. Firstly, the Dutch are straightforward, honest and to the point. To many, the Dutch brusqueness comes off as rude and overly non-chalant. But, this is a narrow first perception of attitudes. Children in Holland are raised to find solutions in problems and this gives them a “no-nonsense” attitude from the jump. If you’ve ever walked through a city at around four-ish, you’ll have seen hoards of mothers cycling home with 3 children on wooden carriers that are placed in front of their bikes. The Dutch don’t complain about the hard stuff. They just get on with it. They will bike in the snow, rain and even storms. In Amsterdam where 50% of the population use bicycles as the primary form of transport, It is not surprising to see people cycling with tables, boxes and even new born babies attached to their motor-on-wheels.
I admire the strength of the Dutch, they see no obstacle as insuperable. When Holland was just mud and water, the Dutch ploughed the land to create whole cities. As well as being the birthplace of European Enlightenment, the Netherlands is a potent example of of how a country can go from nothing to something. The Dutch have worked hard to re-build and even after the war, they saw no task as impossible. This is why there is a no-nonsense attitude in Holland, the Dutch truly exemplify the saying: “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness”. You will find this attitude everywhere from your bar woman’s blunt attitude to the mother carrying her 3 kids on 1 bike. The Dutch don’t believe in “can’t”, they believe in alternatives and the kind of individualistic “can-do” attitude that strengthens character. That is what I really love about living in Amsterdam, above all else; it is the endurance of the Dutch and its infectious, rub-off effect.
Modern architectural creations have stunned me too. From Rotterdam’s ‘Swan Bridge‘, Lelystad’s Theatre Agora, to Amsterdam’s Eye Museum there is no shortage of visual orgasms in Holland. The Netherlands is the home of innovation and they are not afraid to experiment with their technological power. The Rietveld Schröder House is the first to project to build a home without walls, Piet Blom’s Cube Houses in Rotterdam tilt 45 degrees and rest upon a hexagonal tower and Mini2’s Dune House in North Holland is testament to the transformable nature of Dutch design. Infrastructure in Holland is perceptively advanced and chic. Sometimes I am impressed even just by entering a toilet and seeing how practical the Dutch style is. My Dutch friends find it amusing that I still am excited by advancements such as free wifi on buses and trains. But, having lived in London most of my life, easy public wifi and the fact that Dutch water is the cleanest water in Europe is not only mind-blowing for me, but it is also pretty darn incredible to live with. If you visit the suburban district of Almere in east Amsterdam, you will see just how fast the Dutch are capable of modern day development. Almere is set to become the 5th largest city in the Netherlands and it only came into existence thirty years ago. Across the country, hospitals, Universities, financial buildings and institutions have an almost-gorgeous infrastructural elegance to them.
Simplicity inspires design in Holland. Just recently, the district of Krommenie became the first place in the world to instal a solar cycle lane that uses existing road infrastructure to harvest energy that can power even traffic lights to electric cars. From taking lone walks through antique cities like Leiden and Maastricht, to partying in the more youth-centric Almere and Rotterdam, I have become gripped by the beauty of Holland, it’s life, it’s character and how all the different personalities of the cities forms together to create one proud, open nation. I have never truly felt the full breadth of freedom until I arrived in the Netherlands. From the institutions to the communities, everything about the country screams tolerance and respect. Even just walking down the street, you might be greeted by someone: goedmorgen, goedmiddag or goedavond , as they say (not pronounced as it’s spelt), the bus driver will always say hello to you and there is no elevator or waiting room where people do not greet each other. The Dutch also have a true appreciation of aloneness. Everywhere in Holland people are taking walks on their own, laying in the sun reading a book or eating out alone. As a deeply introverted extrovert, I thrive in my own solitude and Dutch understand this. Hell, they even created the world’s first “one person” restaurant for contently lone diners.
There is a palpable mutual respect that the Dutch exude. The non-cis lesbian, bi-sexual, gay, transexual community thrives here and I have also noticed that there is no culture of punishment. Unlike the U.S, the Dutch government prefer rehabilitation over punishment. Not maliciously evil garbage that needs to be disposed of. They view addicts and criminals as people here. A new street campaign in Amsterdam has seen the placement of 5 huge electronic signs in major high streets warning people of the difference between cocaine and heroin. Any other government in the world would all together deny the existence of drugs on their streets and try to brush it under the table and instead the Dutch government choses awareness tactics and have offered people cocaine tests for testing cocaine from white heroin readily available to test in smart shops . The Dutch would rather admit a problem and deal with it than hide under the covers of political correctness and diplomacy. The Dutch understand phycology too. When I became unwell, the doctor in the emergency room asked me “Who were you before your injury?”. As a woman, I feel a lot safer in Holland and I experience a significantly less sexual harassment here than I did in London . I can actually cycle home at 5am without fear. The police here are not perfect, but they do not needlessly arrest and punish street fighters or soft drug users. Many a night out, I have felt a strong police presence in hot spots such as Leidseplein, but never have I felt threatened or intimidated by the law enforcers. In London, the police wear bright yellow and some of them will arrest you just for talking back to them, in Holland, the police have a soft, non-threatening colour scheme and will take selfies with you.
Of course, no culture is exempt from fault and there are plenty of grounds on which I will critique Dutch policies. It’s not allgezelligheid. Racism is rife, structural discrimination and prejudice is prominent and there are some outdated Dutch traditions such as the Zwarte Piet that need to be eradicated. But, living in Amsterdam with 175 different nationalities, there is a real sense of multiculturalism and life that I have found in few places across the world. Perhaps this dates back to the pre-80s integration policies that encompassed “integration while preserving one’s own identity“. Whatever the case may be, Amsterdam is not just a city that you live in. It lives in you too. And I hope to stay here for as long as possible.