Holland Traveltips, guide to customs, etiquette, how to behave socially, proving you can be on your best behaviour.

"Do it again and now do it properly!"



A Guide for the Socially Perplexed in The Netherlands: for all type of foreigners: Chinese, Japanese, American, Australian and African travelers lost in Dutch space.

Plus many tips on saving money!

A fascinating list of tips given by an art historian, specialist in the history and culture of Amsterdam, Alkmaar, Haarlem, Leiden, The Hague, Delft, Rotterdam, Gouda etc etc.

And more $$ savings!

Made-to-measure tips by a scholarly tour guide. A guided tour by scholar-lecturer, art historian Drs. Kees Kaldenbach, the guy with the straw hat*

Photo above: Beware! Militant Amsterdam girls, photo borrowed from the Internet.


19 golden tips for Holland - in no particular order !


0) Fast track Museum entry in ALL Amsterdam museums. Avoid spending time waiting in museum queues. Enter the museums together with me.

1) Crossing the street. Cars will not immediately kill you, most cars will even choose to stop at a pedestrian crossing - "zebra" when you are traversing on it. Trucks will probably also not kill you. But there are 1.6 million bikes out there for 800.000 Amsterdam inhabitants and they behave like the King of the Road. They know no law nor do they respect any form of life. They will drive on at high speed and almost hit you during the last second. Beware! Bicycle lanes are coloured brick or pink and should be FEARED! This is result of an anti-authoritarian upbringing. Blame Dr Spock.

2) In a low-price restaurant, usually do NOT wait to be seated, but just take a seat, even at a larger table where others are already sitting, and wait. And wait and wait. Do not be surprised if a waiter only notices you after 6 or 12 minutes. This waiter will not have a submissive, positive, service attitude - but wants to be respected and acknowledged for just showing up - to even come to your table is his measure of extended goodwill. Serving at a table is really a job below contempt (most waiters seem to think). So they take it out on you. (Difference with USA is, individual tips do not make him/her run, tips will go into a central pot.) The service surcharge is already on the bill/receipt so do NOT add another 10 - 15 %. Unless you are completely blown over by good service. Then you may leave some small coins on the table at the end.


3) Dutch tap water is incredibly pure, tasty and excellent. Ask for a glass or a pitcher in a Dutch restaurant, as it is not presented to your table voluntarily. Say "Leidingwater" (tap water), make a tap opening movement with your hand, and then look at the pained mimicking of the waiter's expression. Some bosses have instructed their staff to only sell bottled mineral water at exorbitant prices, trucked in from Italy or France...as proof of your willingness to freely spend money, Conspicous Consumption it is called, showing off your wealth. BUT! Insist on tap water! Quote authorities who state that transporting spring water some 200 or 2000 miles is ludicrous and environmentally unsound.

Threaten to start World War III right on the spot, make plans to get up and move to the next restaurant, start a temper tantrum (tirade) etc etc. Offer a small amount of money for the service.

Well worth it. Look in awe at the exorbitant cafe and restaurant prices. Back in 2002 when the Guilder was ditched and the Euro was freshly introduced, the salaries in Holland were slashed by factor 2.2 but the restaurant prices stayed put, effectively becoming 2.2 times higher. Guess who is grinning ever since?


4) When you are loaded with cash and you want to make a good impression in a cafe for the people around you, buy a round for everyone: "een rondje", and wave your index finger in a small circle to indicate what manner of crowd is to benefit and is included. When you are 13 to 15 years old: impress your friends, finish a full litre of gin or wodka at home or in your hotel room (the is initial phase of pre-drinking, "voordrinken") and then in a cafe drink so much on top of that that you pass out and an ambulance takes with flying colours to a hospital to empty your stomach. This is "comazuipen". Boast about it for the next 5 years. Cool man! Actually drinking and smoking have been sharply on the decrease since youngsters prefer to put their money into cell phones etc. The word embarrasment does not exist here.


5) Talk to people in the street, in the tram, in the park, anywhere... about everything. Dutchmen like to communicate - and to show off their fair mastery of English etc. Good chance they will even like to start an ongoing lively conversation. Dutch men and women are usually outspoken, self aware, egalitarian (= non-authoritarian). British people will often mitigate their speech, the Dutch like to be clear - to the point of bluntness. In the USA one may talk in public about drugs & rock 'n roll. Here in Holland one may freely speak of Drugs & Sex & Rock 'n roll. Even 12-14 year old girls are fully informed about sex. Teenage pregnancy % is just about the lowest in the world. Also say hi to garbage men, street pavement menders and all sorts of people. They will often like to chat a little bit with you.


6) Be a gentleman / gentlewoman throughout the day. In restaurant etiquette, use BOTH knife and fork. take the knife in your right hand and the fork in your left hand, cut the food and bring the food into your mouth with your fork still in your left hand. If you start eating with your fork in your right hand people will consider you are a lout, a social misfit, or just poorly brought up. Do not even think of eating with your hands unless it is a chicken leg. Put both hands ON the table. Not one hand under. Before starting to selfishly gobble your food, wish the others at the same table "smakelijk eten" [smaaao kelik a te] (Tasty eating). Socially this is an absolute must. Then proceed to chew with closed mouth - without making obvious slurping or chewy noises. Otherwise people will still consider you are poorly brought up. The French call good public behaviour 'savoir vivre'. In Dutch: being "wel-opgevoed".


7) When you are asking for something, or you want information, or whatnot, please look the other straight in the eye, make some contact, open the talk by saying "sorry' or "pardon" and add "please", "as t u blieft" [ass tu bl eaf] and after finishing you say thanks, "dank je". Otherwise people will consider you are a poor cretin.


8a) Holland has one of the best public transport systems in the world. For city transport and buses into the countryside you need a plastic chip card called OV card. Buy one at a railway station. You fill it with a balance value in one of the machines available. Then whenever boarding AND checking out, you touch it to the electronic bulge. Comparable to the Oyster card in London. For trains (NS, Nederlandse Spoorwegen) there is either an old fashioned paper ticket or a specific NS OV card. You need to buy a ticket before you board the train. By contrast, you can just board a bus or tram. Buying a single fare within a bus or tram will be costly. A day ticket for a tram is fairly inexpensive at 3x the price of a single. If you plan to use the train a number of times, get a 40% rebate card, good foor yourself plus 3 other travelers sitting next to you.

8b) International train tickets can be obtained at the main desk of central Railway Station, Amsterdam and Utrecht. Beware of enormous waiting lines! You may perhaps do better by going to www.treinreiswinkel.nl First get into their office (Amsterdam office is at Singel 393 near Spui sqare and Beguin court, and their main office in Leiden, Oude Vest 7), and let them do the research leg work and find you good deals. For a group of tickets there is a one-time fee of E 15,- which I think is well worth it.

Alternatively try a taxi. Beware of crooks! Some taxi drivers will try to rip you off by taking a detour. Pretend you are savvy and ask the driver which routes or shortcuts he/she intends to take from point A to B and then mumble "mmmm" faking you have understood them.


9) Toasting is done by bringing glassed together, clinkediclink, eying eachother, half smiling, saying: "Proost". During World War II the Nazis used the term "Heil prosit", so you should avoid that phrase like the plague. Alternatively use: "op je gezondheid" - To your health. See point 4. Beware! The Heineken experience is OK is you are 18 years old and you have seen nothing yet. Aficionados who know their beer museums go to Dublin to see the huge Guinness extravaganza at that local brewery. About 100 times better. Although in Holland drinking in a cafe can be "gezellig" and you will get "gezelligheid" (cosiness. warmth, sociability).



10) Cyclists do not wear helmets here. When you ride a rented bike with bravado, and you wish to go left across the street, turning left, then first look over your left shoulder. Otherwise cars from the back may hit you. Use the special bike lanes, often reddish in colour. Be especially careful in crossing tram tracks. You may get stuck in the rails rut whan the angle is less than 45 degrees / / /. Causes a serious fall and injury.

Absolutely no street entry when you see a blue and white sign with a drawing of a papa and child walking hand in hand (to the right). Police will ticket you there. The weather is tricky here. Before you start cycling get a poncho or look online at the rain radar: www.buienradar.nl/


11) Most rented cars have manual stick shifts. It is considered sporty. Many male testosterone filled drivers may need compensation and show a macho, fast, agressive driving habit. When driving by car on National roads or Highways, passing on the right is Verboten. So is holding your cell phone. Running a red light. Speeding. Hefty fines, starting at E 150,-. When you see a series of backlit 80 km per hour signs positioned above the highways, the police camera systems start ticketing at 82 km. Seriously, you don't want to mess with these guys.


12) Will you visit more than 4 or 5 museums? At the very FIRST museum you enter, please buy a National Museum Pass valid for 1 year (Museum Jaar Kaart) costing around E 55,-. Best NOT to buy in the Rijksmuseum becaus eof waiting lines. The Stedelijk has no waiting lines. With such a card, pass all the waiting lines on the fast track! In the Rijksmuseum you proceed to the arches and just walk in... Alternatively, buy individual museum tickets from the concierge of any large hotel (pretend you're staying there, be aware of your body language). With such a ticket, pass the waiting lines! Watch out! Anne Frank Tickets are sold online 3 to 5 weeks ahead at no higher cost. Standing in line is for the feeble minded and the uninformed.


13) Beautiful INDONESIA used to be a sort of colony in the good old days around 1650-1850 when white plantation owners could ride around on their high horse, dressed in their white tropical suits, baton in your hand, literally looking down on their hard-working subjugated brown peoples. See VOC tour. Around 1900 the Dutch colonial settlers selected the 10 or 15 best dishes from all of those wonderful Indonesian islands and invented Rijsttafel or Rice Table, with a central plate of rice in the middle. Yummy. Specify mild, medium, hot. Do read Max Havelaar, a key novel by Multatuli that was as influential in Holland as Uncle Toms Cabin in the USA. Visit the impressive statue of this greater-than-life Multatuli on the large flat bridge at Singel near New Church / Dam sq.


14) Red light districts are presently in turmoil as national and city authorities have started a cleanup policy. It is now official policy that all of these woman have passports and other paperwork and get to work voluntarily without paying a pimp. It is a hard struggle. Do not photograph these ladies of the night. You will get yelled at. The sale of soft drugs (Hash, Marihuana) is also in turmoil. See: Coffee shops.


15) Make most of your city visit, seeing 20 times more with a good guide. Architecture, history, art, museums. Hire an excellent BBC quality tour guide. See my Complete Listing of tours. When taking canal boat tours there are big boats of about 50 seats. Some have a PA systems with 4 languages for Everyone babbling for a full hour. Other have a settop box with a choice of 20 languages and small earphones. Check out which you prefer. For those who wish to splurge, please call me to see options for small private historic "wood and brass" boats with or without drinks and 4 or 5 star food catering brought in in phases on the way. I know all private boat companies and can fine-tune your choice according to your specific needs.


16) Movie buffs: In Amsterdam there is a special 31 day movie theatre ticket CINEVILLE at E 18 (price in 2012) valid for ONE full month and letting you in ALL movie art house theatres for free, these are: De Balie, Cavia, Cinecenter, EYE (the white center across the water in back of Central Station), Het Ketelhuis, Kriterion, Melkweg Cinema, Rialto, Smart Project Space, Studio/K, The Movies, Tropentheater en De Uitkijk. Very low price. All art house movies are in the Original Languages with Dutch subtitles. So choose the original language carefully. Order at http://cineville.nl/pas


17) Hotels are pretty expensive. There is an affordable alternative especially for more than 3 days/nights: Why not look for renting a room or a floor in a private furnished apartment ? Google these key words in Dutch: Kamerverhuur, appartement te huur, priveverhuur, kamer te huur). Please note that people who are themselves tenants and living in subsidized rent control houses, like in Building Societies (sociale sector, woningbouwverenigingen) and rent out space - then they may be breaking the law and may even be evicted from their rental home. Please check whether they are legal.


18) When eating dead chicken, please ask whether it is a Plofkip (a pathetic baby chicken of just 6 weeks old, fed to a weight of 2.2 Kilo and thus hardly able to stand on its 2 legs, environmentally unsound) or whether it is a Biologische kip / Vrije Uitloop kip (a healthy free ranging chicken) who has had half a worthy life and ample space. Help heal the world! It is not a matter of law or police to decide this issue but it is in the hands of YOU, a consumer attitude and consumer power that will change society for the better. Also try Falafel with unlimited salad bar, Maoz is a good chain.


19) Do you find some Dutchmen in their speech to be too rude and too direct and critical and crass in communication? From the point of view of an Englishman or an Asian with their natural Politically Correct speech, reticence, restraint, reluctance, it may seem to be that way - and meeting Dutchmen might chafe and hurt a bit at first.

However: What the Dutch have been taught all their lives is: be fortright, frank, to say what you think and speak your minds about what they feel - thus honesty and directness is positive, speaking up is GOOD. Being forthright is good. That is often the direct way in this Dutch society. No beating about the bush. No toning down. No disrespect intended. So why don't you try and tune in to that refreshing Dutch stance and do without Political Correctness for once? A small example from my biography: I entered a business plan to a British firm and their answer was: "What a WONDERFUL plan". Whereas they privately thought: "Oh my, dump this, this will not work at all". The British partner probably thought he had handled things decently and correctly, but I felt lead up the garden path - let down and betrayed. An interesting cultural collission.


Enjoy life with these tips!


More on proper etiquette: Wiki, Dutch_customs_and_etiquette.



Would you like to enter the Rijksmuseum at exactly 9 AM, bypassing all waiting lines and standing in a virtually empty museum ? Ask me to be your guide!



Swinging Amsterdammers on a Dance boat, Gay parade 2007 ; photo Kaldenbach.

Recent architecture in Rotterdam.

* Kees in action.

Complete Listing of tours

Massage for lesbians and gays by the very same Kees.


Tailor made tours in English, German (Deutsch) or Dutch (Nederlands). I also speak a little French (Français) and broken Italian (Italiano). And Afrikaans.

Travel preparation with powerpoint:

Powerpoint presentation of Amsterdam.
Powerpoint presentation of Athens.
Powerpoint presentation of Barcelona.
Powerpoint presentation of Berlin.
Powerpoint presentation of Copenhagen.
Powerpoint presentation of Florence.
Powerpoint presentation of Helsinki.
Powerpoint presentation of Istanbul.
Powerpoint presentation of Naples.
Powerpoint presentation of Rome.
Powerpoint presentation of Split.
Powerpoint presentation of Stockholm.
Powerpoint presentation of St. Petersburg, Russia.
Powerpoint presentation of Venice
Menu presentation of walks and museum visits in Towns in Holland.

Menu of tours


As an art historian based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, I can also meet you in Amsterdam for a personalized guided tour of art museums and the historic center.

Together we will experience the beauty and history. Enjoy yourself and learn about history while strolling and discussing the country's history, art and culture. In doing so, we may touch a number of bases - spanning not only fine art and architecture but also the city's history and current social issues. See client testimonials.

Read a Kaldenbach biography.

Complete Listing of tours

Starting at your hotel I will take you on a wonderful private cultural walking tour of your choice. My guided itinerary offers you accessable informative conversation in English, Dutch, or German.

See Amsterdam in 1842 (Map with dots indicating where the high and mighty lived in Amsterdam, in the seventeenth century)

You may also arrange this VIP treatment for business contacts or friends. Our cultural tour organisation office will take care of a unique and memorable experience.

Drs. Kees Kaldenbach is your private "scholar-lecturer on culture tours" *.

*Martha Gellhorn, Travels with Myself and another, p. 182.


Please contact me for time and fees of the tailor-made tour you ar interested in.

These tailor made tours are available upon request - please contact me to book a date. Minimum group size: 1 person. Maximum group size is limited to about 10 persons. With a megaphone I can also manage larger groups on the streets.



Complete Listing of tours


Photo by Dick Martin.


Visit a large architectural cultural site on Amsterdam at Startamsterdam.com

Research presented in November 2014 about the Amsterdam art collector Mannheimer: he almost bought the best Vermeer: The Art of Painting (now in Vienna)



I conduct Rembrandt walks in Amsterdam for the Netherlands Bureau of Tourism, London and New York City offices. Their clients include important journalists.

The travel site www.luxurytraveler.com has devoted a main feature to my tours and walks.

Read further client testimonials.




About Drs. Kees Kaldenbach:

Read his own biography.

And a bio text by an unknown editor:


Drs. Kees Kaldenbach has been featured in television and radio documentaries, including BBC2 TV, NTV Japan, Danish TV and Radio Netherlands World Service. In July 2004 he was interviewed about Delft artists by Tetsuya Tsuruhara for the leading Japanese newspaper The Yomiuri Shimbun. In 2004 and 2005 he acted in an advisory role to additional BBC teams. Kaldenbach has written extensively on Vermeer and 17th century Delft, on Vincent van Gogh and on other art history topics.

Drs. Kees Kaldenbach is your private "scholar-lecturer on culture tours".

Further information is available on his encyclopedic web site: www.johannesvermeer.info


Contact information:

Drs. Kees Kaldenbach , kalden@xs4all.nl

Haarlemmermeerstraat 83 hs

1058 JS Amsterdam

The Netherlands

telephone 020 - 669 8119 (from abroad NL +20 - 669 8119)

cell phone 06 - 2868 9775 (from abroad NL +6 - 2868 9775)

Reaction, questions? Read client testimonials.

Open seven days a week.

Member of the VVV Tourist information and the Amsterdam Chamber of Commerce (Kamer van Koophandel).


Email responses and bookings to art historian Drs. Kees Kaldenbach.

This page forms part of the 2000+ item Vermeer web site at www.xs4all.nl/~kalden

Launched April 24, 2012. Updated 27 October 2016.