I arrived in Amsterdam last Saturday and spent the weekend in the city. I also spent the day there Tuesday looking for apartments. The rest of the time has been spent in the office in Nieuwegein (pronounced something like New-a-hine with that h sounding like you are coughing up a lung) or in my hotel in Ijsselstein (sounds like I-sill-stein) . So I have seen a bit of big city life as well as small town life. In that time I have a few overall impressions:
- Everyone is thin – Thats right. EVERYONE is thin. They are all fit. They run around a lot, bike a lot, walk a lot. I guess since gas is so expensive here (see below), they have to find other human-powered ways of getting around. Apparently there is a lot of discussion about kids getting fat because of access to fast food, etc. Its the same discussion in the US, but the kids are tiny here compared to the bellies I see walking past the playground near my apartment in San Francisco. Occasionally walking around Amsterdam I saw a grossly obese couple. As I got closer to get a better look at what set them apart from everyone else, it became clear. They were Americans.
- All women are stunning – OK, I could expand that to all people, but I am a guy, a straight guy at that, so I will keep my opinion on the attractiveness of men to myself. I guess it has something to do with everyone being thin and very fit. As long as the weather is relatively warm, this will be a very interesting place to be.
- Everyone speaks English, but thats not an excuse to not learn Dutch – Yes, EVERYONE speaks English…and they speak it VERY well. They speak English better than the Dutch I will be able to speak after living here for 5 years I imagine. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have to learn it. They speak English, but they prefer to speak Dutch. They will first speak Dutch, and when you have no idea what they said, they will switch to English. This is similar to the way it is where I grew up in Miami. They speak Spanish first, then realise you are one of the minority that don’t speak Spanish and switch over to perfect English. The big difference being that this country IS Dutch. Anyway, if you can interact with someone, they speak English, but there are lots of things that give you information that don’t interact. Like the radio. Every station (see below) is in Dutch. The music is mostly in English, but the traffic reports are all Dutch (This is important, traffic here can be bad). Parking meters are all in Dutch. If you have a car you will need to park. If you park you will need to pay. If you don’t speak Dutch then the first time you use one of these machines you will stare at it until some local has to help you figure it out. OK, it took me two times to figure it out. There are lots of these things that you will have to figure out for the first or second time. Lots of words just make sense: lemshenken is lamb shanks. Lots of other words are just bizarre.
- Your car better have navigation – Amsterdam is an old city. Older than anything in the US. The streets have been in the same place for ages. But construction is new everyday. They like to tear up the roads a lot. Also the roads are thin and twisty, so if one moving truck is in the way, you are backing up. With a few actions like that, you quickly get lost. A navigation system always knows roughly where you are and can get you back on the right track. To make things worse, if the street sign exists it is small and hard to see. They were designed in a time when vehicles moved no quicker than 20 mph.
- They love the radio – Scanning the FM dial, there are hundreds of stations. I am not sure what differentiates them yet. In the US, you will have a stations that focus on a genre. I listened mostly to 107.7 the End and 94.9 KUOW both in Seattle. There was one station, KEXP that was different everytime you listened. They focused on no single genre. Every station here seems to be like that. I think I stayed on one station this morning and heard Soundgarden, Keane, Linda Rondstadt, and some Dutch (or at least non-English bands). Its just bizarre.
- Gas is expensive – I knew this before hand. Its getting expensive in the US. I think I paid 30 or so dollars recently for a fill up in my GTi last week. I paid 70 euros this week for a fill up. Thats about 85 dollars. This is why so many people are thin!
- Parking sucks – Parking in Amsterdam is tight, difficult, and expensive. In the neighborhood I am about to get an apartment in, I will have to wait 3–6 years for a parking permit. Until then I can either feed the meters at 3 and a half euros an hour (4.50 US dollars), or pay 250 euros a month for a garage. If you go for meters, you may get a space in 5 minutes or after 30 minutes of searching.
- Choice sucks – If you come over here, get ready for fewer choices. I went looking for some mapping software last night. In the US, I could go to any CompUSA in any major city in the US and find what I needed. Here I had to go to a place called MediaMarkt which in some ways reminds me of Frys…in just the bad ways. When you go to Frys in California, you have massive selection of everything from software to electronics to vacuum cleaners to stoves to IC circuits in a single big store, staffed by morons. Well MediaMarkt is a big store staffed by morons, but the selection is weak across a broad range of types of items (electronics, appliances, games, etc). I only had a choice of a single mapping product (AND Route) and it is really awful software. I had been spoiled by Microsoft MapPoint and Streets and Trips. I wanted to find AutoRoute (the European Streets and Trips), but they didn’t have it, and I can’t seem to buy it through the Microsoft Company Store. Any Microsoft employees in Europe want to get it for me?
- Portions are smaller – this is a good thing. In the US, food portions are huge. Its easy to gain weight. Here, they are reasonable. This is a good thing. Assuming I stay away from the pastries…
So as you can see I am starting to get a feel for this new place. Overall, I like what I see. Amsterdam is a beautiful city. I am getting close to signing the dotted line for an apartment on the Prinsengracht (sounds something like prin-sen-hracht, again coughing up a lung for the g that sounds like an h).