Dos and Don’ts

After four hundred years of defining their own rules for living, Amsterdammers have developed some strict codes of etiquette. Colin White and Laurie Boucke, co-authors, The UnDutchables: An Observation of the Netherlands, Its Culture and Its Inhabitants (, provide the following tips to help visitors pass as a local:

Kissing Cheeks: “When greeting good or fairly good friends, a kiss on the left-right-left cheek (three kisses in total) is appropriate—or less for the lesser-known. But do not kiss when meeting someone for the first time; a brief limp and wobbly handshake will do.”

Proper Pronunciation: “Don’t say ‘Amsterdam.’ Instead say ‘Omsterdom.’ This will have more effect if you repeat the word while giving the thumbs-up sign with both hands.”

Transportation: “If you have a bike, test always carry one to two passengers after dusk and test ring the bell every few minutes.”

Flowers: “Do take flowers when visiting Dutch friends and be sure to carry the bunches upside down; it stops the water from running down your sleeve.”

Dining Alfresco: “If you’re eating from an open-air fish stall, hold the raw, brine-slimed herring (haring) from its tail and lower the creature head first into your gaping mouth.”

Phrase Book

Mokummer: A resident of Amsterdam. Pronounced MO-keh-moor

A’dam: The common written abbreviation for the city

de Wallen: Nickname for Amsterdam’s Red Light District. Pronounced duh vah-len

Gracht: Means “canal,” so when an address ends with gracht you know you’ll be on a canal. Pronounced with two guttural g’s—one at the start, one at the end

Doie: An affectionate, informal way of saying goodbye; never to be used in formal or professional situations. Pronounced doo-ee

Een klap van de molen hebben: Literally translates as “being hit by a windmill” but used to mean simply “be crazy.” Pronounced uhn klahp fahn duh moh-len heb-en

Broodje: The most popular Amsterdam snack, a bread roll filled with just about anything, most often Dutch cheese. Pronounced BROAT-cha

Stroopwafel: The second most popular Amsterdam snack, syrup sandwiched between two thin wafers. Pronounced STROPE-vaffel

Jenever: Dutch gin. Pronounced je-NAY-fer

Alstublieft: The only word you really need to know. It means “please,” and more precisely “if you please,” and it is used liberally in any transaction. Pronounced ALLS-do-bleet


About Amsterdam and the Netherlands

  • <p>Photo: Cafe 't-Smalle</p>


    Get travel tips, see photos, take a quiz and more with National Geographic's Ultimate Guide to Amsterdam.

  • <p>Photo: De Valk Windmill</p>

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