Amsterdam – tank ju well!

What an amazing city full of international people who make new inhabitants in the city feel welcome. Nevertheless, Amsterdam is a European city, which made it difficult for me to discover cultural differences at the beginning. On the one hand, things are very similar, but on the other, differences are quite difficult to perceive because they seem quite indistinct. In order to perceive them, it is necessary to give the matter a lot of thought, and then even slight distinctions can suddenly become quite revealing when it comes to differences in culture.

To be more precise, I would like to talk about the different transport possibilities here in Amsterdam. Those of you who have already been here know exactly what I want to address – the predominant bicycle culture here in the city. Who doesn’t know it: before you can cross the road you look left, right, then left again, then right again and after you have made sure for the 100th time that no bike will come, you will be hit by one. Fortunately, a bicycle has never caught me yet. However, I solved the problem cleverly, because I mixed myself among the cyclists. With unbelievable respect and almost fear at the beginning, you quickly learn the rules of cycling because there are no rules. Amsterdam is known for its liberality and lack of persecution as well as introduction of rules, which seem unnecessary. Therefore, the only rule transport types follow is: First cyclists, then cars and then pedestrians. And it works! Funnily enough, it’s exactly the opposite in Switzerland. We Swiss like to follow rules that simplify everyday life for everyone and that prevent individuals from endangering others. That’s why our motto is – pedestrians, cyclists, cars.

As already mentioned, it was quite easy for me to learn the new cultural “rules” of cycling and also to follow them. But my Swiss tolerance also has limits. How the hell do the Amsterdamers come up with the idea that it is okay to ride with scooters on the bicycle lane? And why does no one wear a helmet, neither on the bike nor on the scooter? Not even the toddlers – and most mothers don’t just have one child sitting on their bike. Above all, mothers of newborn babies ride around with their child strapped to their belly. All this should not give the impression that the Amsterdamers act irresponsibly or thoughtlessly. It simply shows that they don’t care that much what I start to like more and more. It’s not always necessary to have rules that have to be followed strictly so that a society can function. Here cyclists regulate with their eyes who is entitled to precedence.

And the moral of my story based on the observation of the cultural difference of cycling is that the culture here in Amsterdam is much freer, less restrictive and people here have a more humorous take on their lives and take more joy in it than the Swiss do, or at least this is an impression of Swiss culture that one could have due to the many rules and regulations we Swiss live by. A wise Amsterdamer, whom I spoke to about the situation with cyclists and scooters and the no-helmet-culture, said with a wink: “if you do something forbidden long enough here in Amsterdam, it will be legal one day”.

Melanie Wahl




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