Culture Shocks in Amsterdam

By: Misaki Sato

During my month-long stay in Amsterdam, I experienced and learned about many Dutch cultures. Amsterdam is a captivating city with its unique blend of history, modernity, and vibrant culture. There are a lot of aspects I’d like to share about Amsterdam, but today, I will share some of the culture shocks I got during my stay.

Cycling Culture

One of the most significant culture shocks I experienced during my time in Amsterdam revolved around its bicycle culture. I knew Amsterdam is a biking city and everyone is biking, but when I actually went into the city, I was surprised by the number of bicycles that flooded the city streets. Not only the bikers but also bikes are everywhere and you can park your bike literally anywhere. Bike lanes are everywhere, as much as car lanes and sidewalks. But the scary part for bikers is that motorcycles and even small cars are in the bike lane. Anything not full-size cars or pedestrians are all in the bike lanes, so it’s a bit of chaos sometimes.

As I biked around the whole city there are some rules for bikes, as you can imagine, than in other cities. Even though bikes are in the car lanes in other counties, it is not a good idea to go into car lanes in Amsterdam unless the bike lanes are merging into car lanes. Sometimes it is one way on each side of the canal and I had a hard time when I went to the wrong one.

I heard from my Dutch professor that people in Amsterdam are biking even in winter and when snowing. It sounds very cold and dangerous, but I realized how much the bike is tightly connected to Dutch culture.

amsterdam bikes

Quirky Architecture

Amsterdam has an interesting architectural landscape, the leaning buildings, affectionately known as the "Dutch tilt”. I learned that buildings are tilted for two reasons, intentional reason, and unintentional reason. 

The intentional reason is for bringing furniture in. Buildings in Amsterdam are pretty small, so people couldn’t put furniture from the entrance. Then they figured out it is so much easier to put in from the window and to do so leaned buildings were better. 

The unintentional reason is land subsidence. Amsterdam was originally built on dammed peat. The ground is very soft, and long wooden stakes are driven into the bottom of the building. After a long period of time, buildings tilted due to the rot of the piles and the subsidence of the ground.

Tilted with land subsidence means the floor is tilted as well. After living for a month I am still not very used to looking at them and I am concerned about people living there.


Dutch people have pretty good-looking. They are tall, and beautiful/handsome. However, the “tall” part sometimes causes some inconvenience for a short person like me.

The first thing I was surprised about was when I was taking a shower. At the hotel I was staying at, the place they put shampoos was a bit too high and it took much more strength than usual to get some shampoo and conditioner.

When I am taking public transport like the metro or tram, I can’t reach the handrail on top. And when I am talking with Dutch people I need to look up all the time.

All of them are small things, but as I spend time in the Netherlands I can feel everything is adjusted in higher places. If you’re tall, I think it will be more convenient for you.

Sunset time

I was shocked by how late the sunset was in the Netherlands. It doesn’t get dark until around 10:30, and the latest sunset I saw was around 11:30, or maybe midnight. 
I had class at 9:30, which means I have to get up around 8, so I wanted to sleep early. But I can see outside is not dark when I try to sleep around 11:00 pm, my brain confuses, and don’t feel like sleeping yet.

This is very helpful, especially on the weekends or whenever I am out later. Moreover, when you go on a trip and have to return in the dark with all your luggage, it can be quite challenging. But in Amsterdam, that’s not going to be your concern.


These were the 4 main culture shocks I got during my stay in Amsterdam. Overall, Amsterdam is a beautiful city with rich history and vibrant modernity, and I love it. If you are planning to come to the Netherlands, I hope this helps you to prepare to experience Dutch culture!