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Amsterdam: 10 phrases that tourists should never say

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Beer Amsterdam
Please don't call that a "pint." Photo: Gosia

No one likes being labeled the dumb tourist, but a lot of times we slide right into it with just one word. After seeing too many nice visitors to Amsterdam blush with embarrassment on the streets and in the shops, here are my top 10 phrases of what you shouldn’t say in Amsterdam (and why).

1. “I’ll have a pint.”

Dutch beer culture is all about quality, not quantity. The classic Heineken and other pilsners are poured in small glasses to ensure your brew never goes flat. Belgium beer glasses are also similar in size and vary in shape, but overall stick to bottle-size portions when drinking in bars. (Into beer? Read my picks for the city’s best beer bars.)

2. “Psst! Where are the coffeeshops?”

While the Red Light District is a neighborhood known for a specific kind of “sultry sin,” other vices like coffeeshops are spread out around Amsterdam like other shops. Just under 300 coffeeshops are scattered throughout the city, most of them within the city center in all directions. Just walk around and look for the signs that read “coffeeshop” (NOT “cafe”), and that’s your spot. (Confused by the “coffeeshop” vs “cafe” distinction? We can clear it up.)

Pancakes in Amsterdam are not gluten-free.

It’s packed with gluten. Photo: Anneh632

3. “Do you have gluten-free pancakes?”

The latest health diets and specialty eating fads are just picking up on the European continent. While a few shelves in supermarkets may be friendly to non-dairy drinkers, gluten-free foodies and veg heads, restaurants are a different story. Expect a few vegetarian options when eating out, but don’t push it. Gluten-free pancakes? I don’t think so. However, if you are seriously into pancakes, here are three joints with great cakes.

4. “I’ll have a glass of tap water.”

I don’t know why, but most European cities are SO not into H2O handouts. (Paris is a notable exception!) Cafe owners are annoyed with the request, servers are confused, and customers are disappointed when they’re either turned down or met with a measly four-ounce kid’s size cup of water.

Solution: Keep a bottle in your bag at all times, and refill in the bathroom sinks.

5. “Do you speak English?”

Like Scandinavia, the Benelux region is very fluent in English. Amsterdam, in particular, is a hub for international activity and tourism, and its cosmopolitan residents are bi- or even tri-lingual. For the Dutch, English is a cinch, so just approach conversation like normal. No need to ask.

6. “I’d like a doggy bag.”

The Dutch are familiar with the term because of American films, but they don’t put it into practice. If you want to order out, go specifically to restaurants that say “take away.” Otherwise, finish your meal. Here’s a list of some great snack joints that are especially good for late-night revelers.

Smoking Amsterdam

Amsterdam is a “smoke friendly” city. Photo: Heather-D

7. “Could you put that out?”

A ban on smoking inside was passed in The Netherlands in 2008. But this is a smoker-friendly country, and NEVER will you find an outdoor area with a nonsmoking sign. Expect whiffs of tobacco to be all around outdoors, from the streets to the cafe terraces and patios.

8. “Can I get cash back?”

As convenient as cash back can be at supermarkets and bars when paying with a debit card, the Netherlands just isn’t into it. Thankfully ATM machines are aplenty in Amsterdam, and fees to withdraw cash from a foreign bank account never exceed €5.

9. “They speak Danish here, right?”

For first-timers to Europe, and those “geographically challenged,” here’s the scoop: The Netherlands are Dutch and speak Dutch. Just above are the Danish living in Denmark, and the Germans next door speak “Deutsch” in the country they call “Deutschland.” Phew!

10. “Where is Manneken Pis?”

It’s in Brussels. Yes, I’m positive.

What would you NOT say in Amsterdam?

Have something to add to our list of phrases to avoid when visiting Amsterdam? Share with us in our comments section below.

About the author

About the author: Audrey Sykes hopped across the pond from the US eight years ago for a Masters degree in global journalism. Since then, she’s lived all over Europe, reporting and editing for music sites, snowboard mags, and travel media. She’s also the Amsterdam author for Party Earth, a guide to nightlife across Europe.

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4 Responses to “Amsterdam: 10 phrases that tourists should never say”

No gluten free pancakes? Well, then forget Amsterdam. =)

Mandi says:

This sounds like a most generic and stereotypical list. Especially for a place like Amsterdam. Plus, there are quiet a few lovely and delicious places for vegan and/or gluten free cuisine.

shoz says:

I hope true coeliacs in Amsterdam will not be denied their only therapeutic option: a gluten-free diet. Otherwise, the city can risk losing its enviable appeal as a tourist-friendly destination and worse, coeliacs’ health can be seriously compromised.

Rene Crusto says:

Oh just smoke a bowl and chill!

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