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Getting by and getting information on how to get by in the Netherlands is as easy as saying hello. Except for a few isolated farmers, mutes and the plain stubborn, almost everyone in the country speaks English. Quite often they’ll speak it better than you do.

The Dutch are a civil bunch and will help tourists with directions. Their help might not stretch much beyond pointing you toward whichever authority it is that has the info you need, but what do you expect in a society where everything is so well run?

Still, the Dutch are pleasant and courteous enough and they can be forgiven for not showing that much interest in the presence of a foreigner. After decades of watching travelers cross the border to frequent the coffee shops and get outrageously stoned, they’ve seen it all. And whilst they may not wholeheartedly approve, they tolerate it – that’s the Dutch way, remember?

Most travelers have a hard time escaping Amsterdam’s gravitational pull. This is understandable given that Amsterdam is the most happening city in the country with enough culture and decadence to keep anyone entertained.

There is, however, a country beyond the outer city-limits and anyone spending more then a few days in the Netherlands would get a better idea of what Dutch life is by visiting another city. Den Haag (or The Hague), the administrative capital of the country, is only 45 minutes away by train. Utrecht, one of the biggest student cities, is about half an hour away. Or check out Maastricht’s Carnival in February or March – all you need is an original disguise and a strong liver.

In the summer jazz, techno and just plain old drinking festivals may be the excuse you need to jump on a train and see the country. The Den Haag Jazz festival (also called the North Sea jazz festival) and Pink Pop are amongst the most renowned summer festivals drawing thousands, the former to such a degree that they’ve now moved it to Rotterdam to accommodate the masses.

Contrary to what you might imagine, Holland does have a summer and from May until September there will even be days considered as hot. On these rare occasions finding and getting to the closest beach for a swim and a cold beer will become priority number one. The problem is, on week-ends especially, half of the 16 million people living in the Netherlands will be doing the exact same thing.

The other half of Holland’s 16 millions will rush to park and green patches for a picnic and sunbathe (that’s a constant). On a hot day the Vondelpark, Amsterdam’s biggest park, is packed with outdoors enthusiasts. Young and old, some come with there families, some with their friends, some to play Frisbee or football, others prefer passing a few spliffs around and sipping from a cold beer.

All is acceptable so long as smoke is not blown in people faces, the Frisbee isn’t thrown at anyone and you don’t spill your beer over the old folks. With the usual Dutch phlegmatic attitude, relatively quiet and respectful pot-heads and drunks will be more appreciated than sober and loud buffoons. Here we see the essence of the Dutch character where they say ‘Do as you please so long as you don’t bother me.’

Lastly, the Dutch can be a little touchy when it comes to discussing the performance of the national football team which has still never managed to win the world cup. You’ll get along much better if you agree that they’ve been plagued with bad luck rather than attribute their poor show to lack of talent.

Damien Leze