Firstly everyone in Amsterdam speaks English, and many people will speak it
better than you do. A large portion of the population of Amsterdam is English
speaking, English is better accepted in Amsterdam than the rest of the country,
but everywhere it is well known.
In the entire country you can expect that anyone who is intelligent and between
the ages of 16 and 50 will speak English well. Before WW2 the Dutch were very
pro-Germany. Obviously since the war they don't like the Germans as much and
the culture is very much in favour of England and America.
I have been told that to pass high school in The Netherlands you must pass
English (a very stringent oral test - one of my friends is having difficulty
passing this but I have no problems speaking to him), or two other languages
(suggested French and German). If you are skilled enough at languages that
you can learn both French and German as well as your native language then
learning English should not be that difficult. Students who are not skilled at
languages are simply forced to learn English.
Any English language movie or TV show that is aimed at audiences older than 12
will not be dubbed and will have sub-titles. This is a good way for us to learn
Dutch words, and presumably it helps children here learn English if only by
providing extra incentive. When a movie is likely to appeal to both young and
old audiences then the cinema operators will either use two halls or they will
have different times for the dubbed version and the subtitled version. If
watching such a movie then make sure you see the right version!
As a general rule, if you look lost or confused then people will start speaking
English to you, if you look like you know what you are doing then they will
Saving Money on Travel
When in a foreign country it's always a good idea to try and fit in with what
the locals do, especially good when it comes to money in The Netherlands. ;)
The first way of saving money is on travel. There are three forms of public
transport, trains, tram/bus/metro, and taxis. Trains are operated by a company
called NS, see below for a map of their lines. Trains are the cheapest
way of travelling long distances, but for shorter distances metro, trams, or
buses are cheaper. There are several train stops around Amsterdam, but you can
use metro, tram, or buses instead. However trains offer return tickets compared
to the hourly tickets from bus/tram/metro and in some situations where you
strictly want a straight return journey they may be cheaper (TODO - fill in
prices of sample journeys).
Now for catching a tram or bus you can buy a ticket when you get on (NB not all
trams allow this and no metros allow this), when you do so you'll pay about
twice as much money as everyone else pays for their tickets. The Dutch system
for paying for tram/bus/metro (they all use the same tickets) is called a
strippenkaart, the literal translation is "strips card", it is a
cardboard ticket divided into 15 or 45 strips. A 1 hour journey takes a minimum
of 2 strips, more strips for greater distances (ask the driver or conductor
for details). The strippenkaarts are much cheaper than buying a ticket for each
journey, it can be less than half the price! Also when you come to the end of
a kaart you can use one strip on the old kaart with one strip on the new kaart
for the same journey. Another possibility is having two people share a kaart, if
you are travelling with a friend (and you are both travelling the same distance)
then you can stamp it twice and share the kaart. If you have two or three people
sharing the kaart then a 45 strip could be used in as little as two days, so
it's worth-while buying the big kaart and getting the biggest discount.
For trams there are two types of tram, the conducteur tram and the ones
without conductors. If the tram has no conductor then there are machines
provided to stamp your kaart (as there are for metros). If the tram is waiting
at the end of the line when you get on, don't stamp your ticket until it is
about to move. The machines measure time in 15 minute intervals, if you stamp
it just after an interval starts (you can hear a klunk sound from the machine)
then you get an extra 15 minutes of travel - this is important if you want to
go to a restaurant for dinner and then go somewhere else afterwards.
The next issue is taxis, at some of the bigger stations (notably not Amsterdam
Centraal station) you can get trein taxis. These are taxis run through
the train system that cost E3.50 per journey, which
is considerably cheaper than regular taxis (~E3 before the taxi starts
moving). Trein taxis are paid for by ticket (the driver will not accept cash),
and the tickets are available through the station, often at the same place as
where you buy train tickets, but somethimes through a separate booth. The
down-side to trein-taxis is that they want to get 4 passengers in their car to
make it profitable and will often wait 15 minutes for enough passengers. If you
want to catch a trein-taxi to the station then you must purchase a ticket in
advance, tickets are valid for the year (I am not sure whether they are valid
until Dec 31 or until one year from the purchase date).
Utrecht Centraal and Eindhoven stations are good for trein taxis and the wait
there will probably be small, elsewhere expect a long wait (but you have the
choice to pay more for a regular taxi).
Saving Money While Shopping
The Dutch are really into recycling. In most English-speaking countries you
expect shops to freely and liberally give away plastic bags without regard to
environmental issues. But here the supermarkets will charge you for bags. So
the thing to do is take your own bags when visiting a supermarket, and to make
sure that you get a bag from any shop that offers free bags! A good shop to get
bags from is the American Book Center, that
is the best place to buy English-language books and magazines in The
Netherlands, and if you buy enough of their products (E50 or more) then they'll
offer you a free linen carry bag which is excellent for carrying your shopping.
Copyright © 2002, 2006 Russell
Coker and Faye Coker, may be distributed freely.