The Netherlands has some of the best 'tap water' in the world. It is even considered to be of similar or better quality than natural mineral or spring water and is distributed to every household and controlled by 'water authorities'. Food either bought in a supermarket or eaten at a restaurant shouldn't pose any problem either. The health care system is up to par with the rest of Europe and most cities have hospitals where usually most of the staff speaks English at least all medical staff. In general, it's a case of common sense.
In summer, open air recreational mainly fresh water swimming areas might suffer from the notorious blue algae, a rather smelly cyanobacteria which when it dies, releases toxins into the water. When these occur, a signpost at the entrance to the area or near the water should tell you so by stating something like "waarschuwing: blauwalg". If in doubt, ask someone.
When walking or camping in forests and dunes be aware of ticks and tick-carrying diseases such as Lyme disease. It is advisable to wear long sleeves and to put trousers into your socks.
Prositution in the Netherlands has been legalized to a certain degree but even when endulging into these practices at brothels or other locations in the Netherlands where sex is sold do always use a condom since STD's are still a problem in this industry.
The national language in the Netherlands is Dutch. It's a charming, lilting language punctuated by phlegm-trembling glottal gs not in the south and schs also found, for example, in Arabic. Dutch, especially in spoken form, is partially intelligible to someone who knows other Germanic languages especially German and Frisian, and you might be able to get along at least partially in these languages if spoken slowly.
Besides Dutch, several other languages are spoken in the Netherlands, in the eastern provinces of Groningen, Overijsel, Drenthe and Gelderand people speak a local variety of Low Saxon Grunnegs or Tweants for example. In the southern province of Limburg the majority speaks Limburgish, a language unique in Europe because of its use of pitch and tone length to distinguish words for example: 'Veer' with a high tone means 'we', while the same word with a low tone means 'four'.
Officially, the Netherlands is bilingual, as Frisian is also an official language. Frisian is the closest living language to English. Despite its status as official language, it is spoken almost exclusively in the province of Friesland. Other forms of Frisian are also spoken by small minorities in Germany. When travelling through Friesland you will come across many roadsigns in two languages similar to Wales and South Tyrol. This is also the case in southern Limburg. Everybody speaks Dutch, but the Frisians are so protective of the minority language that ordering a beer in it might just get you the next one free. In areas bordering Germany, German is widely spoken. However, outside of the eastern provinces, a good amount of people especially amongst the younger generation can also speak basic German too. French will be understood by some as well, especially the older generations. Immigrant languages are prominent in urban areas, they include Turkish, Arabic, Sranan-Tongo Surinam and Papiamento Netherlands Antilles.
"They all speak English there" is quite accurate for the Netherlands. Education from an early age in English and other European languages mostly German and French makes the Dutch some of the most fluent polyglots on the continent. Oblivious travelers to the major cities should be able to make their way without learning a word of Dutch. Dealing with seniors or finding yourself in a family atmosphere, however, will probably require learning a bit of the native tongue.
Foreign television programmes and films are almost always shown in their original language with subtitles. Only children's programmes are dubbed into Dutch.
gay and lesbian travelers
As mentioned above, the Netherlands is quite liberal when it comes to homosexuality and by far is considered to be one of the gay-friendliest countries in the world. The Netherlands has a reputation of being the first country to recognise same-sex marriage, and openly displaying your orientation wouldn't cause much upset in the Netherlands. However, even a gay friendly country like the Netherlands has room for some criticisms of homosexuality, but this varies depending on where one travels. Regardless, with violence and discrimination against gays being rare as well as the legal status of same-sex marriage in the Netherlands, this country may be considered a gay utopia and should be safe for gays and lesbians except sometimes in religious neighbourhoods in the major Dutch cities, after big football matches or in demonstrations if there is a violent attitude in general.
Gapers Black Moors Head
Gaper form Van der Pigge shop in Haarlem
Usually the head is of a black or Moor man. This is because in the 15-17th centuries, pharmacists would travel through the country with an assistant trying to sell their medicines. Before an audience the pharmacist would give a pill to his assistant. These were often Moors. The assistant would act better.So pharmacies became known by the assistant's head.Today some bars and restaurants are named after Gapers. There is also a large collections of them in the The Netherlands Drugstore Museum in Maarssen.
The Netherlands are renowned for their liberal drug policy. While technically still illegal because international treaties, personal use of soft drugs are regulated by the Ministry of Justice under an official policy of gedogen; literally this means to accept or tolerate, legally it is a doctrine of non-prosecution on the basis that action taken would be so highly irregular as to constitute selective prosecution.
Note that this does not mean the Dutch are all permanently high. In fact drug usage is much lower in the Netherlands than it is in countries with more restrictive policies. Much of the clientÃ¨le of the coffeeshops see below is in fact tourists. Be sure you are among like-minded people before lighting up a spliff.
You are allowed to buy and smoke small doses 5 g or less of cannabis or hash. You must be 18 or older to buy. For this you have to visit a coffeeshop, which are are abundant in most larger towns. Coffeeshops are not allowed to sell alcohol. Minors those under 18 are not allowed inside. Coffeeshops are prohibited from explicit advertising, so many use the Rastafari red-yellow-green colors to hint at the products available inside, while others are more discreet and sometimes almost hidden away from plain view. In the border provinces of Limburg, North Brabant and Zeeland it is now only possible to buy cannabis products in a coffeeshop if you've got a wietpas "weed pass" from may 2012. Only residents of The Netherlands can get a pas! This measure will be introduced in an effort to combat drug related crime and nuisance.
Beware that cannabis sold in the Netherlands is often stronger than varieties outside, so be careful when you take your first spliff. Be particularly wary of cannabis-laced pastries "space cakes" as it's easy to eat too much by accident — although there are also unscrupulous shops that sell space cakes with no weed at all. Wait at least one hour after eating!
Hallucinogenic "magic" mushrooms, once legal, are banned as of December 1st, 2008. However, "magic truffles", which contain the same active ingredients as magic mushrooms are still technically legal and are sold in some Amsterdam head shops.
It is forbidden to drive any motorized vehicle while impaired, which includes driving under the influence of both illegal and legal recreational or prescribed drugs such as cocaine, ecstasy, cannabis and mushrooms as well as alcohol, and medication that might affect your ability to drive.
Buying soft drugs from dealers in the streets is always illegal and is commonly discouraged. The purchase of other hard drugs such as ecstasy, cocaine, or processed/dried mushrooms is still dealt with by the law. However, often people who are caught in possession of small amounts of illegal drugs for personal use are not prosecuted.
The act of consuming any form of drugs is legal, even if possession is not. If you are seen taking drugs, you may theoretically be arrested for possession, but not for use. This has one important effect; do not hesitate to seek medical help if you are suffering from bad effects of drug use, and inform emergency services as soon as possible of the specific illegal drugs you have taken. Medical services are unconcerned with where you got the drugs, they will not contact the police, their sole intention is to take care of you in the best way possible.
At some parties, a "drug testing desk" is offered, where you can have your synthetic drugs tested. This is mainly because many pills contain harmful chemicals in addition to the claimed ingredients; for example, many pills of "ecstasy" MDMA will also contain speed amphetamines. Some pills don't even contain any MDMA at all. The testing desks are not meant to encourage drug use, since venue owners face stiff fines for allowing drugs in their venues, but they are tolerated or 'gedoogd' since they mitigate the public health risks. Note: the desk won't return the drugs tested.
Please note that there are significant risks associated with drug use, even in The Netherlands' liberal climate
while marijuana bought at coffeeshops is unlikely to be hazardous, hard drugs like cocaine and heroin and synthetic drugs like ecstasy are still illegal and unregulated. These hard drugs are likely to be in some way contaminated, especially when bought from street dealers.
some countries have legislation in place that make it illegal to plan a trip for the purpose of commiting illegal acts in another jurisdiction, so you might be apprehended in your home country after having legally smoked pot in The Netherlands.
The international calling code for the Netherlands is 31. The outbound international prefix is 00, so to call the US, substitute 001 for +1 and for the UK 00 44 for +44.
The cellular phone network in the Netherlands is GSM 900/1800. The cell phone networks are operated by KPN, Vodafone and T-Mobile; other operators use one of these 3 networks. The networks are high quality and cover every corner of the Netherlands. With the exception of some low-end service providers, all mobile operators support GPRS. KPN, Vodafone and T-Mobile offer UMTS and HSDPA service in almost all parts of the country.
There are few public phone booths left in the Netherlands. They are mostly found at train stations. Telfort booths accept coins, whereas most KPN booths accept only prepaid cards or credit cards. Some new public phones have been installed which accept coins again.Be aware of public phones in a more public area as well as the same types in a more public-private area, where tarrifs per unit or amount of calling time can differ.
National Directory Inquiries can be reached -since 2007- on 1888, 1850 and various other 'Inquiry-operators'. Rates differ by operator, but are usually rather high, more than €1 per call, as well as per-second charges.
International Directory Inquiries can be reached on 0900 8418 Mon-Fri 8AM-8PM, â¬0.90 per minute.
Phone numbers can also be found on the Internet, free of charge, on Telefoonboek.nl (http://www.telefoonboek.nl/), De Telefoongids.nl (http://www.detelefoongids.nl/) or Nationale Telefoongids.nl (http://www.nationaletelef...).
0800 numbers are toll-free and for 09xx numbers are charged at premium rates. Mobile phones have numbers in the 06 range, and calls to cell phones are also priced at higher rates.
If you're bringing your own GSM cell phone, using your existing plan to call or receive calls whilst in The Netherlands can be very expensive due to "roaming" charges. Receiving phone calls on a cell phone using a Dutch SIM card is free in most cases; charges apply if you're using a foreign SIM card, as the call is theoretically routed through your country of origin. It's cheaper to buy a pay-as-you-go SIM card to insert into your GSM phone, or even to buy a very cheap pay-as-you-go card+phone bundle. For example: lyca (http://www.lycamobile.nl/...), lebara (http://www.lebara.nl/) and ortel (http://www.ortelmobiel.nl/) are providers that specialize in cheap rates to foreign countries. (http://www.amatus.nl/) targets those traveling through multiple countries.
To enjoy cheap international calls from the Netherlands you can use low-cost dial-around services such as Qazza (http://www.qazza.nl), BelBazaar (http://www.belbazaar.nl/), pennyphone (http://www.pennyphone.nl/), SlimCall (http://www.slimcall.nl/), telegoedkoop (http://www.telegoedkoop.nl/), beldewereld (http://www.beldewereld.nl/), teleknaller (http://www.teleknaller.nlor) Wereldwijdbellen (http://www.wereldwijdbellen.nl). Dial-around services are directly available from any landline in the Netherlands. No contract, no registration is required. Most dial-around services offer USA, Canada, Western Europe and many other countries at the price of a local call so you can save on your phone expenses easily. They also work from public payphones.
Internet cafÃ©s can be found in most cities, usually they also provide international calling booths. Many public libraries provide Internet access.Wireless Internet access using Wi-Fi is becoming increasingly popular and is available in many hotels, pubs, stations and on Schiphol, either for free, or at extortionate prices through one of the national "networks" of hotspots.
The Dutch are among the most informal and easy-going people in Europe, and there are not many strict social taboos to speak of. It is unlikely that Dutch people will be offended simply by your behaviour or appearance. In fact it is more likely that visitors themselves will be offended by overly direct conversation. Nevertheless, the standards for overt rudeness and hostility are similar to those in other western European countries. If you feel you are deliberately being treated offensively, then you probably are.
The exception to this openness is personal wealth. It is considered vulgar to for instance reveal the height of your salary, so asking somebody about this will be considered nosy and will probably just get you an evasive answer. Likewise, it's not advisable to be forceful about your own religion or to assume a Dutch person you've met is a Catholic or a Calvinist, since most people do not adhere to any faith at all. In urban areas it is not considered rude to ask somebody about this, but you'll generally be expected to be entirely tolerant of whatever the other person believes and not attempt to proselytize in any way. Openly religious behaviour is usually met with bewilderment and ridicule rather than hostility. An exception is the Dutch Bible Belt which runs from Zeeland into South Holland, Utrecht and Gelderland, and consists of towns with many strong Dutch Reformed Christians, who are more likely to be insulted by different religious views. Openly nationalist sentiments are likewise viewed with some suspicion among the general public, though there are a number of nationalistic celebrations like Queen's Day Koninginnedag, April 30th and during football championships. Mostly though, these nationalistic celebrations are mostly used as an excuse to party together rather than being true "nationalistic" events.