Amsterdam, Netherlands is a bustling city in Central Europe with high-tech facilities, convenient transportation and multilingual residents. Its business savvy dates back to the Dutch East India Company, considered being the world’s first multinational corporation that made the Netherlands rich during the Golden Age of the 17th century. Today banking and financial services, logistics and engineering, as well as international trade make Amsterdam a major European center for commerce.
Amsterdam Business Basics
North American business travelers will find much in common with the Dutch culture, making it comfortable to do business in Amsterdam. Dutch is the official language, but most business is conducted in English. Many Dutch are fluent in French and German as well. A handshake is the accepted form of business greeting, although kissing three times on alternate cheeks (left-right-left) is a traditional Dutch greeting for more familiar business partners.
Travel Maestro tip: Follow their lead and respond in kind. You should stand when being introduced to someone and use your acquaintance’s title and last name until they suggest differently. Business cards are used as they are in North America and are likely to be in English; there’s no need to have yours translated to Dutch. Making appointments for business meetings several days to even weeks ahead is expected. Being on time is important, although in a city where boats have priority over vehicular traffic, “the bridge was open” is a common excuse for being late. Most business negotiations take place in an office. Lunch or dinner may be part of the meeting, but meals are typically considered a break from business or a celebration of an agreement. Meal times are similar to typical North American dining times.
Travel Maestro tip: Unless you are specifically invited to be someone’s guest, go “Dutch” and pay for yourself. As a general rule, tipping is not expected as hotel, restaurant and taxi bills include a service charge; however, it’s normal to round up to the next euro and it’s acceptable to leave about 10% for outstanding service. Value-added tax (VAT) can be refunded to non-European travelers with the appropriate paperwork, but only on unused goods.
Travel Maestro tip: You can only claim your refund at your exit point from the EU, so if you visit multiple EU countries, claim the VAT refund as you depart the last one.
Amsterdam Sightseeing After Work
Amsterdam is a very compact, walk able city ringed with concentric canals, but to get around like a local, rent a bicycle. Dam Square is at the center and is a lively meeting place for tourists and locals where you’ll find street performers and artists, as well as the Royal Palace and National Monument. East of Dam Square is the colorful Red Light District or De Wallen, the oldest part of the city known internationally for its sex trade. You can take a guided tour or wander (and gape) on your own, but TM tip: Don’t take pictures if you want your camera – and you – to stay out of the canal!
If you do no other sightseeing in Amsterdam, be sure to visit the Anne Frank House the tiny attic museum where the young Jewish girl and her family spent two years in hiding from the Nazis during WWII.
Travel Maestro tip: Avoid summer crowds by visiting after 7pm. A canal boat ride is a good way to see a lot of the historic city’s monuments and gabled architecture in a short time.
Travel Maestro tip: If you have a whole day, get a day pass and hop-on-hop-off at 14 stops of interest. Another popular Amsterdam tour is the self-guided Heineken Experience through the original 1867 brewery that includes complimentary samples of the Dutch beer. Amsterdam has museums devoted to both famous and infamous themes. The Rijksmuseum has a huge collection of Dutch masterworks, including Rembrandt’s The Night Watch; the Stedelijk Museum houses a wide range of contemporary art, including Cezanne, Picasso and Matisse; the Van Gogh Museum showcases hundreds of paintings by Van Gogh and his contemporaries. Other museums such as the Erotic Museum and the Hash, Marihuana & Hemp Museum in the Red Light District speak to a more, um, distinctive interest.
If business takes you to Amsterdam, make time to enjoy this scenic city’s cultural, culinary and shopping opportunities.