Easter is a major weekend for tourists invading Amsterdam. For a capital with roughly one million inhabitants, Amsterdam attracts 250,000 Chinese tourists a year, not to mention British Hen party-goers, who never fail to make an impression with their offensive language and equally offensive matching pink T-shirts/tutus,/playboy bunny ears/boas or baseball caps.
I’ve often chatted about this to Dutch friends: should tourists be forced to use separate bike lanes? I’m almost willing to pay taxes for it. If you’re Dutch or have lived here long enough, you’ll see tourists riding chaotically into traffic with little understanding of how city cycling works. To the untrained tourist eye, there are no real rules here—bikes simply go wherever they want, clanking their little bells to announce their arrival. But Amsterdam isn’t a sweet, innocuous Disneyland despite its charming, cobblestoned appearance; there are traffic deaths here, too.
The rules here are pretty wonderful when it comes to cyclists: they always have the right of way, can often go the wrong way down a one way street, and have cycle lanes separated from traffic, ensuring real safety. But there are still rules and the rule of logic always applies, like looking both ways for oncoming vehicles, especially those made of tin, rather than assuming they will graciously stop.
Of course when it comes to cycling the Dutch flaunt the rules. But that’s because they know them. They have an engrained knowledge of the rhythm of the road, have had minor skirmishes themselves growing up and so, can navigate the streets quickly, dodging red lights, pedestrians etc. And yes, they can also SMS, smoke cigarettes, walk their dogs and Google something while above spokes. But that ease comes from having grown up in a cycling culture their entire lives.
My Dutch boyfriend often leaves me behind in traffic. “Sorry, but I don’t wait for the lights to change” he once told me, weaving his way through oncoming traffic with the finesse of a conductor performing Beethoven’s Fifth. This sounds a bit arrogant, but whenever I try to follow, I nearly get hit. For all my cycling experience on the streets of Amsterdam, I still have to take it slower than the locals.
So this has been a weekend of dodging tourists on bikes, those yellow swarms that suddenly take over entire intersections while failing to see the lights have changed. I curse at them like a local, but perhaps I’m worse for seeing them reminds me of all the times I also cycled lackadaisically through the city, smashing into confused pedestrians or other cyclists.