An American’s Reflections on Dutch Hospitality


My American friend is travelling to Amsterdam for work and we meet after 35 years. He used to be our exchange student back in 1981, staying with us for the summer. It’s great to catch up and find out his views on Dutch hospitality. This is what he wrote on the train home.


Booking online often feels like Roulette and it helps if you do not take yourself too seriously. In books and films, you read and see that people are overcoming great adversity. But in life, often it is the day to day difficulties that bring one to the brink of apoplectic rage, madness or some witches brew of the twain.

Convenience, lack of effort, and no time wasted are the hallmarks of Americans’ expectation when they travel, when they stay in hotels and in all that is paid for accommodation. We are a nation that is born impatient, perhaps that genetic predisposition brought us to the New World. Or perhaps these are all rubbishy cliches, not worth the digital dots and o’s they are taking up on this multimedia device.

When we stay in any American Hotel, one of two scenarios is expected if the lodging is anything above a Motel 8. Either the receipt is slipped under the door in the wee hours in a tiny envelope, all printed and nice. Or the ‘folio’ *(a very fancy word for a receipt, usually in a pdf format) is emailed directly to your work or home account, depending on where the lodging was booked.


Daniel on  train


For us, hospitality means simple transparent friendliness, but not overdone comeraderie. A waiter may ask if you need anything, but not interrupt the meal constantly to see how you are feeling, how the food is, or other more narcissistic, ‘them’ focussed questions. If the answer to a question is an expected compliment, then perhaps the question is unwarranted. We call this fishing for praise, and everyone can see it.

The point is, when you spend money, even your company’s money for something, you expect value for your effort and cost. Time is money, quite literally. So if you need to spend time checking out of the hotel when they already have your information and credit card on file, this is an added expense because it is a demand made on your time.

The only hotel I have stayed with in the last few years that requires that you check out in person is the SOFITEL in NY. Maybe because they are a French owned chain? It seems very unnecessary, very 20th century, and very rude.

In checking into hotels, the same is true, you expect to NEVER wait on a line if you staying at a decent hotel. At 3 star and above hotel properties notice the guests. If more than one person is waiting, a manager or other person will come over with an ipad, or invite you back to their office and simply check you in.

There is a very clear emphasis on getting the details handled with seeming effortless efficiency, even though it is pretty clear if you look beneath the surface that there is a method to it all.

So what happens is, in the absence of things to complain about, you tend to focus on the things you like or at least develop a positive to neutral outlook towards the experience. AKA, you focus on things other than the lodging, which becomes a holding vessel to transparently contain, but not negatively tint whatever your other purposes in a destination might be.

And then, there are those other experiences that go less well. I have learned that I am still capable of becoming quite irritable but if a hotel or other venue is poorly run, then how your complaint is handled usually will fall under the overall rubrik of the organizational disfunction.

In other words, you will never win. The people there are stuck in the problem, they will tell you they cannot help you, that is the signature of a disfunctional business, organization or enterprise. No one holds themselves accountable either for mistakes, problems or even more alarming, for finding win win solutions with others. Everyone is powerless. No one is EMPOWERED. It is so depressing interfacing with these individuals that I generally give up.

Case in point: I went online to book a night at a hotel in Amsterdam recommended by a friend. The website to book the hotel was confusing. It listed rooms and to inquire on booking availability. I was interested in the availability of several rooms, so I clicked on them. Then, I thought I would choose the refundable room, a deluxe twin.

A few days later just before my trip I realized I had inadvertently booked and paid for 3 rooms. Yikes. I called the hotel immediately to rectify the situation, explaining this was an error. After numerous 3- and 5 -minute-hold periods, I was told that they would graciously refund ONE of the rooms, but not the two more expensive ones. Since it was several days before the trip and they would not want an empty room, would they, I asked if they would simply show me the basic human decency of accepting my apology. No dice.

“We are unable to comply with this request, we are not allowed to do this,” the manager told me. Then I sighed and said, “very well, whatever”. She seemed surprised I was still booking the room as she asked me if I was still coming. “Do I have a choice? You have charged me for two rooms, the least I can do is occupy one”.

When I arrived at the hotel, and explained the situation, I was told by the person at front desk they had no power to alter a booking, regrettably. They did not offer to put me in touch with someone who could.

When it was time to leave, there was a line of people. Apparently to pay an additional tourist tax. And any other meals or what nots. I went to the restaurant to pay up, asking if they could just check me out. No, they had no power to do this, the restaurant was separate from the hotel. But they would be happy to try to find the manager.

No need, I am out of here.

Ouch. Let’s hope your train trip will be a party:


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