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Rick Steves’ Europe: Flabbergasted in a Haarlem B&B

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I’m hanging out in the living room of my B&B in the Amsterdam suburb of Haarlem with my hosts Hans and Marjet.

Staying in a B&B saves money. As a bonus, I find that B&B hosts are often great students of intercultural human nature and love to share their findings. They give me an intimate glimpse of a culture I couldn’t get from the front desk of a hotel.

This is certainly true of Hans and Marjet, who encourage guests to make themselves thoroughly at home. And in their living room, with its well-worn chairs, crowded books, funky near-antiques, and an upright piano littered with tattered music, it’s easy to feel at home.

I’m Hans’ pet Yankee. He’s on a personal crusade to get me to relax, to slow down. To Hans, I am the quintessential schedule-driven, goal-oriented American.

Hans provides more insight into the cultural differences of their guests. “We Dutch are in the middle,” he says. “We are efficient like the Germans — that’s why there are many American companies here in Holland. But we want to live like the French.”

“And crack jokes like the English,” adds Marjet. “Everybody here admires the British sense of humor. We watch BBC for the comedies.”

 

Hans sees cultural differences in their guests’ breakfast manners, too. “Americans like hard advice and to be directed. Europeans — especially the Germans — they know what they want. The French take three days to defrost. But Americans talk and make friends quickly. Europeans, even with no language differences, keep their private formal island at the breakfast table.”

Pointing to their two kitchen tables, he continues. “If there are Germans sitting here and Americans there, I break the ice. Introducing the Americans to the Germans, I say, ‘It’s OK, they left their guns in the States.’ We Dutch are like the Germans — but with a sense of humor.”

“Thankfully, we get mostly Americans staying in our B&B,” says Hans.

“We’d be happy to fill our house with only Americans,” says Marjet. “Americans are easy to communicate with. They’re open. They taught me to express myself, to say what I really think.”

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