Locals speak Dutch and although i don't know a single word and had no problem getting around. Touristy places, such as Museums or train station, have English-speaking people and even if you feel the need of asking some information to some local, Dutch usually are fluent in English.
No, gezellig is not a city anywhere. It is a state of mind and a way of describing an atmosphere that the Dutch create without thinking about it. If I were to translate gezellig into English, it would come out like or maybe, "Hey why are you in such a hurry to go somewhere all the time? Why don't you relax, take your coat off, and stay awhile. What's your rush?"
In a restaurant, gezellig would sound like this: "Come in, order dinner, but you won't ever get your check until you ask for it. We do not expect that you're in a hurry, and we'll think you're a little wierd if you are. Don't worry about constantly ordering something new -- we expect that you will sit there and talk amongst yourselves as long as you like, and we do not count drinks/hour. Just let us know if you need anything, and don't freak out if the waiter sits down at your table and joins the conversation. Just relax and enjoy yourself."
With just about everyone speaking English, you have no worries being understood in Amsterdam. You may find that some people speak German or/and French, but the majority will prefer English to these languages.
A common misconception (and a very insulting misconception indeed) is that Dutch and German are literally mutually intelligible. Be aware that any referrals to the similarity of the two languages and you are bound to upset at least someone, since the Dutch do not want to be characterised as "German". In addition, the two languages are not mutually intelligible, but Dutch speakers actually have to learn German at school.
A few useful words and phrases:
Hi - Hoi/Dag
Good bye - Dag
Yes - Ja
No - Nee
Thanks - Bedankt (B'dunked)
Sorry - Sorry (with rolled r's)
Excuse me - Pardon
Nice (tasty) - Lekker
Good day - Goedemorgen
Good evening - Goedenavond
Good night - Goedenacht
Of course - Natuurlijk / Zeker
Enjoy the meal! - Smakelijk eten! / Eet smakelijk!
Take Care! - Doe voorzichtig!
Have a nice day! - Een goede/fijne dag verder!
Although I tried to learn the basics before visiting....Dutch isn't the easiest to speak! I tried, but was interrupted with "Please! Stop butchering my language!!!" I have never been anywhere more friendly! People are willing to speak to Americans!! How novel!! Seriously, I was very impressed how polite everyone I came in contact was!! I wasn't expecting worse...just relieved I wasn't ever treated poorly because of my language skills!!!
I managed to pick up a good bit of vocabulary when I was in Amsterdam, but then again, I speak pretty good German so I was able to work my way through a menu and simple newspaper articles.
You're certainly not expected to be fluent in Dutch as a tourist, but just know a couple of phrases like "Dank U wel" for "thank you" is always appreciated.
Dutch as a language is quite similar to Afrikaans, and us, being South African (although English-speaking, not Afrikaans), can understand Dutch, but not speak it. This really helps when reading local info in Amsterdam, although most communication is in English.
It is always nice to 'listen' to the locals though and even nicer when one can understand what they are saying! Haha Our Afrikaans speaking skills certainly helped us around Amsterdam, but, as they cater for tourists very well, it is not that necessary to learn phrases in Dutch as one does when visiting other countries.
Well sometimes I get the feeling nobody does in Amsterdam. Often you are being addressed to in English. Especially coffeeshops (another example of how much they are only there for the tourists), tourist stores, restaurants etc. people tend to just talk English to you, and there's a good bet even the normal Dutch people just talk back in English.. easy does it.
Nontheless a bit of Dutch is always appreciated, no matter how well everybody speaks english, it's easier to fool a foreigner who cannot speak English than one who actually speaks a bit of Dutch, if only it is for the sympathy you get for trying!
Strolling along one of the canals in RLD I came across that sign, which clearly states its purpose in so many languages, including my native Polish. I was more than surprised. At this point I had already got used to the fact that nearly all public signs in Amsterdam are written in Dutch only, incomprehensible to non-native speakers like myself. (I did try to learn some phrases in Dutch but it was futile). Fair enough, in Poland we have a similar strategy, most signs are Polish only. What worried me a little, though, was my grocery shopping in Amsterdam. Whenever I wanted to buy something in a supermarket, especially some kind of fancy foods I didn't know, I couldn't understand what it was or what I was supposed to do with it, as most products had no information in English or any other language except Dutch. In Poland it's quite different. Sometimes it is hard to find information about the product in Polish, but it's always there in English, German, French, Spanish and Russian at least.
So here I was, standing in front of that exuberant, truly cosmopolitan sign, admiring, but also wishing quietly it was not 'nasiona konopii siewnych' that was being advertised with such erudition, but something more deserving perhaps. But this is just a matter of taste.
And one more thing about using English in Amsterdam; I confess that I haven't met a Dutchman who didn't speak English. And I had plenty of opportunities. My favourite example is this: on the second day of our stay we got a little lost in the city. Then homeless guy came up and offered help, initialy in Dutch. We shook our heads so he swaped to German. But since neither of us is very proficient in that language either, we asked him if he could speak English. He only smiled and swapped to English. Here I think of my native Poland again. We do have all products in the shop with information in a few languages. But if you ask an ordinary Pole about anything in English, you may not be as lucky as I was in Amsterdam.
Amsterdam is a very cosmopolitan city, in some ways pretty much anything goes. Be prepared for culture shock. However, I found dutch people to be warm and friendly. Most speak excellent English ! As always, a few words of the native language never go a miss. Dag is hello , totziens is goodbye, see you later, dank u ( u guessed ) ja= yes, nee= no. Hoeveel cost = how much ? waar is = where i s ? Finally, bicycles are a way of life here, may seem a little strange at first, don't get run over lol !
As a group, the Dutch are probably some of Europe's great multi-linguists. The kind folks at the TI office could probably give directions in about a million languages (and in the same sentence, no less). It's sure a humbling experience for those of us who can only speak one or two languages. One of my Dutch pals who lives in The Netherlands speaks English so well that he actually has the same American Midwestern accent that I do. If I didn't know better, I'd swear that he lived in Chicago.
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