Almer S. Tigelaar

A Little Bit of Everything


Many of the differences between the United States and the Netherlands are surprisingly small. After all: both are “western” nations. However, careful observation does reveal a number of them both small and large. Here’s a handful which are true at least in the Pittsburgh area and some of which likely extend to the rest of the United States.

Eating Habits

I’ve already discussed some food aspects at length. However, let’s take a look at habitual differences with respect to eating. When given a meal Dutch people usually wait till everyone has a plate and only then start eating: there’s a ‘synchronization’ point. In contrast: Americans start eating as soon as something is put in front of them. Furthermore, Americans generally eat with only one utensil: spoon or fork, unless they are cutting, and rest their other hand in their lap, something which is considered rude in Dutch culture. People in the Netherlands commonly use both knife and fork while eating and keep both of their hands above the table at all times.

Conveyor-belt Style Food

The American contribution to the world cuisine is “fast food”. It is amazing, but also depressing to see how many fast food chains there actually are, many more than in continental Europe, it’s truly a Fast Food Nation. Most of these fast food restaurants transform traditional cooking into a conveyor-belt style chain where either each person completes some part of the task of preparing the final meal, or where one person prepares your food item while moving along bins with ingredients.


Pittsburgh has a curb-side recycling program and encourages its citizens to split their waste in non-recyclable and recyclable stuff. The latter includes everything that can be recycled, including leaf waste for which we have a separate bin in the Netherlands. There is no separation of different types of waste in public waste bins as is common in for example Germany. However, on the University terrain bins of this type can be found in some places.

You can get money back for recycling plastic bottles. However, I’ve not yet come across the automated bottle processing systems prolific in the Netherlands. Furthermore, there’s a lot of plastic waste being generated as a result of coated cups, take-out cutlery and bags. While many systems are in place which enable recycling. It’s not consistent and overall Americans don’t really seem to care about recycling at all. If you’re European: there’s certainly no need to feel environmentally guilty compared to what is happening here in the United States.


You probably won’t find cheques in the Netherlands unless you are at an archaeological excavation, but they are one of the primary means of payment here after cash and credit card. Interestingly, even debit cards are made so that you can use them as a credit card. Internet banking is available and works fairly well. However, an “on-line” bank transfer boils down to the bank mailing a cheque to the recipient on your behalf. Again: the American banking system doesn’t exactly sparkle modernity.

Buses and Public Transport

The bus system in Pittsburgh is decent, although not exactly reliable or punctual. Unless you have a pass, you pay cash to the driver and you have to pay exact. There’s a machine that collects your bills and coins in front of the bus. Although I am not a big proponent of the OV Chip Card, the cash payment system here is inefficient and cumbersome. People enter and exit buses using the front door, rarely does the back door get used. This doesn’t really make sense to me either. Many of the buses are also equipped with bike carrying racks, located at the front of the bus, on which one or two bikes can be mounted. Although this is a nice service, I would not quickly put my bike at the front of a bus.

Trains are not a very popular mode of transport, since they take very long to get anywhere. The reason being that passenger trains don’t have a high priority on the rail network in contrast to freight trains. Most people resort to either airplanes or cars for any type of travel. Car usage has historically been heavily promoted, since a large part of the American economy used to rely on it.

Streets and Cars

The streets are somewhat wider, but that’s also because there are no separate parking bays: cars are almost always parked on both sides of the road on nearly all streets. Whilst this occurs in the Netherlands too, parking bays are probably more common.

Traffic lights in the United States are consistently on the opposite side of the street, while in most of Europe they are more commonly on the same side. I feel that opposite placement is actually better since this makes the light easier to see when it’s high up.

The cars are bigger: you will not see many compact cars driving around here. This is also caused by the fact that the driving distances are generally longer and the fact that gasoline is somewhere between two and two-and-a-half times cheaper here compared to the Netherlands. As far as I could find there’s no vehicle excise tax based on the weight or pollution of vehicles which would also explain why Americans prefer large cars: there’s no disincentive for owning one. However, there’s a road and fuel tax system.

As far as brand names are concerned, it seems French cars are not popular. There are very few cars that carry the Peugot or Citroen brand: I haven’t actually seen any. However, German and Japanese cars are prolific: BMW, Volkswagen, Audi, Honda, Toyota, and of course American car brands like Chevrolet, GMC, Ford and Jeep. Of these American brands only Ford is popular in Europe.


Bikes are not very common: I have had people take pictures of me because I was riding a bike. Nevertheless, I have been told that their popularity is rising. Many bikers are of the “sports” kind and not of the “commute” kind. Bikes are a bit more common among the student population, but nowhere near as common as in the Netherlands. Furthermore, there are no separate traffic lights for bikes and there are only occasional bike lanes. On some streets it is certainly safer to use the sidewalk for biking, even if it sometimes annoys pedestrians 🙂

Finally, they do not have Saint Nicholas here. I guess the United States is just a bit too far from Spain. Can’t have it all.

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