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Cycling in Amsterdam

I moved to Amsterdam from the UK a few years ago. Even though I'm not originally from the UK, I'd lived there for many years and felt at home in London.

I moved to the Netherlands to take up a new job. I had never really considered leaving London before then, but I didn't want to limit myself so decided to give it a go.

I remember during my first months in Amsterdam, I felt very homesick and lonely. I had friendships built up for years in London and here I was starting all over again.

I remember not feeling so much that I fit in there. As days passed, I'd see or notice things happening in the city that didn't quite feel like me.

Cycling is everywhere in Amsterdam, but I didn't cycle then. I find that cyclists in this city act with such entitlement. They would cycle straight towards you even when you were on a footpath. They would cycle right past you when you had right of way to cross the street. They would shout at you and generally act like they owned these shared public spaces. It's often written that in Amsterdam, the cyclist is king but I wouldn't say they were benevolent rulers.

When I told someone I wasn't feeling at home so much, he said to me "you'll feel different when you cycle".

Some time after about a year of living here, a few new cycle hire schemes began in the city. The idea was that you could use an app to hire a bike, cycle, and then lock it up and leave it. I really liked the convenience of it: I could cycle from A to B without needing to cycle back from B to A.

So I slowly started to get used to cycling here. This picture is one of those bikes that I took one day, cycling to a new part of the city where I found some cool street art.

But after just a few months, these bikes started to be left all over the city by inconsiderate users and the council started to clamp down on them. They weren't considered very Dutch (every Dutch person owns at least one bike already) and were being reported as being for students, or tourists, or foreigners.

They complained that the bikes were being left everywhere, and while there was a problem, they were oblivious to the fact that in Amsterdam, all bikes are left everywhere.

The bikes started to be vandalised, with their barcodes being blacked out. I found one once with the words TOURIST SHIT written on it.

All of this was happening in the aftermath of the Netherlands General Election in 2017, where a far-right xenophobic party came second in the polls. The political sector did not bring them into the government, but, of course, the people did still vote for them to be the second most popular party.

Their xenophobic policies were being reflected somewhat in other parties' policies too. A certain intolernance to foreigners seemed to me to be rising. Local newspapers and media blamed Amsterdam's rising high rents on a growing foreign and "ex-pat" population. Nevermind that mostly the landlords are Dutch, or that there is a complex set of economic factors at play.

"It's all the foreigner's fault" seemed to be the mantra. At the same time, more and more reports appeared bemoaning tourism in the city: yet more foreigners.

The message seemed clear to me: if you're foreign, don't move, stay at home.

Amsterdam and the Netherlands had traditionally been seen as a tolerant, welcoming country but in my first few years, that's not entirely the feeling I've had. It's not awful by any means (and I'm privileged: I'm a young, white, European man) but I sense xenophobic undertones in lots of places.

Now I have a bike of my own. I enjoy cycling and how efficient it is. But I don't quite agree with the man who told me everything would be different: Amsterdam is not yet home.

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Tillhandahålls av Europeana Foundation