Leaving the curtains open and other quirks of being Dutch

You can explore Dutch-ness by studying old paintings, wandering cobbled streets and sitting in cafes, but actually trying to be Dutch is more difficult. You'll have to leave your hotel curtains open for a start. Yes, even at night, when you'll feel as exposed as the ladies of Amsterdam's red-light district.

The Dutch never close their curtains. You can stickybeak through their windows into kitchens and living rooms, as if you're a theatregoer watching actors cooking pasta or doing their homework. Sometimes the rooms are empty, but pregnant with expectation. Someone will be back soon to pick up a discarded newspaper, arrange a bowl of tulips or eat pickled herring.

It feels voyeuristic, but the Dutch don't care. As you sail along canals you might pass people in underpants in back gardens, barbecuing sausages or sunbathing. They aren't abashed at being spotted. They'll wave at you, pink flesh wobbling. Try that from your hotel window and you'll be a little bit Dutch.

Learn the art of cycling with insouciance across cobbles, through busy intersections and along canal edges devoid of railings. When you've mastered that, try again while balancing a child, a bunch of flowers or shopping bags. You've become truly Dutch when you can do all that and use your mobile at the same time too. In a side wind from the North Sea, it takes the skills of an acrobat.

Practice the art of getting excited by the sun. At its faintest sign you should rush out, fling off your clothes and lie in a park as the cold pimples your flesh. To be Dutch is to spend life outdoors, escaping your tiny house. Sociability is a consequence of cramped living. Your friends won't fit into your living room without knocking knees, so best meet in a park or cafe terrace. Plan ahead, though. The Dutch are obsessive planners, and even friends apply two weeks in advance for a free slot in the diary.

A dense population living in tight proximity requires planning, discipline and a certain level of tolerance. The tolerance only goes so far, as you'll discover if you attempt to queue jump. Everything has its place, and is properly done. If you feel the urge to tidy up before you check out of your hotel, you'll know this nation has had its effect. That's how to be Dutch.