I'm planning a 4 weeks trip to the Netherlands in October 2014. I'm pretty sure of the places I want to see and I will probably make a few side trips to Belgium and Germany. I do have a few questions :
Tipping : yes (how much and who) or no?
What are the absolute "don't"? What little details would trip up a Canadian tourist? The first time I went to France, I was surprised that I had to take back the subway ticket in Paris. We didn't do that in Montreal at the time.
I don't speak Dutch but I should be able to learn a few key phrased by then.
I think most of the do's and don'ts are things you really need to know if you are going to live here, not when traveling, since your social interactions will be shorter.
On social interactions though it is important to realise that it is a very egalitarian country. People are very informal in their dealings with eachother (for example, at work, everybody, including the CEO, will go by first name) You may also find this as a customer or guest in places. If you do get to know some people better, you will find the social kissing, for greetings and saying goodbye. women kiss men and women, mmen only kiss women. The difference with other cultures is that we kiss 3 times (I travel a lot and have a lot of international friends, so we do get some slightly awkward situations with this sometimes
Also, the Dutch are very direct, can ask questions that you find too personal, and have no problem giving their opinion on any subject. The etiquette rule of not discussing religion or politics does not exist here, people will discuss these subjects without problems.
On to tipping. Tipping in restaurants is usually rounding up to a nice number, 10% is a generous tip. In bars, rounding up, though no tipping is also acceptable.
This reminds me of one thing that is different from several other countries. Bars are places for social meetings, not necesarily drinking, They also fulfill the purpose of coffeeshops in the US (not sure about canada), in offering a place to get a coffe/tea, with a sweet or savoury snack, read a newspaper, use the wifi, etc. (and the word coffeeshop refers both to a place to get coffee, as in other countries and to a bar where you can get soft drugs.)
Service is not always the quickest. To call a waiter over, try using only eye contact and a small gesture with the hand, maybe a softly spoken sir/Ms. (remember what I said earlier about equality in the Netherlands)
Public transport is great. trains all over the country, going 2 times an hour on unimportant lines and around 8 times on important lines. For the rest, most places can be reached by bus, tram or metro (The last two only in some cities.) When you arrive in the country, buy a chipcard for public transport. This card can be charged and then used on all public transport in the country (all companies work together to have only one payment system) you have to check in when getting on and check out when getting off, otherwise you get charged a lot.
if you are renting a car instead all cities have paid parking in the innercities, how far outside the center you have to pay varies by city.
The netherlands is also the best country for cycling in the world. You can rent bicycles at almost every train station and many other places. Bicycle paths are everywhere and traffic is used to cyclist, so will watch out for them. However do not try to cycle like the Dutch do (you'll see what i mean when you get here.)
For learning the language, don't bother. Almost everybody you meet will at least understand some English, some are very good at it, especially in the cities. I know several expats, some who have been here over 10 years, who never learn the language, simply because everybody speaks English and as when they try to speak their broken dutch in stores etc. the Dutch person will switch to English.
I think you do not need more phrases then hello (hallo) goodbye and than you here:
Alsjeblieft = please
Dankjewel / dank je= Thank you
Goede morgen / middag / avond / nacht = good morning / afternoon / evening / night
tot ziens = goodbye
Try to find a place where you can find the pronounciation, because it is not what you think when reading it.
You already know where yopu want to go, but just in case, some extra ideas.
I guess you want to see windmills. Kinderdijk is best known, but you can see them everywhere in the countryside in the west.
The most impressive and unique about The Netherlands is the waterworks. The west used to be mostly lakes/rivers/swamps. Now it is mostly dry land which lies for the greater part beneath the sea level. The system of lakes, canals, rivers, and associated, dykes, locks, sluices, bridges and pumphouses is truly impressive once you get a grasp of how it works (which is hard to get in just a short visit)
Associated with that, the Deltaworks, a miracle of engineering, started after the februari 1953 disaster. A network of dykes, dams, movable dams and water defences that protects the southeast against the sea.
Visit one of the old fortified cities (vestingstad) for example, Brielle, Naarden, Willemstad, Elburg. (look these cities up on google maps, on a map you can see what makes them special)
Port of Rotterdam, the 3rd biggest port in the world, and because it is an old port, more varied then the modrn big ports.
waddeneilanden, the islands in the North of the country. Also try mudwalking (waddenlopen) at low tide you can walk to some of the islands.
edited to add that the Dutch are not big on credit cards, they mostly use debit, so do not count on being able to pay with credit everywhere. Some non-european bank cards can also give problems, so count on using cash. (on the bright side, there is usualy an ATM close by
Feel free to ask any other questions you have.