Living dangerously with deathtrap stairs

This is an ongoing series where UKrant unpacks weird and wonderful Dutch stuff for our international readers. This week’s episode: deathtrap stairs.
by Valeska Schietinger

They’re perilous, they’re plentiful, and they’re everywhere: impossibly steep Dutch staircases.

Whether you are a new international in town or have been here for a while, I’d like to begin by congratulating you for surviving the literal deathtraps waiting around every corner. I’m not exaggerating: in 2017 alone, 290 people in the Netherlands died from accidents involving stairs.

It’s hard to understand why the Dutch – the tallest people in the world – would build staircases so steep and with such tiny, tiny steps that they have to climb them stooped over sideways. Some people think it’s part of a national commitment to population control.

But is there another explanation?

Centuries ago, houses in the Netherlands were taxed based on their width. Expanding living space horizontally was expensive. Ever thrifty, the Dutch opted for building taller houses instead – with extremely steep and space-saving stairs.

So the next time you fall down a flight of Dutch stairs, remember you have Dutch frugality to thank for your throbbing head.


The Dutch even have a quaint colloquialism for acknowledging you’ve got a new haircut. “Ben je van de trap gevallen en is jouw haar gebroken?” literally translates to: “Did you fall down the stairs and break your hair?”

So next time you decide a chic pixie cut would be a great way to celebrate spring but you end up looking like Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber instead, don’t be confused if people ask you whether an unfortunate staircase situation was involved.

Until then, here are some tips for navigating those dangerous Dutch stairs:

  • Walk sideways. Don’t even think a whole foot will fit on a single stair. Better start embracing your inner Mr. Crabs.
  • Use the handles. Might lower you level of swag but saves you the trouble of avalanching down the stairs.
  • No smartphones. Besides raising the odds for serious injuries, paying for a new phone each week is probably not the way to go.
  • Mind your step. Yes, you’ve been a pro at walking for the last couple of decades, but that won’t save you this time, especially if the stairs are covered with carpet.
  • Crawling is always an option (especially on the weekends).


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