I recently returned from my very 1st international trip (and by international I mean outside of N. America) to Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Thanks to my data and fellowship funding, I was able to travel abroad to Europe to attend a research conference, along with my very dear friend, classmate/colleague and partner in crime –“Lady Champ”. We had such a great time! Not so much because we had mind blowing experiences there that we couldn’t have here in the states, but more so because the culture and attitudes of the Dutch were so liberating and care-free. Let me try to explain in a few highlights…
- Spreken ze English? Most Dutch people speak English fluently, and English translations were commonly found on signs, menus, etc throughout the city. This made it VERY easy to get around on public transportation, ask for help/directions, buy marijuana, and order food without having to worry, “is this Dutch for fried ferret testicles?” When I asked a fellow [Dutch] conference attendee how to say a few basic things–such as Hello, Goodbye, Thank you, Cheers–in Dutch, he laughed in amusement and said there was no need to learn, since almost everyone speaks English. Can’t a black girl try to appreciate the culture and blend in? SMH
- Tip Deez. So apparently in Europe, people in service positions (such as restaurant wait-staff) actually make livable wages and don’t have to live off of customer tips. #winning! And so, it’s actually considered inappropriate to leave a tip for your meal. Hey, works for me! Only catch is this–most of the restaurant meals Lady Champ and I had lasted up to 2.5hrs sometimes because our servers never seemed in any hurry to serve us. Not to say they weren’t friendly or willing to accommodate our needs when brought to their attention, they just weren’t in any rush and didn’t go out of their way to wait on us. This could be somewhat frustrating when you feel you’re being neglected, but at the same time it gave me a fonder appreciation for chilling out and enjoying my company and my meal.
- Manners schmanners. Europeans seem to have a different idea of manners. I can’t tell you how many times I said “excuse me” or “sorry” when I accidentally bumped into some one, stepped on a toe, or tried to move past some one on a crowded sidewalk or tram and was given a serious side-eye. And when these bumps and prods happened to me, I got no verbal acknowledgement. At first I thought “RUDE!” But it wasn’t like in an NYC-douche bag kind of way. People just seemed unfazed and easy going about it. Like, no need to stop and apologize or be pardoned since these things happen, just keep it moving. Everyone is just so chill and nonchalant.
- Sex sells. OK now to the good stuff… I’d be lying if I said I didn’t visit the Red Light District more than once. I’d also be lying if I said me and my compadres didn’t spend hours walking around the RLD taking note of the variety of prostitutes–the trannies were the best looking, btw–and browsing sex toy shops and trying to bargain our way into seeing a live sex show for €10 instead of €35. Even outside of the RDL, there were tons of vibrator shops with high end machinery to fit every woman’s fancy. Hell, in the average drug storeyou can find an entire section dedicated to “intimate” products (lubes, condoms, vibrators). From the more risque commercials that you’d NEVER see in the US to the penis shaped salt and pepper shakers I saw in just about every souvenir shop, its clear the Dutch are very liberal and open when it comes to sexuality. Nothing is taboo. Overall, Amsterdam seems to welcome sexual freedom and encourage that you just GET OFF!! #oowwee
- Weed sells more. Some one on twitter asked me if cannabis coffeeshops are really as prevalent in Amsterdam as people make it seem. The answer is a resounding ABSOLUTELY. They’re EVERYWHERE–as many as 5 on 1 block. I’m sure I saw more coffeeshops than “drug” stores and actual coffee-selling establishments combined lol. There are also lots of stores that sell mushrooms, marijuana seeds, and other ‘user’ materials (bongs, hookahs, etc). Despite the high volume, each coffeeshop is unique in its own way–with different ambiance settings (Rasta, eastern, night-lounge, restaurant-like) and varying menus of products (incl. joints, space cakes, and/or “trippy herbs”). And surprisingly enough, coffeeshops actually sell coffee. Don’t ask me how I know any of this… #strictlyforresearchpurposes
- Beware Bikers. And no, I’m not talking about motorcyclists who belong to bike gangs. I’m talking about people who ride bicycles. Yes, you read that correctly. Never thought some one riding a prop from The Wizard of Oz–complete with a basket on the front (or back)–could be so intimidating. They will run you over!! Just after they ring their little bell to let you know they’re coming (smh & lol). Considering the large population, the narrow streets, and numerous canals/bridges throughout the city, biking is definitely the preferred method of transportation in Amsterdam (though public transportation on the bus or tram was extremely efficient, safe, and cheap). Bikers have their own lane, traffic lights, and plenty of space/racks to park their bikes any and everywhere you go. Nothing like Pittsburgh, a biking hell (for both bikers and motorists alike).
Those are just a few of my observations from my trip. There’s so much more to share that I saw/experienced but there isn’t enough time or space. Besides, I got family reading this so I can’t goon-out 😉 But seriously, I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to have an all-expense-paid trip to another country that has such a beautiful landscape, rich history, and a liberating attitude. I look forward to more trips abroad, to expand my horizons and knowledge of other cultures 🙂
Loving life & the 4 pairs of new shoes I brought back,
~Gemmie the International Gooner