Lighten Up, Light It Up: Reflections from A’dam

September 7, 2011

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 🙂

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Loving life & the 4 pairs of new shoes I brought back,
~Gemmie the International Gooner

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  • Reply Wu Young September 7, 2011 at 5:17 am

    Glad you enjoyed your trip Gemmie. My homeboy lived in The Hauge for two years and he loved. He was first person to tell me about the lack of a language barrier.

    I need a vacation and sh*t!

    • Reply gemmieboo September 8, 2011 at 4:08 pm

      i would have liked to have visited The Hague while we were there. heard nice things. was your friend there for work or just to live abroad?

      you should take a vacation!! if you cant make it to Europe, go to Vancouver–i hear its very European 🙂

      • Reply Wu Young, Agent of M.E. September 8, 2011 at 4:13 pm

        According to him he was there to work but he was probably on trial for crimes against humanity. You can never tell with that guy.

        My sister and bro-in-law went to Vancouver last winter and they loved it. I heard nothing but good things and they told me the food was great and there are a lot ethnic neighborhoods.

      • Reply gemmieboo September 8, 2011 at 4:19 pm

        lmbo @ probably on trial for crimes against humanity. well The Hague is def a good hide out place. no one really gives a damn in those parts.

        welp. looks like Vancouver is the move. and if you give me enough notice, i’ll meet you there!

  • Reply miss t-lee September 7, 2011 at 11:22 am

    Aw, thanks for sharing the highlights of your trip. Looks like you had a grand ol’ time. #RGS gooning int’l style. 🙂
    I 2nd wu young up top, I’m definitely in need of a vacay as well.

    • Reply gemmieboo September 8, 2011 at 4:11 pm

      LOL the only bad thing about the Dutch (that could have made my trip more grand)? they dont love black women like Spaniards and Italians! totally bummer. then again, you dont care bcuz you dont like white meat lol

      take a vacay!! you and Wu can go to Vancouver together 😉

  • Reply Phidelity15 September 7, 2011 at 1:12 pm

    Gemstone!!!! Glad to have you back babe. It sounds like you had an awesome trip and dammit if I ain’t a lil on the jealous side of life right now…all expense paid erything you say?!? Yeah I need to get like you. LOL

    But seriously I’m happy to read that you enjoyed your trip and experienced new things. First Amsterdam, then the world!

    • Reply gemmieboo September 8, 2011 at 4:13 pm

      LOL if you wanna sign your life away to be in research, you too could have extra travel money. (psssst: totally not worth it, its a life of misery lol)

      thanks for the well wishes. im definitely comin for the world–LOOK OWT!!

  • Reply madscientist7 September 7, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    seems like you had a good trip. i always wanted to do an international conference. i always got stuck going to aacr. i think i’m going to take my time now to do an international conference. if not i’m definitely doing a europe tour in 2012. its been long enough. i’ve talked about it enough. time to make it happen. i was thinking more italy and spain but it seem amsterdam might need to see me.

    • Reply gemmieboo September 8, 2011 at 4:16 pm

      i’ve been wanting to do an int’l conference for awhile now, and my advisor has always been very supportive of such endeavors. unfortunately all the ones ive wanted to go to in the past came at the worst times and i was unable to go. until NOW!! if you can get the research $$ to go, you totally should!!! and then let me know which 1 you’re going to so i can join you LOL.

      i too wanna do a European tour–primarly of italy, spain and southern france. again, if you want a cool cali-bred neuroscience star in your company, im your gal!

      • Reply madscientist7 September 14, 2011 at 4:07 pm

        i definitely will let you know.

        as far as italy i’m planning on going with ashley when she takes her trip after her defense (which is tentatively scheduled for march). we’re going to florence. just a heads up. 😉

      • Reply gemmieboo September 14, 2011 at 4:56 pm

        awwww that sounds like sooooo much fun!! i totally want in!!!! keep me posted 🙂

  • Reply I Am Your People September 8, 2011 at 2:43 am

    Fun. I really want to VISIT Amsterdam. I had a 12 hour (cringes) layover there and paid about $15 for a bus tour of the city.

    • Reply gemmieboo September 8, 2011 at 4:17 pm

      lol a bus tour does not do the city justice!!!!! you must go back and emerse yourself among the people and know the fear of almost getting hit by a bike, car, bus or tram 🙂

  • Reply Cheekie September 8, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    Wow!! I’ve always wanted to visit Amsterdam and this post makes me want to go even more! Sounds like you had a ball!

    • Reply gemmieboo September 8, 2011 at 4:18 pm

      you should go!! Amsterdam is basically the shit.

  • Reply keishabrown September 10, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    one thing i like about europe is their pace of life – siestas and long leisurely meals is just the way they operate.

    i think in our be-on-24-hrs-a-day mode in north america can lead to physical and mental breakdowns and is something we should emulate at least once in a while!

    great recap! 🙂

    • Reply gemmieboo September 13, 2011 at 2:30 pm

      siestas and long leisurely meals is just the way they operate.

      exactly this!

      def gotta learn to take life less seriously. because in the end, we’re healthier and more productive as a result (i imagine, anyway). but perhaps the euro lifestyle just isnt compatible for n. americans–we do EVERYTHING differently here lol

  • Reply NY2VA September 14, 2011 at 4:54 pm

    “But it wasn’t like in an NYC-douche bag kind of way.”

    I’m giving you a serious NYC-Douche bag side-eye right now… lol.

    • Reply gemmieboo September 14, 2011 at 4:57 pm

      LOL! thats ok. it proves my point COMPLETELY. the Dutch arent like you 😛

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