In Search of Amsterdam’s Nightlife
To a lot of people who haven’t been there, Amsterdam is synonymous with coffee houses legally selling drugs and red light district. I was naively expecting an ultra-liberal society with this forwardness showing on streets. My first 5 minute walk in the Dam area didn’t disappoint me – I came across more buildings with titles beginning with “sex” (sex museum, sex-o-rama bar, sex-store, etc) than I can hope to anywhere in a US. So, my first long chat with a local Amsterdamer disappointed me – I realized that she (and most Dutch people in general) have similar priorities in life than any of us, and don’t even notice or think about things that grab the attention of tourists!
I landed on Friday evening, keen on seeing things I had heard or read about (no, I don’t intend the pun here–its not my fault that “red” and past tense “read” are homophones). Amsterdam’s famed red-light district is a long street with many small alleys all lined up with houses with glass walls on the first floor – behind the glass are bikini or lingerie clad women posing, looking enticingly at all the men passing by. This pattern is broken by peep houses and small pizza or falafel joints. Surprisingly, the area still has a very classy feel to it. Even at 3 or 4 a.m., there are lots of tourists walking around – even couples or entire families! The girls and the peep-house shows’ promoters standing on the streets really mean business– try talking about rates, and if they sense you are haggling about price without being serious, they can get nasty with you. I tried that with a show promoter, and as I left after the price negotiation, feigning dissatisfaction, he yelled behind me: “You Americans talk so much about how you are doing good to the world, but can’t spend a little money for the girls?” I did not know how to respond, besides I am not American, so I didn’t feel it my responsibility to respond. Instead, I hurried away without turning back.
I decided to move on to something more familiar. I ventured to a more popular night-life area, and entered what from outside seemed like a typical Dutch brown bar. I was surprised (pleasantly, I think) to notice myself to be the only guy there, and was only beginning to get comfortable with this observation when a dressed-in-all-black girl walked towards me and said, “Will you like to buy me a drink?” “Err….”, I was fumbling for answer when she added, “Only 55 euros.”
“What? 55 euros for a drink?”
“And sex”, she added, “or if you want to sleep with me, its 300 euros”.
“But I am here just to buy drinks.”
“Then you are the wrong place”, she reprimanded me, pointing to the door.
It was clear I should leave. As I opened the door, the guard rebuked me for wasting their time, giving me a reason to start a mini-argument and get the satisfaction of wasting more of his time. Walking away, I noticed the sign “Paradise Sex Bar” in red neon.
Next, I landed in a real club. The familiarity encouraged me to try things I haven’t even done in Boston. I approached an attractive looking Dutch girl if she wanted to dance with me.
“I have this luggage”, she said pointing to the suitcase she had.
After some talk about her travel plans and my own, I suggested leaving the suitcase in the cloak room and hitting the dance floor.
“I don’t have the money”, she replied.
Anyone with “How to approach girls in bars 101” knowledge would have known it best to move on. I didn’t, and few minutes later, I was sneaking out of the club alone having lost about 10 euros and whatever remained of my self-respect. I decided to call it night.
I did fairly well the next morning in recovering – I rented out a bike (by the way, the best way to see Amsterdam), and spent the day biking about admiring the beauty of the place, and doing the more universally accepted civilized things – visiting museums (ok, I must admit – I visited sex museum and torture museums too) and a diamond factory.
As someone living in United States, I was surprised by the Americanization of Amsterdam (and as I was to discover later, even if to a slightly lesser degree, all of Europe). Burger King, McDonald’s, Subway and Starbucks are just about everywhere, and popular among the young people. And then, there is Hollywood. Maybe George W. Bush can get some tips from the the corporate giants and Hollywood on promoting “American ideals” in the rest of the world – they are likely to come up with better suggestions than Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz.
In the evening, I went to a Dutch coffee house– it was to be my first time trying out weed. The coffee house had a separate table manned by a police officer (not in uniform) for these substances. As a starter, I got something light. I left the place feeling pretty sane and in control, though what happened immediately after suggests I may have been wrong.
On my way somewhere later, I inspected my pouch and didn’t see my passport. I remembered using it earlier in the day, so it had to be on me somewhere. I searched my backpack – no, not there either. I was beginning to get worried – without the passport, I was screwed. I probably dropped or forgot it somewhere – perhaps, at the museum when using my credit card to pay for the ticket, or the coffee house when using it as my ID. I went to the coffee house and asked the guard if he asked me for my ID before entering. “You look older than 18, so I don’t think I did”, he replied. I searched inside, and some other places I had been that day, but didn’t find it. Tense and upset, I went to bed early.
Next day, in between my trips to the museums and police station, the tired hungry and unhappy me waiting for my food order in a restaurant remembered about the bike rental – I looked them up in the yellow book, called them, and realized I had deposited it there.
Isn’t it strange – there was me intending to squeeze every minute of my time during the trip, being always serious about what to do next when things were going to the plan, now far more ecstatic when my entire plan had been thrown off, and a day wasted? Maybe, we all need some troubles in life to enjoy the pleasure of thinking about how bad the situation could have been but is not when we get overcome those troubles.
I am digressing. Let me come back to Amsterdam and Dutch people, but still continue the philosophical meanderings. Yes, the Dutch are generally tall, blonde, blue-eyed, and handsome, yes, but there is more – they challenge our perception of societal norms, trying out ideas more liberating and trusting of their citizenry and people. Theirs was the first modern republic back in 16th century, and even today, they have legalized what are tabooed in many other parts of the world, and presenting a living example of an advanced and generally happy society.