Tuesday, June 21, 2005


Amsterdam: If you try hard, you CAN hear Dutch spoken

Tourists and stoners, and tourist-stoners

I’m really enjoying Amsterdam. The central district – with row upon row of 17th-18th century row houses lining the canals – is truly magnificent. And yet I’d describe this core of the city – the part to which tourists confine themselves – as “one giant youth hostel with a smattering of Dutch locals on bicycles added for ambience.”

And those Brit and Aussie tourists! You can barely walk two blocks in this town without hearing some guy saying “fook” or “fawk” and “baggah” (trans: “bugger”). The shopkeepers and other Dutch I interact with greet me in English before I even have the chance to say, “Do you speak English?”, (in English). The nerve!

And the whole stoner thing. B and I walked out of our hotel this morning to find a place for coffee, and she turned and asked the hotel porter standing on the sidewalk:

B: Can you tell us where to find a coffee shop nearby?
PORTER: (A significant look.)
B: A coffee coffee place! (Making tilting cup gesture with her hand.)

We walk a few blocks, and stop to look at our map. In Amsterdam, an unfolded map is taken as a sort of universal distress signal, like flying an upside down flag from the mainmast, or telegraphing an S.O.S. Someone will immediately stop to offer directions. Including English-speaking tourists who have been in town no longer than three days. Three days off the boat, and some American tourist gets all “I’m-just-one-of-the-natives” condescending.

Sure enough an American tourist stops, ignores my attempts to explain that we just figured it out ourselves on the map, and proceeds to give us obviously wrong directions, get confused, and borrow my map to orient himself.

“Amsterdam is totally amazing,” he says. “It’s like a huge clock. The canals go in a.. a ... huge arc, and all the pieces – you’ve got the trams, the buses, and cars, and mopeds, and motorcycles, and people on bikes and pedestrians. All the different kinds of transportation!”

We thank him and hurry on our way – I wish I’d asked him how long he’d been in town – leaving him to experience the wave of his own brilliantly inspiring metaphors. Whoa, dude!

We find a coffee coffee place – it’s called a bakery (in Dutch), whereas a “coffee shop” (in English) I have now learned is in fact nothing more, or less, than a cannabis-hashish den! These differing national notions of coffee! We ask the barista what is the Dutch word for coffee with steamed milk in it. “Oh, you mean a latte,” says the barista, “We call that veer__ [inaudible].”**

She brings the two veer– (pronounced “feer,” by the way)– thingies, turns and starts to deliver my croissant to the wrong table. But she abruptly retracts the plate, bluring out “Whoaah!”

Yes, whoa there, girl! Don’t want to make a mistake with that croissant.

Oh, and there was the dapper gray-haired businessman talking on his cell phone on the narrow stairway this morning, trying to step much too gingerly out of our way while continuing his cell-con, and tipping his thick looseleaf planner out a two story window into an inaccessible courtyard. Whoa, dude!

Is everyone here stoned? Or am I just being paranoid?

** CORRECTION: It's called "verkeerd."


It's like, dude,... whoa!

(Shoving handful of doritos into mouth.)
(SADDAM! is the phantom!???)
... and "verkeerd" translates to "wrong", essentially to say that if you put cream or milk in your coffee, you're screwing up. who says the dutch aren't judgmental?
Speaking of youth hostels, anyone know what happened to Backpack Earth? I was getting ready to book my entire trip and the site is half down it looks way different. Anyone?
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