A Post About the Dutch That Isn't From Arnold

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

A Post About the Dutch That Isn't From Arnold

I just returned from Amsterdam where I spent several days decompressing from the holidays. In the course of my visit, I finally had the chance to meet fellow blogger Arnold California, who now resides on the south end of the city. So, for once, someone other than Arnold is going to share some impressions about the Dutch:
* The Dutch have a reputation for being a placid people. But New Year's Eve (and the day or two leading up to it) offers a very different picture of the Dutch at play. There is no official New Year's fireworks show in Amsterdam so the locals -- and a few thousand of their European cousins -- take charge, putting on what is perhaps the most democratic fireworks show on the globe. In other words, tens of thousands of people bring bags of fireworks and start shooting them off willy-nilly, with little regard for who or what is nearby. Drunk people and bottle rockets are an interesting combo.

* As with the German language, virtually no item on a menu sounds very appetizing when pronounced in Dutch. The Dutch word for whipped cream is "slagroom." Need I say more?

* One of the greatest magnets for tourists in Amsterdam, of course, is the ability to go there, pop into one of dozens of "coffeehouses" in the city and light up a doobie without being arrested or hassled by the police. These pot friendly-coffeehouses are very small, and most of them seem to be individually owned. But there are at least two chains (capitalism is pretty amoral). One of the coffeehouse chains is called "The Doors," and its lettering is a direct knock-off of the style used by the rock band that Jim Morrison launched in the 1960s. When I would see one of these storefronts, it was a little weird. I kept expecting a bespectacled Ray Manzarek to come strolling out the front entrance.

* In Amsterdam, you look for two things as you cross a street: cars and bicycles. The locals love their bicycles. The city (the entire country, in fact) is relatively compact and the terrain is flat so bicycles make sense. But a board member of the American Academy of Pediatrics would have a stroke watching Amsterdammers biking around. For starters, bike helmets are virtually unseen, and many bicycle owners pedal around well after dark without reflectors. Adults will bike around with small children in an open basket, and even the toddlers will be wearing no helmet nor any restraint to prevent them from being thrown from the bike in an accident. At one point, I did witness a motorcycle and bike collide, but the result was nothing gruesome enough to please a David Cronenberg disciple.

* The Dutch are a tall and lanky people. My friends have always called me skinny, but, walking alongside the Dutch for 5 days, I was starting to feel like Brian Urlacher.

* If you think you've seen the worst cell-phone transgression in the world, think again. Imagine being on the 3rd floor of the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam when a 20-something, English-speaking woman whips out her cell and dials up a friend to ask what he's doing that evening. "Like .... are you tired from last night or what?" she inquires, leaning against a wall only a few feet from glass cases displaying pages from Frank's diaries. Until a museum staffer reminded this crass young woman that cell phone conversations were a no-no, I was very tempted to grab her phone and toss it into the nearest canal.

* Last but not least, Arnold California is a very pleasant fellow. And I'm not just saying that because he picked up the lunch tab.

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