I arrived in Amsterdam for my Summer Engagement Abroad Module (SEAM) with the Human Rights and International Justice program on June 2nd. Upon entering the city from the airport, the first abnormality for American eyes would be the overabundance of bicycles.
Visitors to Amsterdam need to remain hyperaware of their surroundings at all times. Bikes, motor-vehicles, and trams all compete with pedestrians for limited space in the crowded city. Unlike the States, pedestrians do not have the right-away—bikes rule the roads in the Netherlands.
Within the first twenty-four hours, one girl was inches away from a calamity with a tram, another was hit by a tram (nudged on the shoulder), and two girls were hit by bicycles. After receiving an unintelligible dressing-down by angry cyclists, we all became acutely aware of walking around, in, and through designated bike lanes.
In addition to the unique transportation situation, Amsterdam has two more exceptional features: coffeeshops and the Red Light District. Coffeeshops—spelt as one word in the Netherlands—are distinguished apart from “coffee houses,” based on their authorization to legally sell marijuana.
While coffeeshops sell coffee and food, in addition to cannabis, customers do not patronize these businesses for their caffeinated beverages and grilled cheese sandwiches. The coffeeshops’ raison d’être is to provide people with a place to purchase legal weed and get high.
The Red Light District in Amsterdam is another legendary feature of the city. Since prostitution is legal in the Netherlands, approximately 900 women rent window spaces in the Red Light District to sell their wares.
For 150 euros, female and transsexual prostitutes ascertain the window and accompanying mini-bedroom to perform their services for 12 hours. Therefore, it is imperative for these sex-based entrepreneurs to cover their operating costs before they begin to secure any profits.
According to the Museum of Prostitution, located in the Red Light District, this goal should not be difficult to ascertain because on average prostitutes serve 16 clients a day for between 6-15 minutes each.
When sex workers age-out of a successful career in the windows, some transition into BDSM (Bondage and Discipline, Sadism and Masochism) work. After an apprenticeship, priced at around 3,000 euros, entrepreneurs in BDSM are certified to practice the esoteric craft.
Another strange sighting in the Red Light District was the presence of large groups of British men; always with one dressed up as a woman or in some humorous costume. “Stag parties” or “stag weekends,” equivalent to that of the bachelor’s party in the States, are apparently quite common here in Amsterdam.
When held outside the U.K., according to a local shop owner, it’s common for participants to visit brothels and prostitutes. Perhaps that answers the question why a large group of men began shouting and chanting in front of a bar when one of their buddies emerged from a small door situated on a shady side-street.
One of the primary advantages of Brits visiting the Netherlands is that nearly all Dutch citizens maintain conversational fluency in English—a fact which also benefits most of the American population.
From my brief time in-country, first-hand experience also taught me that the Dutch are exceptionally friendly. On one occasion, while on the tram attempting to navigate from one end of the city to the other, a small group of us were conversing about the names of each stop on the line.
My abominable pronunciation of the Dutch words prompted a friendly conversation between us and two individual sets of locals. They were highly amused, not offended, by how I butchered their language. We all shared in the laughter when they asked me to repeat my interpretation of the Dutch words.
Over the first few days, our itinerary was jam-packed with a wide variety of cultural activities including our community engagement activity with the nongovernmental organization, Taste Before You Waste (raising awareness on food waste and how to prevent it); the Cannabis College (informing the public on best practices for marijuana consumption); the Anne Frank house, the Dutch Resistance Museum (dedicated to WWII memorabilia), a Boat Tour of Amsterdam, the Heineken Museum, and the Natura Artis Magistra (the Amsterdam Zoo).
I’m looking forward to the upcoming activities planned in The Hague. I hope you are, too!
More updates are coming soon!