The Irresponsible Adult Trip

Playing Frogger in Amsterdam

If you survive the first five minutes of walking on the streets of Amsterdam you will probably be fine the rest of your stay, but if you hear a the ding-ding of a bicycle bell coming from an unexpected direction then brace yourself for an impact. You probably won’t be hit by the bicyclist, unless he is a drunk Englishman in Amsterdam for his bachelor’s party, but be assured–it is your fault. The Dutch will not hit you with a bike, they are too good at riding for that. Before I traveled to Amsterdam I read about the number of bicycles on streets, I read about being aware while you walk the streets, I read a lot, but nothing can really prepare you for playing a real life game of Frogger on the sidewalks and pavement of the city. (If you don’t know the video game Frogger then here is a quick description: Try to cross a street without getting squished.) Each time my wife and I approached street crossings like we were members of Seal Team 6: look left, right, up, down, behind, forward, left again, right again…announce, “After the guy in the white shirt,” and then run like hell across the street. 
I did not see a single accident while I was in Amsterdam and there is a single reason for that, Dutch patience. The Dutch are tolerant: Legal soft drugs, legal prostitution, and most impressively, not shouting or running over tourists who are operating on the false premise that a crosswalk means something in Amsterdam. The Dutch attitude about life seems to be, “I don’t mind waiting.” 
My first encounter with this attitude was when my wife and I hopped onboard a trolley to get to our hotel. I didn’t know how much a train ticket costs, because I’m an idiot. I didn’t have my money ready, because I’m an idiot. I barely knew where I was going, because I’m an idiot. The trolley was packed to the brim, and the driver closed the door behind us and said, “Put the money here when you are ready.” Then he started driving the trolley. It was as if he wasn’t aware that he should be stressed out. Which is probably why the Dutch live longer than people in the US do even though they smoke like they are all on an episode of Mad Men. 

Because I am American and have a built in drive to be first this country is confusing. It is the most chaotic and organized place ever. If Mogidishou and the German rail system had a baby it would be Amsterdam. Several times during our time in Amsterdam we accidentally cut in line. The first time was when we were at a fast food place near our hotel and I wanted to get a deep fried Dutch treat. We came in, saw a guy standing near the ordering place assumed he had already ordered and then began an awkward attempt at ordering food because we speak no Dutch at all. (We ended up with two plates of fries, two deep fried things filled with mashed potatoes and ham or sausage. It was very good whatever it was.) Only after we finished did we realize we had cut in front of the guy standing there. We apologized, he said, “No, problem,” and I believe he was telling the truth. To him it really was no problem. I, on the other hand, am taking pictures of everyone cutting in line in front of me while I’m traveling so I can have a post titled: People who cut in front of me, when my trip is done. Another example was when our boat tour was delayed, the guy in charge, Vincent, said, “I’m sorry this is our screw up, go into the bar and order a beer and I’ll pay for it.” Really? Okay, if you say so. If Vincent was German I don’t think we would have waited in a bar drinking free beer. 

How the Dutch became so tolerant of others is simple, “It’s bad for business.” I heard this from a couple people therefore it must be true. The Dutch are no longer running all over the world like they did during the Golden Age, but for a country no bigger than the average American state, they do pretty well. 

What this attitude does for the traveler is makes Amsterdam a very easy place to visit. It is safe. Almost everyone speaks English. It is not a particularly expensive European city and you are free to screw up without much pressure, but if you hear a little ding-ding from behind don’t try to figure it out, get out of the way, that bell tolls for you. 

4 replies »

  1. I really don’t want to be “Oh, but in Canada…” every time, but in Canada, “no problem” is very much a reflex response. Oh, we’ll be inwardly seething that you cut in line. We’ll talk about you. But when you realize and turn around and apologize, we’ll say, “No problem.” So if the U.S. ever feels like fulfilling its manifest destiny, no problem!


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