Last weekend I went to Amsterdam, a city known for its stunning architecture and elite skydiving….if by stunning architecture you mean the devil’s lettuce (or marijuana as you may know it), and by elite skydiving you mean prostitution.
I will get to the other legitimately cool things about this city in a bit. However, before then I feel like we might as well just get the discussion of its better-known features out of the way:
SEX. Prostitution is legal in Amsterdam: cue the infamous “Red Light District”, where prostitutes can be found in windows with, as you may have guessed, red lights, standing in various unnatural poses and wearing outfits that are uncomfortably similar to sorority girls’ Halloween costumes. What surprised me the most about the red light district was not the whole selling sex thing. What surprised me the most was how uncomfortable I found myself at the idea of the whole selling sex thing, especially considering in my mind I pretty much am Mariska Hargitay, or at least have watched enough Law and Order SVU episodes to be able to deliver a scarily accurate portrayal of a prostitute. I like to consider myself a 21st-century woman which, besides being able to wear pantsuits and curse in public, means that I am capable of looking past the emotional elements of sex and see it on an intellectual level: these women have a, for lack of better word, “good” that is in high demand, and can thus be sold for something that they need (money). I guess there was just something different about actually seing the process take place that truly gave me the hibby-jibbies. Maybe it’s the whole Catholic education thing and the subsequent guilt it bestows on you….I just knew that that damn Sister Marie would come back to haunt me.
DRUGS. Marijuana, weed, Snoop Dogg’s breakfast….call it what you want, you can smoke it in Amsterdam. In short, this city is a stoner’s paradise….besides, of course, any buffet, anywhere, ever. Basically people, and please note how I am using general terms and not personal pronouns to describe this process, can go to cafes, buy weed, and smoke it there. Being a college student, I am not unfamiliar with the sights and smells that accompany this drug: go to any restuarant on a college campus after three in the morning and you wouldn’t be either. However, being that in the United States people act like you should be crucified and/or be forced to listen to Rush Limbaugh (a similar torture) if you smoke, the environment took a bit of getting used to. I must say that I liked it though. There were a ton of tourists, but everyone was chilled out and non-disruptive. Contrary to what some may think, there weren’t crazy people running around in Bob Marley wigs talking about the mysteries of the universe while smoking joints, although I wouldn’t have disapproved. The culture of Amsterdam seems to encourage moderation. Well, moderation when it comes to smoking anyways. The number of food stands selling huge buckets of French fries with mayonnaise slathered on stop is a true testament to the promising potential of the munchie market if weed is ever completely legalized in the U.S.
ROCK N’ ROLL CANALS. What, this isn’t a thing? Well, let me tell you, it should be. Amsterdam has a million freaking beautiful canals that make the city both picturesque and the most difficult thing in the world to navigate. At first we didn’t realize that everything looks the same and would say things like “we need to go by the canal” as a way of figuring out what direction to go in. This is pretty much like saying we need to find the rich white person at the Romney rally (ok, I’ll stop, but to be fair he just makes it so easy!). But seriously, the canals give Amsterdam a unique look and are extremely beautiful, if not completely useless as a navigation tool.
I know that people have strong opinions on the types of things that go on in Amsterdam (their canal system is particularly scandalous). However, one of the most awesome things about this city can be summarized by a popular Dutch saying our tour guide told us about: “Be normal, you’re already crazy enough.” Basically, this just means that as long as you handle yourself appropriately, nobody will judge you and there will be no problems. Amsterdam has a culture of tolerance and acceptance that goes past sex and drugs to all areas of life.
For somebody like me who likes to walk around in mascot costumes and sing Wiz Khalifa songs while playing the ukulele, this idea is especially appealing. I guess “normal” is relative, right?