Updated: May 21, 2019
“Some tourists think Amsterdam is a City of Sin, but in truth it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin.” —John Green, The Fault in Our Stars
Friday, September 18th, 2015 was the day. Amsterdam, the Netherlands was the place. Cameron Michienzi was the victim. An elderly woman was the attacker. A shopping bag was the weapon. The reason? Totally and completely unknown.
Throughout the rest of that weekend, many startling things occurred to both my friends and me. Some were cultural differences (like assuming the time on a pedestrian stop light was telling us how long we had left to cross, instead of how long we had to wait), some were simple mistakes (accidentally leaving our IDs in the hostel because we're not used to drinking at all, let alone being carded), and some were just plain odd (see shopping bag example above). But, no matter how peculiar, I can assure you they all contributed to the atmosphere of my new favorite city.
Amsterdam can best be described as an “organized chaos,” coined by fellow Emerson student and friend, Egan Davis. Cars, trams, pedestrians, and bikes (of course) fly at you in every direction. Yet somehow amidst all this activity there lies an order. Trams and cars share streets, but bikes are separate from even pedestrians (don’t step onto the bike path, unless your only life goal is to become pudding). To a tourist, it feels almost as if the Dutch have a set of predesigned instincts evolved solely for navigating their streets. But, there was something about this organized chaos that drew me in. Something genuine. There's no pretending or façades here. Coming from the United States, that's quite a refreshing sight indeed.
The Dutch really do have a knack for being overly honest and direct. Why make something illegal if people are going to do it anyway? Why be rude to people who have done nothing to you? Why not hit a boy standing only slightly in your way with a shopping bag? And why fix a system that everyone understands just to please the non-locals? It's a waste of time and energy, being diplomatic. It’s an interesting concept to say the least (and quickly becoming more interesting as the days pass).
It's with this honesty that comes the famous Dutch tolerance. Yes, it is all true- the legal prostitution, the 18 year old drinking age, the acceptance of marijuana, the gay marriage, the abortion, and even the allowance of euthanasia. I repeat, why make something illegal if people are going to do it anyway? Stamp that out on a poster because it might as well be the motto of the Netherlands. The Dutch understand the dangers of the black market, of criminalizing practices that will be done either way. The only real way to protect their citizens from danger is to regulate that danger. Take it out of the dark and bring it into the light. It's also an interesting concept to say the least. But, one must remember that just because something is acceptable, doesn't mean it's encouraged. Dutch school systems focus heavily on the education of these controversial issues. Educate people, give them the freedom to decide, and then they'll usually make a smart choice. Put that on a poster too.
I’m honored to be staying here in the Netherlands for 90 days. I'm residing and studying in a legitimately medieval castle owned by Emerson in the small village of Well, located only a few minutes from the German border. In the 76 days I have left, I hope to learn and appreciate much more about the Dutch culture, and try to immerse myself in it as much as possible. I’m also planning on traveling to other European countries in an attempt to educate myself on as many cultures as possible, within those 3 months. I hope you continue on this journey with me. Rejoice in my triumphs, and laugh at my mistakes, for that's the real adventure.