“Amsterdam is Amsterdam” was all I could write on my postcards. It was also pretty much the only way I could describe Amsterdam.
I got into Muiderpoort train station right around sunset and waited for my Couchsurfing host. Then I saw a really tall guy approach me and he said, “Hi Krystal! It’s Harmjan!” And he was cute! Initially I had been apprehensive about Couchsurfing. What if the guy turns out to be crazy? What if he tries to eat me? I almost canceled and booked a hostel instead, but I’m so glad I didn’t.
On the way back to Harmjan’s place he said, “We’ll put your stuff at my place and then go to my neighbors’ because they’ve cooked a big dinner for us.”
We walked up four flights of narrow stairs (all Dutch stairways are narrow) and at the top I heard this epic movie music playing.
“I think this is for your entrance” Harmjan joked.
At the dinner table were all of Harmjan’s friends and neighbors. There was a girl who was also a student, and three other guys who had just joined the working force. Two of them had just returned to Holland – Klaus from the Himalayas and Frank who had spent the last few months trekking around South America.
“It was great,” Klaus said, “We’d hike all day in the Himalayas and then slept in huts or tents. There was snow everywhere.”
When I asked if he’d do it again, he said, “In a heartbeat.”
“So,” I inquired, “Tell me about Dutch culture. What’s the deal with the wooden shoes?”
“Well,” Klaus began, “We don’t really have a ‘Dutch’ identity. In the past Holland has always been a refuge for different religious groups.”
“Yeah especially because Jesus was Dutch” Frank said.
“But because of our religiously diverse history, it’s very important for us to have freedom,” Harmjan explained. “Sometimes that creates problems because people don’t get the Dutch sense of humor, where nothing is sacred. We think that everybody has the right to freedom, so long as they do not take away somebody else’s right to their own freedom.”
“As for the wooden shoes, they make you float,” Klaus said.
Everyone laughed and I didn’t know if he was serious or sarcastic.
“But seriously,” Frank said, “They really do. Which is why the farmers wear them, and sometimes you see people wear them in the traditional dances.”
“Speaking of, have you seen Jumpforce?” Klaus asked.
“Is it like Tecktonic?” I asked.
“No,” he replied. “That’s a stupid French dance. Jumpforce is a stupid Dutch one.”
The next day I thought about what Harmjan’s friends said about the Dutch conceptualization of freedom. I walked around the Red Light District and saw countless beautiful women standing behind the framed glass doors and directly across from them was an old Gothic church. At that Gothic church was this beautiful, copper, Degas-esque figurine on a pedestal with an inscription that read, “Respect Sex Workers Everywhere.”