It feels like years have gone by since I last posted. I've since begun classes, traveled outside the Netherlands for the first time, become comfortable enough to cycle in the city without Google Maps (win!), joined a dance class taught almost completely in Dutch, learned how to top up my OV Chipkaart to use public transportation, biked 10 miles outside the city to explore Zaanse Schans, and most importantly figured out how to do laundry here. I'm pleased to report that the magic of Amsterdam has not worn off at all and I'm starting to realize it probably never will. The "magic" I'm talking about is a feeling of contentment and ease that I've never felt in the United States. "Calm" is not a word I ever thought I would use to describe Amsterdam before I got here. That's definitely due to the stereotype of Amsterdam as a "party city." Unless you're in the middle of a club or the Red Light district at 2 am on a Friday or Saturday, Amsterdam does not feel like a party capital of the world, and this is a very good thing in my opinion!
Though this is a big city, it's not a city that looks like what you'd expect in the United States. There are no major skyscrapers, most of the streets are narrow, there's no trash on the streets, and the construction and traffic sounds I've grown to expect in a city are all but nonexistent. Everything is old and stately and the parts that aren't old have some sort of architectural twist. For example NEMO, the science museum, is in a building shaped as an inclined plane that you can actually climb up on stairs and enjoy a coffee in the cafe on top while taking in views of the city over the waters of Oosterdok. Amsterdam is a city that feels familiar even when it isn’t, and that, along with the quiet transportation (bikes!) and lack of overwhelming buildings and streets, is what makes being in Amsterdam peaceful.
I also think this feeling has something to do with the Dutch approach to life, which I’m still only figuring out. I grew up in the greater Boston area and I act like it. I practically run everywhere I go, I scream at people when I'm driving, and I’m constantly thinking about the next thing I have to do. Even now I’m thinking about the Rembrandt etching that I have to copy for my art class tomorrow. I knew that life in the United States was relatively fast but I just assumed anywhere not as fast-paced would just be slow. Amsterdam is not slow by any means. There’s something different that’s different about the Dutch way of life that has nothing to do with speed. I’ve come to think that it may have something to do with Dutch honesty. Since I arrived in the Netherlands I’ve been warned over and over that the Dutch people are much more straightforward than Americans. I’ve been told that this might come off as rude or cruel and I shouldn’t take it personally. I've never had an encounter with a Dutch person that I would call rude by any stretch. I think the “straightforward” nature of the Dutch that I’m hearing so much about has more to do with a laid-back attitude than a blunt way of speaking and this is what translates into the feeling of relaxation I’m picking up on. In the United States we are constantly worried about people’s inner motives. We want to make sure we come off exactly how we want to be perceived, we try to apprehend every move of our peers without even realizing it, and we react to these small indications of character and aim. In the Netherlands things just feel more simple. No one really cares what you’re doing or why you’re doing it. Everyone does their own thing and will gladly let you do yours. I can actually feel myself being watched less in Amsterdam than in the United States even though I'm a foreigner. People just leave you alone and it's in a rude way or even an intentional way, that's just how it is. There’s not as much worry and anxiety about the state of “things.” Life flows naturally here without question, and to me that’s refreshing. Though I have no authority at all on what it means to be Dutch, these are the observations I’ve made thus far and I’m interested to see what I will think about these ideas in a couple of months.
Until next time, tot ziens!
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<p>I grew up in Ipswich, MA an incredibly beautiful (though much too small) town on the northern coast of Massachusetts. I began college in 2013 at the University of Rochester, planning to major in Brain and Cognitive Science. I ended up having to take some time of of school for health reasons and I was lucky enough to travel to India for three months where I backpacked with a gap year program called Carpe Diem. It was the most incredible experience I've ever had, how could it not be. But to be honest it feels surreal now. I am so excited to get back to living far away from everything familiar to me. When I came back to U of R in the winter of 2015 I decided to major in English and Anthropology and now my dream is to work for NPR. These days I'm usually listening to a podcast or book on tape, reading, or writing.</p>