Sex, Drugs, and Outdoor Urinals: 6 Reasons I loved Working in AmsterdamEurope, Holland, Working Abroad — By Carmi L on August 2, 2010 at 9:45 am
by Carmi Louw
Special to Lost Girls World
I’m not really sure why, but I’ve always had a thing for Amsterdam. It all started at University in New Zealand, when mental images of canals, windmills and tulips made me lose my heart to the idea of stuyding in the Netherlands. Circumstances prevented me from living out my Dutch dream at the time, but I never let it go (or it never let go of me). Seven years later, I quit my job and bought a one-way ticket to Amsterdam, hoping that I wasn’t going on a wild goose chase as I thrust myself into the unknown.
I planned to start off working at a backpacker’s hostel, then find a “real” office job. To my surprise, however, I fell in love with the hostel work straight away and never bothered finding that “real” job. I wanted a dose of anti-suburban reality, and that’s just what I got. This was a 180-bed, three storey hostel in the middle of Amsterdam’s Red Light District. It was more than just a hostel, it was a crazy little world of its own.
Here are my top 6 reasons why my stint in Amsterdam turned out to be the best time of my life, in no particular order:
1) The City
Because of its size, Amsterdam can seem like a village, but that doesn’t mean it’s sleepy. It’s bustling with tourists (many being there for the weed or the prostitutes), but you need to explore the back streets to see why this is my favourite city. The canal lights reflecting on the water, quirky stores, bicycle culture, and lack of pretension give Amsterdam a really comfortable atmosphere.
Second to a bicycle, the most useful thing to have in Amsterdam is a friend with a boat. It really is no fun being stuck on the sidewalk while you’re watching the locals cruise down the canals on a lazy afternoon. Make sure you’re there for Queen’s day on the last day of April, when throng of orange spills onto the streets and the city is transformed into a giant party and open market.
2) The Guests
Our hostel was located in the centre of town, and we boasted some of the cheapest rates around. As you can imagine this gave us a wide cross-section of clientele. On my first reception shift I had to deal with a guest who had a small cut on his finger, but he was so high that he thought he was suffering from severe blood loss and subsequently passed out while I was trying to help him.
One guy tried to sneak into the hostel but looked very suspicious from the start. I couldn’t find his name on the computer system so I asked him what room he was in. He said he was in room 18. When I told him that room 18 does not exist, he went quiet for a while, then replied in a sheepish manner “…um…that’s what I like to call it?”. The guests were a never-ending source of entertainment that provided great stories at the end of every shift.
3) The Road Trips
The Netherlands is almost totally flat, which means you can cycle very far without much effort. The cycle paths are well signposted and keep you out of the way of traffic (and I’ve never seen anyone cycling with a helmet). It’s easy to take a day trip to a castle, or the beach, or even go camping if have your tent securely tied to the back of your bike. Just make sure you are not cycling against the wind, which can be an absolute killer!
4) Hitch hiking
When bicycles couldn’t take us into the neighbouring countries, we opted for the equally inexpensive option of hitch hiking. My Dutch friends were only too eager to show me the ropes (there’s a bit more to it than just sticking out your thumb), and although I wouldn’t recommend it for single female travellers, I can totally vouch for it as a very cheap, reasonably fast, and extremely sociable form of travelling. Most of our rides were with businessmen in their brand new company cars, not a bad way to travel I have to say.
5) The Cleaners
Though we allowed almost anyone to clean in return for room and board at our hostel, we often employed foreigners who were trying to find work in the Netherlands. As we worked and ate together we shared in each others’ stories, and I got to meet people from countries I didn’t even know existed. Some of them managed to find work after leaving the hostel, but many had to go back to the streets or the situations that they were trying to escape. Knowing the cleaners radically changed the way I saw the world, it helped me not to take things for granted or judge others without knowing their background.
6) The Red Light District
In the Dutch culture, you call a spade a spade, and sugarcoating anything is considered a terrible waste of sugar. I think that’s why Amsterdam doesn’t conceal its prostitution or its drug use (or outdoor urinals if you need to take a leak on the sidewalk). What some other cities consider a shameful secret, Amsterdam not only legalises, but proudly displays.
No matter how many times I walked through the Red Light, it never became second nature to block out the girls (and guys), the posters, and the invitations to see live sex. This motivated me to learn more about how people get into the sex trade, and the part human trafficking has to play in this. Regardless of my moral opinion, I prefer to know what’s happening around me than live in a haze of ignorance, and Amsterdam made sure that I was always aware.
To sum up my time in Amsterdam with 6 points doesn’t really do it justice, but I hope what it will do is inspire you to bite the bullet and follow a rogue dream, whether that’s jumping on a plane to another continent or a bus to another town. In my experience the outcome is seldom what you expected, but whether it’s a dream or a disaster it always shapes you, and that’s something worth chasing.
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