If my fascination with Japan is based on the, well, contradictions, it’s safe to say that my fascination with The Netherlands is based on, well…contradictions. When I first arrived in Amsterdam as a wide-eyed 22-year old, just 4 days into my first foray overseas, I was shocked and uncomfortable with the overall grunge and grit found around every corner. By the time I got on the Deutsche Bahn train at Centraal Station headed for Koln, I truly believed that everyone in Amsterdam was dirty, high and paying for sex on a daily basis.
Left with this sour first impression, I was surprised when the next year I found myself working amidst Dutch people for the first time, and found them to be among the most business-focused, precise and organized people I had ever encountered. Now having perception of the Dutch spanning two opposite extremes, by the time I returned to Holland a few years later, I found it to be a completely fascinating and different place. In reality, it was comprised of the same grunge, the same 300-some “Coffeshops” that could legally sell up to five grams of soft drugs to each customer, and the same scantily-clad Eastern European (and other) women on display in the Red Light District. The difference, of course, was in my own mentality.
Amsterdam is a breeding grounds for individuality, where strange and different is not merely tolerated, it is embraced. Which pretty much makes the term “strange” irrelevant around here. Quite simply, nothing is strange, rather…everything just is. This can surely come as a shock at first to people raised on a particular set of ideals, norms and visions, but will always prove to be a lively and passionate breath of fresh air the moment one proves capable of breaking the shackles of “norms” and whets their palette for any adventure that may be lurking around the corner…