Friday, September 4, 2009

Dear! Holland! Stop! Raining! and other loving complaints from a Canadian

for two weeks now i have been living in Amsterdam as a resident, not a tourist. this means that no, i have not seen the Sex Museum or rolled a joint in a coffeeshop or gawked at a hooker or partied at a red light district hostel. but i have agonized at a grocery store trying to figure out what is the local dish soap brand, used Google Translate to decipher what a dutch website is saying about the local weather (the only accurate weather website is for Dutch people only, apparently, like a secrety society), shopped around for the best bargain guitar, and tried to get some free medical advice from the Dutch Telehealth line. this, i think entitles me to say a few words about the city.

1. first of all, i do love this city. it's a comfortable size, with the same population as my hometown Ottawa, but with centuries more history and therefore much more developed. i love that biking is an actual transportation option here. i love that most people speak at least a little English (which is more than I can say about many Canadians). i love that everything is close. i love their love for cheese. i love their love for chocolate (chocolate: not just a dessert topping anymore). i also love that i only six hours of class a week. i love many many things. i don't, love however...

2. the rain. PLEASE. HOLLAND. STOP. RAINING. please. i just moved here from Vancouver. there are many similarities between Vancouver (where topless girls sell you weed) and Amsterdam (where clothed girls sell you weed), namely, as you can guess, weed and rain. i think eight months of rain will kill me. Mother Nature, you heartless bitch, you take a young girl's dreams for a Friday night and cruelly toss them into the stormy wind. and then you break her umbrella. isn't it a bit much?

3. the questionable bike paths. i'm not complaining about the existence of bike paths, i'm just questioning what seems to be the definition of a bike. why are motorcycles on the bike paths? they are much much faster than bikes, plus people who ride them are obnoxious, even more obnoxious than bicyclists. and the other day, i swear on my heart that i saw a Smart Car driving in the bike lane. WHY??? dear Smart Car, you may be a pathetic excuse for a car, but you are still a car.

4. paying for bathrooms. for men, there are unsightly public urinals all over the streets so men can yank it out and relieve themselves while admiring the view of the canals. free of charge. for women, we have the exciting opportunity to pay 50 cents to use a washroom that isn't particularly clean or fancy. come on, if i'm paying for a bathroom, there better be a Renaissance-style water fountain for me to piss into, and there better be a string quartet to accompany the sounds of me peeing, and there better be a well-groomed barely post-pubescent towel boy massage-drying my hands for me. or at the very least, i want a public urinal too. i am so filing a human rights complaint based on gender discrimination.

5. i know the legalized pot thing is part of the big draw for the tourism industry, but stoned tourists are sooooo annoying. the only thing more annoying than white people on drugs are white people on drugs that can't stop talking about being white people on drugs.

6. the street signs. whoever is in charge of these street signs needs to go back to school. if i was living in Toronto and wanted to go to a destination, getting there is easy. you take the address (1 King Street East). Pop it into Google Map, and note the intersection (King and Yonge). you make note of the streets that come before and after, and then you can find your way there. sometimes you can use Google to print out specific directions.

i have learned time and time again that this is not the dutch way. first of all, you can look at a map and note to yourself, "all i have to do is go in a straight line" but you will rapidly find out that you will still get lost going in a straight line, and not just because the city centre is a series of concentric circles. streets will magically turn into other street names with no warning whatsoever and then when you're not looking, turn back into the original street. you will arrive at intersections, major intersections, where none of the streets are labeled, not a single one - you have to make a random turn and much later on a small sign will congratulate you on making the right guess, against all odds. maps are wrong, and some streets are not labeled at all on the maps. sometimes you will have two streets with the exact same name, perpendicular to each other. Jake, my bike companion tells me that Google Maps will allow you to plan a trip using bike paths in some cities in California. Not so here. in parts outside of the city, bike paths do not necessarily follow the streets (they dance and twirl around the roads and sometimes perilously dart right across), so using google directions to bike across the city is useless unless you're brave and stupid enough to bike on a highway with the trucks.

you can try using the canals as guiding landmarks, but there are so many of them that it won't work. you basically have to draw your Jedi sense, learn to ride your bike with your eyes shut, be prepared to swallow your pride to ask the locals for directions many times (and many times they too will squint confused at your map), or else hope that there's a clear sky so you can follow at the moon and the stars, just like your ancestors did when they were stomping around and living in caves.

7. have i mentioned the rain? has it somehow been coordinated so that it only starts raining when i unlock my bicycle? what does the world have against me recovering from my cold?

the nice spanish boy who walks me home tells me all about his hometown every night. in spain, it is always sunny. in spain, it's so hot that people have siestas. in fact, it is forty degrees in spain right now. clearly i need to move to spain next. i wonder what their bike paths are like?

lovingly yours,