Monday, March 10, 2008

It's a Small World Cafe After All

It is gray and rainy.

I rode my bike to a client meeting.

Life as usual for me - EXCEPT it is happening in Amsterdam rather than Portland.  

But aside from everyone speaking Dutch and being taller and blonder than usual, how different is Amsterdam?

Here are some clues from my first few days here.  

One of my colleagues left some peanut butter in the fridge during a recent visit.  It was very confusing because I could not tell if the expiry date of 02.08.08 meant "February 8, 2008" or "August 2, 2008."

I was in a quandary until I remembered:  I pay absolutely no attention to expiry dates.  So I ate the peanut butter.  

That which does not kill us can be used to make a tasty sandwich, as Nietzsche said (I believe he said this right around lunchtime).

I took a walk just after arriving.  As I passed this van, I noticed two naked people in the front seat having sex.  
Which seemed odd inasmuch as if you have a panel van, you might perhaps duck into the back for a bit more privacy.  Or at least they might go for a tasteful bumper sticker.  Don't come a-knockin when the van is geslacht-in.

But who wants an infernal combustion engine?  I needed to buy a used bike. I shopped at several fiets winkelen, and if you happen to be in the market, I highly recommend Otto Fiets on Overtoom.  As the salesguy was showing me fietsen, I told him my brother repairs and sells bikes.  "I hope you will treat me just like your sister," I said.

"I have no sisters," he said.  

"I am the sister you never had," I promised.

"I have four sisters.  All older.  You are not missing anything," his colleague, who turned out to be Edwin Otto, owner of Otto Fietsen, told us.

I ended up with a Batavus, which is a very respected Dutch brand of bikes.  The model I got is the Navajo, apparently the lost tribe of Dutch bike builders.  Turquoise is the new Titanium, I guess.  The bike cost 150 Euros.  The bike lock cost 39 Euros.  Quite a bargain when you consider the lock weighs about as much as the bike.
The Dutch love to bike.  This is historically true - after invading, one of the first restrictions the Nazis placed on Jews was forbidding them to ride those bitchin' oma fietsen around town. 

These days, you can see an entirely family of four on a single bike, mother pedaling three kids along.  This is the mini-van of the Netherlands (kids go in the basket):
And just like any minivan, it is littered with kid-shlepping detritus.

Once I had my new used fiets, I was free to roam the city soaking up culture.  

I learned from a listing in Amsterdam Weekly that there was a special exhibit here this week on my fave nation, Canadia. 

As you can see, they got the finest graphic designers in the frozen north to create the program.  

The Saturday evening event was advertised as an opportunity for "learning all about the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, alternative uses for money, and our unique Parliamentary structures for authority."   In fact it was three Canadian dudes conning a bunch of women into playing quarters.

They were clever lads, but not ultimately successful in the art of seduction.

The fake woods with maple syrup tapping and make-out tent was, though underutilized, a nice touch.  

Canadia was just my first meta-international experience in Amsterdam.  Sunday I went to A Small World Cafe to meet a client, Sofie, for a fabulous late lunch.  

The Small World Cafe is an Amsterdam institution. The owner is Australian.  The staff on Sunday was Minnesotan, English, and Israeli (one of each).  When Sofie was ordering, the Israeli woman behind the counter said, "Are you Israeli?  Because I hear you have an accent, and I am speaking to you in English, but maybe we could both speak Hebrew?"  

Sofie confessed she is not Israeli.  "People here ask me all the time if I'm Israeli," she told me.  "I feel bad when I have to admit I'm actually German."

"Yeah," I said, "it's sort of the opposite of Israeli."

I tried to cheer Sofie up by telling her the Small World Cafe reminded me of the bagel store where I worked when I was in high school.  "I was actually the only Jew there.  Everyone else was Italian."

"There are a lot of Italians in New York?" she asked.

"Yeah, my town was basically half Italian, half Jewish.  We're very similar.  A lot of guilt, a lot of food.  When you'd meet someone, you'd say 'Which are you?'  Because we all kind of looked alike, dark hair, big noses."

Sofie laughed at that, which I thought was nice.  As Anne Frank, SuperJew of Amsterdam, might have said had she been there with us, "Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.  And these muffins, they are even better."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

when you ask the bike guy to 'treat you like his sister' does it mean you hope he charges you full price??!!

thanks for the 'mention' the other day ('avid readers of this blog...')

hope all is well, enjoy the tulips,