Introduction: A Slippery City
I hate explaining why I chose to study in Amsterdam. I dread my audience’s facial expressions. The second I name the place, I can see it in their eyes. My shields go up right away: “There’s a lot more to the city than that… No, that stuff’s only in the touristy center… Dutch people aren’t even into it…”
No one believes me.
They can’t believe me because the philosophical gap between the Netherlands and America is too great. How can an American fathom a country that’s at once more liberal than California (gay marriage, legalized pot, and hookers) but also more conservative than the deepest south (overtly racist elected officials), all crammed into an area slightly larger than Maryland, with 10 times the population density of the U.S.?
This series represents my attempt to figure the Netherlands out. To be frank, I know barely more than when I started. Amsterdam almost feels like an Americanized city, but it never loses that smell of raw Dutch musk. You’ll often see me use words like “pragmatic,” trying to name the ubiquitous spirit that fuels the city. But these rigid, industrial terms are shallow stabs at a much deeper municipal current. Though I couldn’t find a firm grasp in those waters, I sure enjoyed being swept along by the stream.