This month started out with a quick trip to Amsterdam. Although I have been there many times, I have been there sober once. That was yesterday. I always get mistaken for being Dutch, so the airplane is always a constant dialogue of, "Waar is het toilet?" and me saying, "I do not speak Dutch" as I point using my flight attendant, non-offensive, multi-cultural open handed point to the lavatories onboard. Yes, that is a thing. There is a plethora of hilarity that ensues when people start getting offended because of tiny things like that. I know you are holding your breath for the hilarity, so that post is in the queue. Well, in any case, after a 7 hour time change and a lot of pointing to the bathroom, I am always exhausted upon arrival, so I take a quick peek at my view and then nap.
We arrive early in the morning and the sun is just up so we can see the wind turbines in the North Sea. There are thousands of them and it is an incredible view from the air on our early morning descent into Amsterdam Schiphol. We usually arrive to our hotel in time to see the boat club next door opening on the adjacent canal. People rent canoes, sailboats, row boats...(you name it)boats and venture out into the city. I am always amazed at how common the boating in canals is for people in Amsterdam. I saw a 4ish year old with his own sailboat journeying down the canal. I am extra protective and I get huge cultural shock when I see Dutch children being Dutch. I had to swallow my fear when I saw children under ten in boats without life jackets.
In Amsterdam, the bicycle is the #1 mode of transportation. Everyone bikes. Our hotel lends bikes to us, so I thought borrowing a bike and going for a ride along the canals would be a perfect sober activity. When I got downstairs after my 4 hour nap, the bikes were already taken, so I set out to find a souvenir instead.
Now, here is where I got sincere cultural shock. I thought, "everyone bikes, I need a new bicycle helmet, what a great souvenir!" Here's the shocker...In a country where there are more bicycles than people, they do NOT wear helmets! It is cultural. I did not see one person in a helmet. I panicked. I looked for children. No helmets. Babies were in carriers on their mothers' bikes bare-heads shining.
I am not taking a bike helmet home as a souvenir from the most bicycled country on earth. I am, however, taking home a goal to not hover over my future children. Thanks to my sober explorations I learned that worrying is the wrong way to fantasize. Although I just walked a few miles on my 26 hour layover, I walked it in another culture's shoes. I learned more about the Netherlands doing nothing than I had in my many trips in the last 13 years. Actually, who really knows if I learned more? I guess I remember more and absorb more when I look past the Heineken.