Sunday, March 31, 2013

First impressions

I'm going to be honest. The first 24 hours in Amsterdam were not great. If Amsterdam and I were on a first date, I would have called for the bill by now.

I came to visit because I heard that Amsterdam is a hub for digital marketing in Europe and I wanted to see it up close. I'm not sure about the digital marketing part, but what I do think is that this may be a culture that I don't mix well with.

I hope that I'm speaking too soon and that tonight I will have fantastic things to report. But as for now, things look a bit bleak.

Upon arriving to the Amsterdam airport, none of the ticket machines would sell me a train ticket into town. I kept getting messages like "card declined" so I was certain that I didn't know how to use the machine. After trying many machines and searching the airport, I found what I thought would be a helpful ticket person. She explained to me that they are a high security operation that doesn't take American credit cards. She went on to lecture me about my inferior card. Thank goodness I had a little cash. I paid and left ASAP.

I caught the first train into town. From there, I was to take a tram to my hotel. Passengers were lined up to get on the tram. Each person would buy a ticket from the driver as they entered. Just as I was entering, the driver decided to shut the door on me and my big backpack as I was half way in the door. Suddenly I was outside in the cold, waiting 20 minutes for the next one. Eventually, I made it on a tram, but the thing only dropped me about a half mile from my place. This left me wandering through the dark streets in the cold, trying not to get hit by one of the random bicycles zooming past.

I'm staying at a four star business hotel that I got through bidding on The staff was friendly and I learned that although Internet is free here, a new password is required each day.

That night, I had dinner at an Italian restaurant in my hotel. Given that this is a big city and I'm at a business hotel, I was able to order my meal in English. The ironic thing was that the waiter (who was fluent in English) continued to speak to me in Dutch throughout my meal, as if trying to make a point. I'm okay with a foreign language (obviously), but a bit less okay at the point he was trying to make... Whatever it was.

After dinner, I made an attempt to have one drink at the bar. This may have been the biggest mistake of all. I had barely started to sip on my wine when an old Scottish man of about 65 pulled up a chair next to me. I'm pretty good with all different accents, but this is the first version of English I could not understand. He reminded me of all of the Scottish characters portrayed by Mike Myers over the years. It was like we were talking over a staticky phone line, where you understand 25% of what's said and try to guess at the other 75%. What I do know is that he owns a trucking company, he hates social media, and he was approached by a prostitute (who it turns out was much too expensive in his opinion). He also suspects she may have been a police officer, so he was glad he decided against the offer. Oh, and he was married.

This lovely dialogue was interrupted by a much too eager younger man. He was about 30 years old, around 6'4" with chin length blind hair. He seemed a bit off and his skin looked a little greenish to me. The first thing he said was that he was there to save me. He then let me know that he was local, which I assume is relative since he was staying in the hotel. Next, he asked if I needed someone to keep me warm at night. After declining his much too generous offer, I turned back to the bar, my back facing him. He stood directly behind me for a few minutes like a puppy that's unsure of what trick to do next. A few minutes later, he came back with his Internet password. He claimed not to know how to connect to the Internet and needed my help. I helped him and went back to trying to finish my wine ASAP.

The Scottish man begged me to stay longer which made me want to leave even faster. I quickly headed through the hotel to the elevator. Out of nowhere, I hear the Dutch guy yelling, flailing, and running through the hotel after me. (Tip: this is freaky-- don't chase a woman through her hotel). He was upset that he didn't know my name and wanted to volunteer to go sightseeing with me the following day. Of course I declined this also too generous offer.

In hopes that I could rest, I stayed in my hotel the entire next day. I slept in and called for room service. I asked if it was too late for breakfast and ordered a ham and cheese lunch sandwich and a glass of water. The woman on the phone explained that I can get water out of the bathroom sink and that she wouldn't be bringing me water. Keep in mind, this is a 4-star business hotel. As such, I paid over $17 for a ham and cheese to be delivered. When the food arrived, she did bring me water and explained that she brought it since I don't understand that there is water in the bathroom. I explained that the cups in the bathroom don't seem super clean. She then went on to lecture me that if I would only wake up earlier and remember when breakfast ends, I could have breakfast next time. Awesome.

After enjoying my super high class ham and cheese, I headed down to the local super market. I wanted to be sure to pick up my own breakfast this time. The grocery was okay more or less. It was listed as a high end grocery online, but seemed more like a dirty Kroger on the inside. In the international aisle, they had Jiffy peanut butter and a box of macaroni and cheese. It's good to know what food we're sharing with the world...

As I walked up to the check out line, I noticed a sign that appeared to say "credit card only" so I *nicely* asked the cashier "do you only take credit in this line?" She replied by yelling at me in an annoyed voice, "We only take DUTCH credit cards here!!!! DUTCH credit cards!!" "Okay," I said, "I have cash." "DUTCH credit cards!" was her response. I went one line over to another checker who was willing to accept my cash.

Upon re-entering my hotel, I felt a sigh of relief. That is, until my door key stopped working. I took it to the front desk to get it fixed up. The front desk looked at me (and my bags of groceries) and started in on a lecture. If only I wouldn't keep the key near my cell phone, it would have been fine. I responded that it was not near my phone to which the staff person responded "well, this is a *magnetic* strip you know." Yes, I do understand the magnetic strip key concept. Just fix it. Stop lecturing me!

I'm awake now and am hoping to have a much more positive day to report. Keep your fingers crossed.

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