Last week my mom sent me some mail she'd collected for me, and along with it she sent a couple of Dutch-related sections from The Oregonian. One is the Science section from September 7 that has an article showing a few notes the US could take from the Dutch about flood management, especially with the lessons learned here after the big flood of 1953.
The other section she sent is the Travel section from August 14 that has a profile on Amsterdam, complete with a large photo on the front page of the Concertgebouw with a tram and cyclists in the foreground. It's funny, and a bit weird, to read about Amsterdam in my hometown paper. The writer gets a couple of things not quite right. She refers to coffeeshops as "coffeehouses", for one (those would be the places where you can actually get coffee...) and she describes the Dam as "the nerve center of the city and home to the palace that is City Hall." Um, no, it was
a city hall and now actually is a palace... But never mind, the article paints a nice picture of the city.
Though the picture the article paints is almost too nice. There is a sidebar to the article that is meant to dispel some of the myths about Amsterdam, saying things like "no, there's not prostitutes hustling on every street corner or people smoking joints all around you." OK, fair enough. But I wonder about some of the other things the author writes. She says "aggressive bicyclists" are a myth: "Bike riders would prefer that you stay off the designated bike lanes, but they aren't rude about it. They also stop for pedestrians at intersections." Hmmm... Sometimes. I did see a kitted-out guy on a mountain bike stop short to let a pedestrian cross the path (at a zebra crossing) the other day. But there are many more bikers who zip through a light, pedestrians and other bikers be damned.
What really got me though was the following "myth": "Cigarette smoke everywhere." When I first read that, I didn't get that the sidebar was listing things that aren't
true about Amsterdam, I thought it was listing warnings about the city. It goes on to say, "Many, if not most, restaurants are smoke-free. [*snort*]
Folks tend to go outside if they want to light up. [*sneeeeerk*]
With typical tolerance, the Dutch don't prohibit smoking - it was allowed in our hotel room, for instance - but most people are too polite to smoke where it could bother others. [*bwah!*]
What alternate-reality Amsterdam did this writer visit, and where is the portal to cross over to it? I can't think of one smoke-free restaurant, and not many even have a non-smoking area, probably due to the size of the average restaurant: there's not much room to split it into two parts, and even if you did, the smoke's not going to stay on its own side. And the thought of a Dutch person leaving the table and going outside to smoke to be polite to others... ain't gonna happen. I don't know where the writer got these ideas - maybe she was in touristy restaurants filled with non-smokers? - but the Netherlands are amazingly holding on firmly to their smoking allowances. It really is surprising from a country that otherwise is so progressive, with its gay marriage and euthanasia and drug policies that other countries try to mirror, that they are actually arguing against it and saying that banning smoking from all indoor public places doesn't work and is too expensive and loses the bars and restaurants so much money, even though it has
worked in the US and Ireland and Sweden, etc. It doesn't make any sense to pander to the 30% of the population that smokes at the expensive of the health and happiness of the 70% who don't.
Anyway, didn't mean for it to turn into such a anti-smoking rant. I actually didn't mind smoking really, until I moved here, but that also had to do with dealing with my in-laws smoking when none of my family that I grew up around smokes, so I just wasn't used to being around it all the time and I came to be really bothered by it. Plus I guess more people in general smoke here, so a smoky bar in Amsterdam is going to be smokier than a smoky bar in Portland. It's just there more, and I think the government is being a wussy for not cutting it out of more public places, particularly restaurants.