So now here we were in Amsterdam, during the chaotic World Cup celebrations without a plan or a place to sleep. What could go wrong?!
We decided to take a walk and look at some canal houses. Might as well enjoy ourselves instead of worrying, we thought. (Unfortunately!) along the way, something caught my husbands eye – a brightly lit neon sign enticing him to come in and experience some of Amsterdam’s most famous ‘culture’.
Before I go any further, let me point out that the ‘coffee shop’ laws are changing as of January 1st 2013. No longer will tourists be able to go to Amsterdam with intentions of experiencing the city to it’s fullest – only to end up bewildered, disoriented and paralyzed on a park bench gathering understandably disdainful looks from leering locals.
Yes, I am speaking from personal experience. Not such a bad thing these changes, I think (though I am aware many would disagree)!
The ‘cafe experience’ is very strange to me even though I hail from the number two place in the world for this occurrence – British Columbia, Canada. Though we do have (two) similar establishments, it is not the essence of our city.
‘Partaking’ is not an openly acceptable act. While it is true that Canadians, in general, take a lax stance on this topic – when compared to our neighbour country – I still think it would be safe to say that many of us do not agree with these establishments.
As a matter of fact, the ‘cafes’ here lie in an area most people choose not to go. So, we keep our ‘counter culture’ hidden away in the dark recesses of Vancouver because as a whole, we are not sure about it.
Amsterdam doesn’t experience this large scale waffling, though as I mentioned, they have officially reconsidered their stance regarding tourists.
Back to our night. The shops are essentially the same, whichever is chosen. You walk into the (usually) dark, smokey, (sometimes) air-conditoned shop containing a labyrinth of rooms.
The first thing you see is a large counter and detailed, elaborate menu. As soon as you walk to the counter (awkward!), you are presented a book filled with (at least) dozens of clear plastic folders containing samples of your particular cafe’s wares.
You are expected to smell before your purchase, and many people will do more than that. If you are someone who knows essentially nothing about the product, the staff will be more than happy to help you make the right choice.
One (huge!) ‘item’ costs about 7 euros and often comes in it’s own plastic case. At that point, you will be offered an overpriced snack (muffin, cupcake, cookie, chips) or a drink (non-alcoholic, of course!) and reminded that you can not smoke cigarettes in the cafe, but are welcome to try out your new purchase in any of the available rooms – and very certainly do NOT take any pictures (you dumb tourist!).
We took our new purchase and stood awkwardly at the counter for a few moments until the ‘salesman’ noticed our uncomfortable paralysis and said;
‘…You can go and smoke that anywhere inside or out, but the air-conditioned room is nice’.
Stunned, we followed his pointing finger to the green leather couch in the neighbouring room…