A few weeks ago, I got stuck in Times Square on my way to a dinner in Koreatown. It was 7 p.m. on a deliciously muggy August evening, so naturally, I was instantly reminded of my unbridled hate for tourists. As I slithered through the crowd — quietly cursing out all those who stopped short in front of me to take a picture of a shitty neon sign or stalled for even a moment when the traffic light finally turned green — all I could think of was how much slower and stickier New York’s streets are when they teem with vacationers. I have no patience for them, really; I speed up when I sense them pausing to ask for directions, and I scoff at their patent inability to maneuver the Subway.
I’ve been lucky to travel quite a bit, so you’d think I’d be more understanding of the Tourist’s Plight. But because my family has almost always journeyed to cities where we’re well connected with locals, I’ve never really felt like a tourist in any of the places I’ve visited.
I recently arrived in Amsterdam for a semester abroad. Admittedly, I chose Amsterdam somewhat arbitrarily when deciding where I wanted to study away this term. Some determining factors included its reputation as a stupidly beautiful city absolutely overrun by stupidly beautiful (TALL) people, its notoriously progressive attitude towards sex, drugs (and rock n’ roll), the fact that Williams doesn’t offer Dutch, which means that — no matter how shitty I am at it — I won’t have to continue studying the velvety, uncomplicated, Germanic tongue upon my return to campus in the Spring, and finally, that I’d never been to Holland before (all valid, compelling motivators). So, here I am, a Grade A fucking tourist, in the middle of a city about which I know jack shit.
I came to the jarring realization that I am now the Dutch equivalent to that incessant-picture-taking, dirty-water-hot-dog-eating, directions-asking, I-<3-NY-tee-wearing, Times-Square-wandering nobody when I hopped on my embarrassingly conspicuous rental bike for the first time. I was riding along a canal to Central Station when I cut off a local who proceeded to scream “KANKER!” in my wake. “Kanker,” for those of you unfamiliar with the language, is Dutch for “cancer” (we Dutch prefer to curse one another with diseases above all else). I then got lost on my way home. Having yet to purchase a data-enabled SIM card, I was left without Google Maps and forced to turn to a resident for directions. Everyone speaks English here, so you’d think the interaction would’ve gone off without a hitch, but because my pronunciations of street names is nothing short of atrocious, the Dutchman had literally no idea where I intended to go until I wrote down the address. He laughed. “Ohhhh, Czar Peterstraat, sure!”
I’ve since been softly ridiculed at coffee shops for getting noticeably anxious when asked too many questions about what kind of spliff I want, scoffed at when recounting my experience at the Heineken factory, and of course, damned with many a disease while biking to class.
So, today, I ask forgiveness of all the innocent tourists at whom I laughed and rolled my eyes for years. You’re idiots, but now I’m one, too.
P.S. Mom and dad, no, I’m not smoking that much weed, and yes, despite my misadventures, Amsterdam is fucking terrific.