Read more about my Self Care Sabbatical and the other places I’ve visited!
When I went to Amsterdam, I was curious about checking out one of the coffeeshops aka the cafes where you can buy pot, smoke, and just hang out. Now I am not generally a smoker so this wasn’t something I was really excited about, but to be in Amsterdam and understand its culture a bit more, I wanted to see what this was all about. Most of the coffeeshops I saw at first seemed very touristy. They were located in the center of town and seemed to attract a certain clientele: 20-something British dudes (and probably some American bros thrown in there). This was not for me.
However, since I chose to stay outside of the center, I googled around to see if there were any coffeeshops in the area. And bingo! There was one just a block away from my hotel. There were a few reviews stating that it was definitely more of a locals vibe, not touristy at all (and thus cheaper prices). So, on my third night in Amsterdam, I gathered my courage and walked over to check it out.
(Yes, I was nervous. As I mentioned, I don’t really smoke. Occasionally with friends when they are smoking, sure. But I don’t ever smoke on my own, couldn’t roll a joint if I tried, and generally don’t get very high. I prefer drinking as my vice and, while totally comfortable wandering into a local pub, I was not feeling quite at ease with this experience.)
I decided to claim my ignorance right away. I walked in, two other girls right behind me, and stepped up to the counter. The woman working there seemed friendly and as I nervously explained that I was visiting Amsterdam and wanted to check out this place and had no clue what I was doing, she quickly put me at ease with a brief explanation of the menu. The two other girls, also foreigners, bought some pot and left. I went for a pre-rolled joint (because I have no idea what I’m doing as I explained), bought a cheap I ♥ Amsterdam lighter, and stepped into the smoking room in the back.
The room was small and dark with a few large fans placed strategically to keep the room as ventilated as possible. It worked, for the most part. I wound up hanging out there for about 2 hours and never really felt that gross sitting in a small room of smokers. There were a few stools placed around the room, a small bar wound around the perimeter of the mirror-walled room. Oh great, I can look at myself while I do this.
There were a few other people in the room, including an older man to my left and a young guy on my right in the corner. I felt like everyone was watching me as I picked up the joint to light it and tried to “act natural”. The young guy was clearly watching me and started joking around with me because of how nervous I looked. At first, I wanted to leave. Just give it all up right there. I felt like an idiot. But then, he kept talking to me and seemed genuinely nice. Sure, he was teasing me a bit, but this was the first person who had chatted me up so far on my trip.
He was a local, his name was Farhad, and he came to this coffeeshop pretty regularly. He was quite the regular smoker it seemed; he was rolling joints throughout the time I was there and smoked quite a few in the time that I smoked one (I preferred chatting to smoking it seemed). He was of Morroccan descent, but born and raised in Amsterdam. He was curious about the US, never having been but interested in visiting New York or Los Angeles or maybe Chicago. I was happy to have someone to talk to.
Shortly after we started talking, Rashid walked in. He was also a regular, it seemed. All of these guys here knew one another in that they all frequented this place. (Also, I mean guys literally. There were very few women here). Rashid quickly joined our conversation.
Also, I would like to comment on how great their English was. Had it not been for that, this whole visit would have been super awkward.
We talked for awhile about everything: Amsterdam’s culture, US, politics, Trump, immigration, travel. These men, as Dutch men of color, offered up their experience living in Amsterdam and Europe generally, and we talked about the politics of race and ethnicity in different countries. I slowly smoked the joint that I had bought, thinking of it now more like a ticket into this little locals’ only club. It no longer interested me, I wanted it gone as quickly as possible and yet had no desire to smoke it all. (In Amsterdam, they roll their joints with tobacco. I hate smoking tobacco so this was also not so pleasant.) I feigned interest in the joint as Farhad, Rashid, and I continued our conversation. The two of them kept offering me their joints to try, but I waved them off as if this joint was enough when in reality my throat was burning and I was pretty over it.
But I loved meeting these guys (in fact a few more came in and joined the conversation) – not only having people to talk to, but also being able to meet some locals in their hangout. By the time I left, two hours later, my nervousness was gone (also I was a little stoned), and I was reminded of the benefits of stepping out of your comfort zone. The visit to the coffeeshop stretched me in a lot of ways, but it has been one of the more memorable experiences of my trip so far.
What travel moments or experiences got you out of your comfort zone (and made your trip better because of it?)