You don’t have to go far to experience new people or new social norms. Sometimes, a few miles can make a huge difference. But this time, I traveled over 4,000 miles to Germany and the Netherlands to breath in some new air and here are 10 things I observed along the way…..
I’ve always been aware that America is land of the prude and the home of hypocrisy. We [Americans] sell sex and sexualize every possible thing we can, but then turn around and shame nudity. We shame public breastfeeding, but unnaturally large breasts are plastered everywhere. Breasts are idolized in every nook and cranny of America, but woman can’t be topless. It’s taboo to go braless because gahhh forbid someone sees some nipples under clothes. Oh, but the Europeans….
My first encounter with nudity was at Nordseetherme Bensersiel, a day spa right on the North Sea. Being a lady who detests wearing clothes in general, I was very excited to be with 'my people' who viewed something the same way I did. Much to my surprise, it was way more uncomfortable for me than I would’ve guessed! I timidly removed my swimsuit under my towel while trying to look as casual as possible. Off to the sauna rituals we go. Naked ppl everywhere. Inside, outside, drinking coffee at the cafe...everywhere. We were to sit in a sauna, take a quick shower outside, take a dip in the freezing cold outdoor pool and repeat. I cannot count how many times I whispered, “Jeremy, I'm literally having a hard time stopping myself from staring at all these dicks just flopping all over the place in here.” Being my very gay best friend, he enthusiastically agreed. Here’s what I noticed:
Nobody cared they were nude. Nobody cared that others were nude. There were grown men swimming in the same tiny pool with 12 year old girls. Grown women walking around with teenage boys. And it was completely normal. Europeans don’t sexual nudity like Americans do. Nothing to hide, nothing to be ashamed of and definitely nothing to sexualize.
After the first sauna treatment, where some tall and attractive [and nude] man took a huge fan and waved fennel and anise infused scalding hot air in our direction, we [about 20 of us] stepped outside to rub each other down with sea salt. We showered, swam in the pool for a moment and headed back to the sauna. I stuck out like a sore thumb with my towel 'casually' draped in front of me. I'm not sure if it was the extreme temperature change or the fact that my bare ass was getting rubbed down with salt, but I quickly lost all inhibitions and with little or no delay, I enjoyed the rest of my bare afternoon.
This observation started in Amsterdam, where pretty much everybody smokes pot. I’m pretty sure I got high just from walking around. Old people, young people, Dutch people and foreign people….it seemed as if they all love pot. From Amsterdam, I headed northeast to Groningen. My bestie and I went to the Noorderzon Performing Arts Festival, where pot was abundant. The gay club on Saturday night was no different and there I watched plenty of people sniff things off keys and men and women followed each other into the bathroom stalls. Drugs are technically illegal in the Netherlands, but only if you're producing, distributing, importing/exporting or possessing them. It is not illegal, however, to use them. Either way, 'soft' drugs are pretty tolerated and the personal use of them usually doesn't carry harsh punishment.
Pretty much everyone smokes cigarettes here. If you’re not a smoker, this can really suck. Putting health reasons aside, it was very unpleasant that all of my clothes and hair smelled pretty stank from being around it all the time. I also wondered if I was coming off as a rude American girl every time I declined a cigarette from a local. It happened quite a bit and everyone seemed to be a bit surprised when I told them I didn’t smoke. Everywhere I went seemed to be very accommodating to the nasty habit and if I still smoked, it woulda been great.
I’ve always been under the impression that there were just two ways to dispose of garbage at home; garbage or recycle. Nope. In Westerstede, Germany, I learned how to really recycle. Plastic goes in one bin. Paper goes in another. Glass stays together. All food scraps, tea bags, coffee grinds, etc. goes in another bin. And then everything else is thrown in a ‘normal’ garbage. Awesome, right?! My European friend told me it got easier with time, but for the short week I was there, it took me forever to do so and created a brief panic putting things in the proper bin.
Due to the direct approach that the Dutch take on communicating, I read somewhere that it's very common for foreigners to be easily offended in the Netherlands. Their no bullshit approach works quite well, but Americans aren’t exactly used to it. The Dutch don't say anything to offend anyone or to make them feel uncomfortable, that’s just the way to communicate. No beating around the bush and no sugar coating anything. For example: “I don’t really like septum rings on girls.” Luckily it takes more than a breeze to blow me over, so I never got offended and I really appreciated this form of honesty.
Bicycles are the main mode of transportation. Way more bikes than vehicles.
**Side story: when I was a pubescent child, I wiped out on my bike right in front of my first love, Dorian. I mean, I really ate dirt that day. It was bad. Bad enough that I never rode a bike after that.**
Back to the Netherlands….bikes are the way to get everywhere you need to go. Going out to the club? Ride your bike. Grocery shopping? Bike. Have a bunch of kids? No biggie, just pile them on your bike. Bike lanes, bike lights, bike turn lanes. Bikes, bikes, bikes! After walking more than I typically like to walk and after uncomforrtably side sitting on the back of bike to get around town, I finally decided that if I were ever to ride a bike again, it might as well be with the Dutch. So I did! It actually is kinda like riding a bike, after all. Except that it was terrifying. And I shook every time I rode. And had a hard time keeping up. And stopping. And starting back up. But other than that, it was awesome!
I can’t exactly say if things tasted better than American food/beverages, but it all was very different. I had a real german bratwurst. It looked or tasted nothing like the American version. Fries are a big thing and they’re delicious. They’re also always served with mayo and if you want ketchup, expect to pay for it and don't be surprised if they look at you funny. The burgers were….different. Here’s the thing; everything tastes very healthy. Like, even the Fanta soda tastes like it’s almost good for you. I wonder why. Oh yeah! Because there isn't high fructose corn syrup in everything! European food regulations are way more advanced than America. The proof is definitely in the pudding, pun intended. Also, I didn’t really see any obese people. I wonder if better food and physical based transportation has anything to do with it.
Germany and the Netherlands aren't the first countries I've been to that use a different currency than America. However, Euros kinda suck. The exchange rate sucks. The paper bills are not the same size and if you have OCD like I do, then this is really unpleasant. And lastly, the 1 euro and 2 euros are coins. Coming from someone who rarely even bends down to pick up a dropped coin, holding on and using these euros for payment really sucked. However, I did find myself in more places than not that only accepted euros and not credit cards or US dollars.
With the exception of friends I was introduced to, I didn’t really have any interactions with men. However, I did notice a few things....
About 94% of them dress very well. I mean like, dapper as hell. Perhaps it helped that most people were in fairly good shape, but everyone always seemed to be well put together. Pretty much all of them wear skinny jeans/pants. I think this is more functional while bike peddling, but it just so happens to look very nice. Shirts were well fitted, suits were impeccably tailored and belts and shoes matched. No baggy clothes and no scrubs walking around. There are also so many tall blonde hair/blue eyed people! This is kinda obvious considering my whereabouts, but it was very apparent to me and kinda interesting. Also, during my entire stay, I never once heard a cat call, a whistle or a shout out towards a woman. Now this was something very foreign to me and quite nice to observe. And last but not least, all the men are all intact. Although I tried my very best not to, I still looked at tons of penis while at the spa. Maybe because I’m an American woman, maybe it was outta curiosity. Either way, I saw a bunch of dicks that day. And not a single one of them were circumcised. Because that is the complete norm. It was refreshing to be around people who have the same perceptive on some things as I do. Circumcision came up in conversation one day and a Dutch man said something along the lines of not understanding why Americans do some of the dumb shit that they do. I couldn’t agree more, Dutch man.
I would say overall, the women dress relatively conservatively. I didn’t see a whole lot of cleavage [or really big boobs, for that matter] and even downtown in Groningen on a Saturday night, I never saw any skanky dressed girl. The women were put together nicely as well as the men were, but not as much eye candy as the men had to offer. Again, blondes everywhere. Maybe that’s why nobody really stuck out very much; they all kinda looked the same. Kidding. Every female I encountered was super friendly. This is something else that is not very common in Milwaukee. But the Europeans were very friendly and they seemed warm and authentic. It was refreshing. A new friend that I met there said something along the lines of the Dutch being like a bath...warm and welcoming. She was absolutely correct.
I could go on and on about things I saw and observed while on holiday! It was a lovely experience and I'm looking forward to visiting again. And of course I snapped a photo or two! Feel free to check them out right here!