EUROPE

Amazed at Haarlem B&B – Rick Steves’ travel blog


I think doing travel memories regularly can be good for the market. This is one of my favourites And I’d love to hear some of my unforgettable travel tales, too.

It’s the summer of 2008, and I’m lounging in the living room of my B&B in the Amsterdam suburb of Haarlem with my hosts Hans and Margit. To get to my Heineken, I noticed that it is in a pamphlet issued by the Dutch government to teach prostitutes about safe sex. Through admiration, I tell Hans, “He’s artistic and candid at the same time.”

“It’s Victoria without the secret,” he whispers cheerfully.

“Isn’t this shocking to a lot of people?” I ask.

He answers: “Only for the English and the Americans.” “Remember, this is Holland. Last night we watched a local TV documentary. It was about body piercing, in full graphic detail – breasts, penis, everything. Last week there was a special showing on the Kama Sutra. Sexual gymnastics like I’ve never seen it before. For To us Dutch, these were just two other documentaries…not important. Perhaps these would have been big hits on American television.”

“I don’t know,” I said, realizing that I found the pamphlet more interesting than Hans. “But you know what is the most visited page on my website? A wacky little article comparing Amsterdam’s sex museums.”

“Sex is not a clickbait here. It’s not a taboo in the Netherlands. But we’re not hot sex either. The Dutch teen pregnancy rate is half the American rate,” Margit says.

Staying in a B&B saves money. As a bonus, I find that my bed and breakfast hosts are often wonderful students with a multicultural human nature and love to share their findings. They gave me an intimate glimpse into a culture that I couldn’t get from the hotel front desk.

This certainly applies to Hans and Marjet, who encourage guests to make themselves completely at home. And in their living room, with its worn chairs, cluttered books, funky antiques, and an upstanding piano full of ragged music, it’s easy to feel right at home.

Hans and Margit live in three rooms and rent out five. Hans would like a little more living space. Like his neighbors, he could put the glass in his little backyard, but he couldn’t stand the trade away from his lush but pint-sized garden. Bring me another beer, he asks, “How long are you going to stay here this time?”

“Not long enough” is my usual response. I’m Hans Yankee’s pet. He’s on a personal crusade to make me rest, slow down. For Hans, I am the perfect American who is driven by schedule and goals.

Hans offers more insight into the cultural differences of their guests. “We the Dutch are in the middle,” he says. “We are as efficient as the Germans – that is why there are so many American companies here in the Netherlands. But we want to live like the French.”

“And crack jokes like English,” Margit adds. “Everyone here admires our British sense of humour. We watch BBC sitcoms.”

Hans sees cultural differences in their guests’ breakfast etiquette, too. Americans love hard advice and being guided. Europeans – especially Germans – know what they want. The French take three days to thaw. But Americans talk and make friends quickly. Europeans, even with no linguistic differences, keep their own official island at the breakfast table.”

He continues, pointing to the kitchen tables. “If there are Germans sitting here and Americans there, I will break the ice. In introducing the Americans to the Germans, I say, ‘It’s okay, they left their guns in the States.’ We Dutch are like Germans — but with good humor.”

Going back to our conversation about how different cultures treat sex, Margit tells Hans, “Rick told the ‘Dutch Boys on the English Shore’ story. These things of the body may be stressful for Americans, but they send Englishmen under their pillows.”

Hans begins: “As a pupil, I traveled with my companion to England.” We changed our clothes at the beach without the hassle about the towel – no problem. We are good Dutch boys. As usual, the beach had an audience: a good number of retired Brits enjoying the fresh air, slathering through their wet sandwiches. When my friend started putting on his swimsuit, All the people turned their heads away. Enjoying our ability to move the English crowd, we repeated the move. I pulled my pants down, and turned all heads away again.”

“We don’t see much English on our shores,” says Margit, laughing as if hearing the story for the first time.

“We have mostly Americans,” Hans says.

“We’d be happy to fill our house with Americans only,” Margit says. It is easy to communicate with Americans. it is open. They taught me to express myself, to say what I really think.”

Hans goes off by imitating tourist Tony the Tiger, “Oh my gosh, that’s great! What a big home you have here!”

“Americans are stunned,” Margit adds.

“The English don’t know how to amaze,” Hans says.

“I think you almost stunned them on that beach,” Margit says. “When we visited Colorado, my trip went even better when I learned to say ‘wow’ several times a day.”

Margit explains, curling comfortably in the corner of the sofa, tucking her legs under her little body, “when an American asks, ‘How are you? We say, “Okay,” we mean “good.” The American says, “That doesn’t sound very good.” We explain, “We are European.”

And then the Americans reply, ‘Oh, yeah – you’re honest,’ says Hans. “

Fascinated by the sincerity of America’s smiling face, Margit says, “In the United States, even supermarket shopping bags have ‘Smile big and be a winner’ signs.”

“That’s right,” I agree. Only in America can you find a bank that fines money changers if they don’t ask every customer ‘Have a nice day’.

Hans says, “Did you know that the Dutch are the most wanted workers at Disneyland Paris? This is because most Dutch are open minded. We can smile all day long. And we speak our languages.”

Margit explains, “In the Netherlands when someone asks, ‘Do you speak your languages? They mean: Do you speak French, German, and English besides Dutch?

Hans continues. “And for us, friendly acting might be less stressful than the French. Can you imagine a Frenchman who has to smile all day?”

Hans raises my Heineken cup. “God created all the world. It was wonderful. But France…was so perfect. So he set the French to balance things out.”

“Canada could have had it all: British culture, French cuisine, American knowledge,” Margit says.

“But they got it wrong and got British food, French knowledge and American culture.”

As I climb the steep Dutch stairs to my loft bedroom, I think about the value of friends on the road. The most memorable moment of this day came after I finished my sightseeing.





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