“Is he good in bed?” Oh my Lord, did he just say that?? How dare he! The question shocks me and nearly knocks me off my bar stool. And then he follows, “how does he compare with black men?” I was astounded. This comes from a random Dutch stranger at a bar in central Amsterdam. I have been chatting to him for some time and was telling him how I met my Dutch partner and came to live here. It is my 4th day in this beautiful country. “Huh?” I ask dumbly. “Well, is he good in bed?” He repeats. How personal and direct! , I stutter an answer which I have now forgotten. This was my first experience of how direct the Dutch can be.
In my country, (I mean Tanzania and Botswana because I have roots in both) people would know better than to ask such a question unless they are looking to get a severe beating (obviously masochistic) or have a death wish. Also, there is a general culture of respect for women and moral values. In most African cultures women are regarded as mothers of civilization which earns them a high status in society. Questions of a sexual nature are considered extremely disrespectful. You do not ask about a woman’s sex life! This is sacred. It is taken as an implication that she is loose, immoral and promiscuous. Although nowadays a woman in Africa need not be a virgin before marriage, it is still ingrained in our culture that a virtuous woman does not have many or any sexual partners or experiences. Her sexual experience is supposed to be as limited as possible and certainly not publicly discussed.
In the first couple of weeks in Amsterdam I had a tough time finding my way through the central station. I lived in the centre of Amsterdam and could walk home from the station but somehow always managed to get lost due to my pathetic sense of direction. If only I had paid more attention in Geography class! Anyway, on one of those numerous days that I got lost I asked a man in his mid twenties for directions. He kindly offered to take me to the exact place I needed to be. On our way we chatted about the clichéd “where are you from” and “what are you doing here” topics. Out of the blue my companion asks, “have you ever been with an Antillian man?” Say what?! I looked at him, dumbly shocked . What is it with these people and their fixation on sex?! I wondered. He continues, “well if you have not, you are missing out. Antillian men are very good in bed. They are very good with their tongues. Ask any women here and they will confirm it”. I am not sure how to take this so I look away and stare at a couple of ducks in a nearby canal hoping he would take me out of my misery and end the topic. “Yes it’s true, it is not a joke”, he continues. ” I have three lovers and they are very happy with me. They call me every day for sex,” he boasts. Short of any answer, I shyly smile and look away. I was extremely relieved to finally reach my destination and say my goodbyes to this very direct and enlightening gentleman. As you may have figured, he is from the Netherlands Antilles. Well, the truthfulness or otherwise of his “gospel of truth” I do not know and will probably never know.
“No, I do not do boys,” she says. This is my first week at my university in Amsterdam and my second week in the Netherlands. I had just begun fostering a friendship with one of my school mates and as is usual with us women, our focus turned to a discussion about romantic relationships. I mentioned to her that I had a boyfriend with whom I was living with and loved dearly. When I asked her if she had a boyfriend her response was simply, she is not into boys. “Oh… so you don’t do boys?” I ask, while trying to maintain a cool voice and a straight face but alas, my voice fails me, my tone becomes high pitched and my face flusters with obvious discomfort. Of course I have no problem with homosexuality and have always advocated for and embraced that choice of lifestyle. I was merely shocked by the confident declaration of sexual orientation. It was my first time to come face to face with a lesbian. In my country, homosexuality and lesbianism are criminal offences. It is also widely condemned by society. People have been persecuted for simply being themselves. Nobody would admit to being a homosexual. But more than my acceptance and rationalization of homosexuality, the realization that I was face to face with a lesbian made me act in such an odd manner and this I cannot, even to myself, explain. I suddenly felt the need to look less attractive by covering my exposed legs and making sure that the top button of my blouse is fastened. Perhaps I ignorantly feared that she would ask me out on a date or turn me gay. I really did not understand this unbecoming behavior on somebody as open minded as I have always thought myself to be. Over time I became more comfortable and accepted that my reaction was as a result of being confronted with an unknown situation.
“Is it true that black men have bigger (…) than white men?” Wow! That was unexpected, more so because my neighbor and I had been discussing our families a minute ago. So how does the size of a men’s anatomy fit in?! What I have come to learn now is that the Dutch can blurt out what is on their mind, at any given time, without fear. My neighbor was simply curious and had finally met someone whom she hoped could rightly confirm, deny or clarify the issue. Well, I am sure most of you want to know my answer to this. In my opinion it is a myth. I have personally found absolutely no major difference in size. Then again, one needs a lot of experience with both races to come up with an informed answer.
To get home from the central station I had to pass through the world famous Red Light District. I used to avert my eyes every time I passed by an open window of someone on display. I thought they were all ashamed of what they were doing. I remember feeling sorry for the sex workers. Where I come from prostitution is highly illegal and morally reprehensible. Here it is a commonly accepted and to a large extent a controlled and regulated trade. The sex workers pay taxes like everybody else and a lot have regular families. I remember my husband telling me that one sex worker used to frequent a bar where he worked after every working night and he would have interesting conversations with her. She was not ashamed of her profession and could more than provide the necessities for herself. One may argue that prostitution is not an honorable and decent job. They may argue morality, principles and values. The question is what does morality, principles and values have to do with it. In my opinion, this is neither here nor there. Morality, principles and values are determined by the society in which one lives. Prostitution exists all over the world but at least in an open minded and liberal society such as in the Netherlands it can be in the open.
Although the openness and directness of the Dutch sometimes shocks me, I am happy to be living among them. Freedom of speech, expression, tolerance and liberalism are taken in high regard and practiced in the Netherlands. Personally, I feel better knowing that one can approach me with whatever is on their mind even if it is brutally honest, of a sexual nature or a taboo other than sweeping issues under the carpet, keeping them in a skeleton closet or engaging me in guessing games. All this freedom and liberalism around me took away the shackles of expressive limitations that I had. The proverbial “when in Rome act like a Roman,” comes to mind. I have embraced and am enjoying the freedom to the full. I have Dutch courage now (even without the alcohol).