“Excuse me. Do you know where the red light district is?”
It was the kind of question I had gotten used to being asked in Amsterdam a lot. Usually it was asked by tourists with a look of cheeky excitement in their eyes who didn’t care if people will judge them. However, it had taken this gentlemen five minutes of silently standing at the same tram stop and several glances in my direction before he had cautiously made one last final check that the coast was clear, shuffled over the few steps towards me and quietly asked his question. It was as if he was worried that the police or his mother might be listening in.
We were quite far from the red light district, almost on the other side of town to be exact (Leidseplein). For a moment I wondered if he had been walking around Amsterdam for several hours, trying to build up the confidence to ask someone for directions. I informed him of the best way to get to the red light district and he thanked me. Our brief conversation had seemed to reach it’s natural conclusion so I continued to wait for my tram.
There was a short pause. “Do you know how much it costs?”
This was a new one. No one had ever asked me for a price comparison before. I don’t know why I let myself be dawn in to the conversation but rather than simply saying ‘no’ I started to make guesses and hypothesise that it probably varied depending on what services were being requested and how much the girl looked like Scarlett Johansson.
He nodded as if he was about to start taking notes. There was another short pause as he looked from side to side again. Then he asked a question I was really not expecting. “Do you know how it all works?”
Did I know how it all worked? I thought the question about the price had been strange but this was a whole new level. I didn’t know how to respond at first. Either this fellow thought I seemed like the kind of chap who paid regular visits to the red light district and was deeply familiar with the correct etiquette and protocol of such matters. Or he thought I was a pimp. It was probably my own fault for trying to guess prices and making myself seem like an expert in his eyes.
I also wondered just how much detail he wanted this information in. Was he simply asking about how the business transaction and exchanging of money worked or was he actually asking how ‘it’ worked? Did I have to explain about the birds and the bees? The physical mechanics? The ins and outs (as it were)? This was suddenly turning into the kind of conversation I was not expecting to have until I had children of my own. Should I try to explain to this gentlemen that sometimes when a man and woman exchange a lot of money they have a special kind of hug?
I decided that the best course of action was to not make any more guesses and told him that I had never been to the red light district myself. This had the effect of making it sound like we were discussing summer vacation destinations.
He seemed very disappointed by this, looked at his feet and then suddenly seemed to realize just how strange the conversation had been. He looked at me again and nervously shuffled away as if he was afraid that I would re-tell the conversation to his mother. I wonder if he ever found the red light district.
Read about another time I was asked for directions to the famous sex industry area in:
Tales From the Red Light District – Rebound