If you spend a lot of time walking around Amsterdam it is inevitable that at some point a tourist or a group of tourists will ask you for directions. They seem to have a habit of getting lost in cities that they are unfamiliar with and requesting directions. It’s one of their defining characteristics in fact.
Some people might find it strange but I actually enjoy giving directions to tourists. It gives me a warm feeling inside knowing that I have helped someone while putting my knowledge of the city to good use.
I was recently presented with another opportunity to do my bit for mankind and help those in need of directions when my wife and I were approached by a group of five Russian sounding tourists on the streets of Amsterdam.
“Excuse me. We are lost. Where is Van Goth Museum?” The female leader of the group asked.
“Er…” I quickly looked around to get my bearings, “It is that way.”
I pointed in the direction of Museumplein and was about to expand upon this information with a full set of directions but before the words ‘left at the end of the street’ could leave my lips I was suddenly cut off.
“No! It is here!” She insisted sternly and stared me directly in the eye.
I was a little taken aback by this response. The smile fell from my face and my finger stayed in the air, mid-point, as I tried to process her strangely hostile reaction. Was she in denial that she was lost? Had she not just declared in her opening stamen that she was lost? Did she not understand the definition of lost? Was this some sort of test? I quickly looked around to check but there were definitely no museums in sight.
I quickly decided that the best thing to do was to show her. I finally lowered my arm and reached into my pocket for my phone, “I’ll look it up for you.”
“No. Here is map,” A map was suddenly grabbed from one of her associates and thrust into my hands before I could open Google maps.
I glanced at my wife. She looked just as puzzled as me. The man who had seconds ago been holding the map simply looked un-phased, as if this kind of thing happened all the time.
“Right… well… we are here,” I paused for a second as I pointed to our location on the map. She did not shout at for making wild accusations so I continued , “and the Van Goth Museum is here.”
She seemed satisfied with my answer this time. And by that I mean she was not satisfied with my answer at all but she did seem to believe it this time. The map was grabbed back out of my hands, something that might have been a thank you was mumbled (it also could have been a rude word in Russian) and the group started to walk off, back in the direction they had come from.
My wife and I continued our walk towards the tram stop, trying to work out what had just happened. We had no clue.
At the tram stop another Russian sounding woman approached us, “Excuse me? This tram? Dam square, yes?”
“Yes,” I replied, deciding it was best not to argue.