Getting a Fresh Perspective on Amsterdam

Hi everyone and welcome to another People & Pint’s post! I apologize for the delay to all those waiting in anticipation for this week’s post (just my dad). This past weekend I had a lovely time with my friend Tyler, who was visiting from Paris. Tyler and I both visited our friend Caz in Heidelberg last weekend–you can check out that trip here. I had a great time hosting Tyler in Amsterdam; we had lots of laughs, some fantastic conversations and just enjoyed each other’s company. However, because I featured my time with Caz and Tyler last week, I decided to postpone People & Pint’s. Wednesday evening I had the great pleasure of meeting with Elysia Brenner, an American expat turned Dutch local. Elysia writes the Amsterdam pieces for Thrillist and her articles helped me acclimate to this great city. I initially reached out to Elysia hoping she could give me some practical journalism tips, which she gladly shared, but we ultimately just chatted about life in Amsterdam.

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‘Skek Exterior

IMG_3584Elysia managed to block out some time in her busy schedule and she suggested that we meet at a small cafe called ‘Skek. I hadn’t heard of it before but was happy to try new places and it was a short bike ride from my apartment. I set out in the cold Amsterdam rain and arrived at the small, warm restaurant to meet Elysia. We settled in on a couch by the window and Elysia informed me that ‘Skek is a very popular cafe for students. We began with some small talk about the typical Dutch rain and quickly ordered our drinks. Well, Elysia quickly ordered a white wine in Dutch while I tried to inform the waiter that I hadn’t looked at the drinks yet. I think the combination of Elysia’s Dutch and my English was confusing and he struggled to understand what I was saying. Finally I settled on the Zatte, a Tripel, from Brouwerij ‘t IJ. The Zatte, golden in color and incredibly flavorful, is one of my favorite beers from ‘t IJ. Though I had had it before, I didn’t mind; because I was really here for the conversation, not the beer. I found out that Elysia has lived in Amsterdam for about ten years after moving here with a partner and that she got her job at Thrillist a few years after arriving. She explained that Thrillist was searching for European writers and she eventually secured the Amsterdam position. I asked if moving to the Netherlands was a relatively quick process. “Quick? Yes, well it took me six years to become a citizen so if that is quick,” Elysia clarified with a laugh. “Quick maybe by American standards,” I chimed in. She affirmed and explained that though it may have been tough for her, she knows plenty of people who had even more trouble obtaining green cards in the States. After all of the hard work, though, Elysia has really enjoyed calling Amsterdam home.

After I explained that I an English major and that I do plan on being a writer, Elysia gave me a few tips on focusing my career goals. I shared my passion for writing about craft beer abroad and she confirmed that I should continue to search for various websites and magazines about beer and brewing. Moreover she was happy to hear I enjoyed writing for a community based site in BostInno. She elaborated that community based sites can be great experience and that she had been employed by similar sites as well. We talked about writing for a bit but the conversation quickly turned to life in Amsterdam. Specifically, Elysia agreed that Amsterdam has a great craft beer scene and we chatted about the various breweries and beer bars. “It wasn’t always like this though,” Elysia explained, “the scene scene has really grown in the past ten years. Restaurants, bars, music, all of it.” It seemed like Elysia has experienced the growth of everything I am currently enjoying her in Amsterdam: the delicious food, the great beer, the fun events.

We also talked about language after I asked Elysia about learning Dutch. Because Elysia was able to converse with our waiter so easily, I was curious if it were difficult to master the language.  “Yea it was difficult. But it really isn’t very different from English. Pronouncing some of the words and some of the grammar is really tough but other than that.” I also wondered if it were easier to approach other languages while traveling now that she had learned Dutch. “Yes and no,” she responded. Elysia confirmed that with Scandavian languages and German, especially, she felt relatively comfortable but she hadn’t necessarily noticed any difference in her ability with other languages. I clarified that I was curious about her confidence, about just being able to approach another language. I explained that although my mother is from Argentina and I have some hold on Spanish, I don’t have enough of a mastery to approach other languages. “Or like my girlfriend grew up speaking Italian and is now studying in Amman, in Jordan, learning Arabic.” Elysia nodded in agreement, expressing that she understood, and said that she did certainly feel comfortable in other countries. “I think learning another language really clicks when you don’t start looking at it as directly translatable, you know? Like you look at it as something on its own. That’s what has helped me.”IMG_3583

We ended our evening by jokingly chatting about the perceptions of the city of vice. “When people first heard I was studying in Amsterdam, they’d say to me ‘Oh! Amsterdam?’ You know?” Elysia laughed knowingly, “yea I know what you mean.” We talked about how tame and friendly even areas as infamous as the red light district are. I described it to Tyler as the “Disneyland of Vice,” which is what Elysia had dubbed it in one of her articles. The assumptions everyone holds of Amsterdam being some sort of despicable city quickly fades after walking, or biking, around the city. Amsterdam while permissive and “liberal” in certain aspects is really just an inviting, friendly city.IMG_3581

Although Elysia is originally from Philadelphia, she fits in Amsterdam just like any local. Alongside her mastery of Dutch is a subtle accent, a blend of having lived in both America and Amsterdam. I have had the wonderful pleasure of calling Amsterdam home and I expressed to Elysia that I have felt very comfortable in the city. “I definitely want to come back and live in Amsterdam at some point in my life.” However, meeting with Elysia gave me a great perspective about living here. I certainly am no expert of the city, there are plenty of things I have yet to experience. Tyler was very flattering this past weekend in expressing how impressed he was with my knowledge of the city. But Elysia’s comfort with Dutch and familiarity with the culture greatly surpassed mine. Learning this reminded me to keep an open mind with Amsterdam and to not assume that I have learned everything about it. Elysia left me with an interesting thought. “I’m not a huge fan of Eat, Pray, Love but in the ‘Eat section’ she makes a cool point. Everyone has a word, that is their essence, and every city also has a word. People are just looking for the city that matches their word. And I think that’s what Amsterdam is for me.” I can’t say for sure if Amsterdam possesses the same word that I do, but it’s at least very close.

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