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7/2 Spreading tourism proceeds with difficulty

7/2 GroenLinks on districts: Be a man

6/2 Zuideramstel opens new office on Sabbath

5/2 The truth about integration

4/2 Wilders has little support on Amsterdam

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31/1 Wooden rowing boats to disappear from Amstel

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27/1 Privacy activists to mess up loyalty card system

27/1 A few were still coughing, but that was an act

27/1 Chrisis in de Baarsjes

26/1 Youth have positive view of districts

24/1 Action groups call for Carmel and Jaffa boycott

24/1 PvdA members dismiss plan for districts

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21/1 Merge districts

20/1 Closing squat bar Vrankrijk not necessary

20/1 Cleaners welcome new Schiphol director

18/1 Palestine at the Jewish Historical Museum

18/1 What is the right size for a district?

17/1 PvdA Oost against fewer districts

16/1 Committee: 7 districts by 2010

15/1 Soldiers may attend Afghanistan debate after all

15/1 Bait bike leads to arrest

14/1 Youth for Christ to republish vacancies

13/1 Paintings of the Zuidas

13/1 New Youth for Christ contoversy

11/1 Social cohesion initiative raises eyebrows

10/1 Fewer districts in 2010

10/1 Zuidas: People feel that we are losers

9/1 Fun on the ice - but not for all

9/1 Supermarket coupon fraud thwarted

9/1 I Amsterdam must remain exclusive

8/1 Use term Apartheid in every discussion

8/1 No city kiosk in Amsterdam yet

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7/1 Fatima Elatik to run Zeeburg

7/1 Municipal managers to return to shop floor

4/1 Police: take photo of strange people

3/1 Gaza protest criticises politicians

1/1 Thousands to protest against attacks on Gaza

1/1 Mustapha Laboui leaves district council


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Amsterdam is small, cute and beautiful

27 August 2006 – If you like to think of Amsterdam as a metropolis, the city guides will shatter your illusion. The city is mainly small, cute and beautiful. And tolerant – notwithstanding a string of hard-line mayors and the murder of Theo van Gogh. This tolerance of course has its limits: it is verboten to walk on bicycle paths.

Recently, HP/De Tijd magazine asked a number of city guide writers what they thought of Amsterdam. News from Amsterdam decided to find out what they write about the city. We were especially interested in three things: do they warn tourists not to walk on bicycle paths; to what extend do they write about neighbourhoods outside the city centre; and what do they think of Amsterdam after the murder of Theo van Gogh.

We were especially interested in the Fodor’s guide, since it appeared from the article in HP/De Tijd that author Nicole Chabot had sort of had it with Amsterdam. The guide itself does not show it though; it describes the city in a rather neutral manner (although the authors cannot resist reminding that Albert Camus compared the Canal Belt to the circles of hell). It makes sense not to be too critical, one might think, for otherwise people will not buy your guide.

But does Fodor’s really want to sell its Amsterdam guide? The book is nowhere to be found: not at serious bookshops, not at the Leidsestraat Bruna, not at tacky tourist shops. “I am afraid this is about the only Amsterdam guide we do not carry”, we are told at Waterstone’s, which does indeed have an impressive collection of Amsterdam guides. Perhaps Fodor’s sells the guide only abroad? An e-mail to the marketing department remained unanswered as yet.

If you like to think of Amsterdam as a metropolis, the Rough Guide will shatter your illusion. According to the guide, the city is ‘far from cosmopolitan’. There are large numbers of immigrants from Surinam, Indonesia, Morocco and Turkey, but they are sort of invisible, because they tend to live and work outside the centre.

“Indeed, there is an ethnic and social homogeneity in the city centre that seems to run counter to everything you may have heard of Dutch integration”, the Rough Guide writes. There are more contradictions: “while Amsterdam is renowned for its tolerance towards all styles of behaviour (its policy on prostitution is also world renowned), a primmer, more correct-thinking big city would be hard to find”.

Some of the blame would lie with a string of hard-line mayors who had the unspoken policy of changing the city from a ‘counterculture icon’ into a financial and business centre. This policy entailed evicting the inner-city squats and bringing marihuana-selling coffeeshops under control.

TimeOut basically shares this analysis, but also points out that Amsterdam’s edgy creative image has its economic advantages, which are being exploited in the I Amsterdam city marketing campaign. “So worry not: the city isn’t ready to relinquish its rebel status just yet”.

Fodor’s does not really depict Amsterdam as a metropolis either. For instance, eating trends arrive here more slowly than elsewhere. The guide further points out that Dutch fashion designers may be ‘the hottest thing going’ internationally, but they are less appreciated in their own country (“Van Gogh had the same problem” – let us assume that they are referring to Vincent here).

All this does not mean that city guide writers dislike Amsterdam, of course. They find the city cute and beautiful. “Without a single internationally known building, it has looks that make Paris, London and even Venice jealous”, writes the Lonely Planet.

Fodor’s finds that size does not matter. “Though it’s much smaller than Paris or Rome, Amsterdam manages to pack as many pleasures and treasures within its borders as cities five times its size”. TimeOut speaks of the city’s ‘dollhouse proportions’.

Naturally, the guides are impressed with the number of bicycles – 540,000 according to TimeOut, 600,000 according to the Lonely Planet. Fodor’s: “don’t be surprised to see entire families cycling, from toddlers to octogenarians, with special seats for infants and bike baskets for dogs”.

Tourists can be quite a nuisance when walking or cycling at bicycle paths without paying attention to other traffic – especially when they travel in groups. Fortunately, most travel guides discuss this problem, even though they might have done so at a more prominent place.

Fodor’s is most straightforward: “If you’re likely to meander or stop your bike to take photos, take care to stay out of the way of locals who use these paths to get to work and appointments on time. It’s also verboten to use the bike paths as pedestrian walkways”. We have nothing to add to that.

Two years ago, the Amsterdam Tourist and Convention Board decided that the districts must be developed for tourism. This was deemed necessary in order to relieve the inner city and to ‘further differentiate the overall tourist product Amsterdam’.

Of course, it would be nice if tourists got to see more of the city than just canals, tulips and Sunflowers. On the other hand, Amsterdammers might not be exactly thrilled to see the entire city flooded with tourists. This is not very likely to happen, though: chances that tourists will discover the Javastraat or the Mercatorplein seem remote.

When city guides write about Amsterdam, they mainly have the Canal Belt, the Jordaan and the area around the Museumplein (photo) in mind. Often the Pijp is mentioned to add a flavour of multiculturalism, and the Eastern Docklands for their architecture. The rest of the city tends to be considered ‘outer districts’ that tourists might as well ignore.

East ‘despite its general lack of appeal’ at least has the Tropenmuseum, but West has little to offer, according to the Rough Guide. The Lonely Planet agrees. If you insist on going to Zuidoost, TimeOut suggests the multicultural Kwakoe festival.

Nothing of all this in Fodor’s: this guide focuses on hotels, restaurants, shops and sights. Reading this guide, one might almost overlook that Amsterdam is not just a tourist attraction but a city as well. This may explain why the guide, published three months ago, fails to mention the murder by an Islamic extremist of movie director Theo van Gogh, on 2 November 2004.

The other guides do discuss recent developments in multicultural Amsterdam. TimeOut offers a concise overview of the incidents of the past years: riots in Amsterdam West; Moroccan brandishing a knife shot dead by a policeman at the Mercatorplein; harassment in the Diamantbuurt; and of course the murder of Van Gogh.

“However”, it adds, “despite the current troubles, the 170-plus nationalities that make up the city’s population of 740,000 do spend most of their time living happily side by side”.

The Rough Guide (published in July 2005) predicts that the prime minister will have a hard time keeping ‘the lid on the inter-communal pot’. The Lonely Planet is somewhat concerned as well, but remains optimistic: “we’re betting that in the long run tolerance, Amsterdam’s greatest gift to the world, will triumph over adversity”.

To conclude, some pieces of information:
• Amsterdammers tend to be a bit self-absorbed, the Rough Guide observes. “Talk to Amsterdammers about visiting other parts of their country and you may well be met with looks of amazement. Ignore them”.
• City guide writers love our police. The Rough Guide calls them a ‘laid back bunch’, Fodor’s finds them ‘cute and cuddly’.
• Amsterdammers like to complain (TimeOut), for instance about the railways. No need: “The carriages are modern and clean, and although many Dutch people complain about delays, the trains usually run exactly on time” (Fodor’s).
• TimeOut has put most effort in its list of useful phrases. Among other things, readers are taught the expression ‘I think I ate too much spacecake’. Under the heading insults, the expression ‘shit-filled eel-skin’ is offered – apparently used to refer to skinny people.

Fodor’s Amsterdam (second edition). Written by Nicole Chabot, Steve Korver, Margaret Kelly and Kim Renfrew. Published May 2006.
Lonely Planet Amsterdam City Guide (fifth edition). Written by Andrew Bender. Published in March 2006.
The Rough Guide to Amsterdam (eighth edition). Written by Martin Dunford and Phil Lee. Published in July 2005.
TimeOut Amsterdam (ninth edition). Written by Steve Korver a.o. Published in July 2005.

See also: City guide writers love Amsterdam


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