I was wandering aimlessly along Amsterdam’s canals, snapping a few photos of the cute bridges and the rows of patchwork houses, when I noticed a shop sign that proudly announced it was “The Most Vibrating Shop”. It was a sign full of intrigue; my curiosity was piqued. What vibrates? Phones? Electric toothbrushes? Bombs? I stopped, double- and triple-checked I wasn’t about to walk in front of a cyclist, and crossed the road. I examined the contents in the shop window.
Turns out, I’d wandered into Amsterdam’s infamous Red Light District. And I should point out that the “Oh, OH” from above wasn’t the sound of my sudden realisation, it was the sound of someone in the shop giving their goods a test drive, as it were. Hopefully, unlike when people fondle fruit in a supermarket, that woman (I assume it was a woman) washed the product before putting it back on the shelf.
By night, the Red Light District is as weird as you might imagine. Lots of sleazy red light; lots of alleys and barely-clothed women standing in doorways and booths enticing guys who walk past; lots of shops selling toys, movies, books; and signs advertising peep shows and “private viewing”.
But by day, the Red Light District is positively surreal, simply because all of the above is still going on. The same prostitutes are wearing the same clothes in the same doorways, but mostly looking bored. Apparently, when everything is safe and regulated, even hookers have the same 9-5 experience as the rest of us. They probably come back from lunch and spend the next four hours performing their tricks with one eye on the clock, then at exactly 5pm they stop exactly what they’re doing and hand over to the night shift.
As I wandered, I wondered what would happen if you engaged one of these ladies for her services, decided she wasn’t up to scratch, and asked – like you would when on the phone to a hapless customer service rep from an Internet service provider – to be escalated to a superior. Did they save the best performers out back, ready to step in and satisfy unhappy customers? Are supervisors given extra permissions to go the extra mile to satisfy customers so they remain loyal to the brand? Or would they just say, “Get lost, prick”?
Then again, the supervisors are more likely to be the broad-shouldered men remaining in the shadows, acting as security guards, making sure no “shoplifting” is happening, if you catch my meaning. I certainly wouldn’t want to be escalated to one of those guys.
I went back to walking aimlessly, taking photos of more cute canals, leaving the Red Light District and “The Most Vibrating Shop” behind.