Eye Witness

Last night was Stitch ‘n Bitch night at de Jaren.  The cafe is just off the Muntplein in Amsterdam, which is at the very south end of the Kalverstraat.  The Kalverstraat is the most popular shopping street in Amsterdam and runs from the Muntplein to Dam Square.  After leaving de Jaren last night around 9:30 (after a great evening of knitting and chatting and laughing – I just love our group), I waited a few minutes for a tram, but then decided to walk to the train station since it wasn’t raining and it wasn’t really that cold.

I also decided to walk down the Kalverstraat because I could look in the shop windows and see what I was missing.  There are always people walking down this street even after the shops are closed.  Except for Thursday nights when shops are open til 8pm, everything closes up at 6pm.  How very Calvinistic on the Kalverstraat.  Last night was no exception – a few people like me just walking from point A to point B.  I decided to pull out my camera and get a photo of the Christmas lights, ALREADY up.

As I took this photo I heard shouts just up ahead.  I lowered my camera and saw a guy on a bike coming towards me and 3 girls behind him screaming their heads off to “Stop! Stop!”  He had stolen a purse from one of them and was making off on his bike.  Somewhere in the far depths of the photo above is the whole thing as it happened.  If I had CSI powers I’m sure I’d be able to count the number of hairs in his left nostril.  But I don’t so you’ll have to take my word for it.

The guy on the bike turned down a small alley towards Rokin with the girls running as fast as they could after him.  I continued walking up the street, keep a wary eye out (as always) and I could hear them screaming still as they went from alley to street to alley again.

There weren’t any cops around at this moment, which is kind of unusual.  Normally there are cops around in Amsterdam everywhere you look.  This is not a bad thing.  In Amsterdam the cops are a more kinder gentler kind of cop.  They would rather talk a guy out of doing something stupid instead of using a taser on him.  I like this approach.  Make no mistake though, if they have to they will pull their guns.  Cops here are also much more fit than cops in the U.S.   They actually LOOK like they could give chase on foot, unlike the doughnut eating fatboys with “dunlop disease”** in the U.S.  But in any case, they weren’t to be seen when this purse snatching was going down.

Just minutes later when I got to the Dam cops seemed to be everywhere – on foot, bike, motorbike, car.  The only thing missing were the cops on horseback.  I wonder if they ever caught the purse snatcher.  I doubt it.

Even though this kind of petty theft happens now and then (my mom was pick-pocketed here) I still feel MUCH safer in Amsterdam than I do in San Francisco or even in my own home town.  I feel perfectly safe to walk around at night on my own.  I might get my purse yanked (still, not at all likely), I never feel in danger for my physical safety.  It’s not possible to go down to the local sporting goods shop and buy a gun.  Not a chance.  I have no idea at all even IF you can buy a gun here.  People don’t get shot in their own homes.  People don’t shoot family members when mistaking them for a burglar.  Kids don’t find guns and shoot other kids.  Gangs don’t roam the streets of Amsterdam shooting at each other.  It just doesn’t happen.

Don’t get me wrong, there is crime here, but it’s much less violent than in the U.S.  Last year a middle school kid came to school with a knife and stabbed his teacher.  That was a major shock and wakeup call here.  Can you imagine?  That would hardly make the local news in California.

Living in Haarlem I become very complacent.  I don’t even think about crime happening here.  Heck, our neighbors don’t bother to lock their bikes up at night (the bikes are parked in front of the house).  I try not to become TOO relaxed though.  I colleague of mine who lives in a town even smaller than Haarlem, was burgled in the middle of the night, while they were asleep upstairs (!) and lost all the electronic stuff they had sitting in their living room.  It happens.  Our neighbors in Amsterdam were burgled in broad daylight.  But I’d rather loose all my STUFF and keep my life and health.  Gun control?  You betcha.  Every day that I live here and I’m damn happy about it.

** “dunlop disease” = when you are so fat that your belly “done lops” over your belt (should be read with a hillbilly accent)

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