Regardless of what anyone thinks about legalized prostitution, it is one of the many examples of tolerance in Amsterdam, a city that has reputation for it’s ability to turn a “blind eye”.  Though the Dutch have many regulations regarding things that are considered controversial in other societies, these regulations are considered an attempt to reduce confrontation while preserving an individual’s freedom of thought and life-style. The limits of tolerance are defined in the regulations to keep whatever “crazy” thing you want to do from bothering someone else.

However, if you do bother someone else and your actions do become intolerable, the Dutch have a great word for it.  They call it overlast. If your behavior is only inconvenient it is lastig.

Examples of Dutch tolerance include: legal gay marriage, euthanasia, and of course legalized “soft-drugs” and prostitution.

Foreigners are also extended a high level of tolerance regarding their ideas and religious beliefs and they are made to feel welcome and respected. Apparently the Dutch even offer resident aliens the right to vote in local elections and parliament has gone as far as debating whether or not to give them voting rights in the national parliamentary elections as well.

Some of my personal observations of tolerance here include, for example, sitting around the dining room table in the evening. While I am eating broiled salmon and chugging down a handful of vitamins with my 5th glass of water for the day, my housemates completely tolerate my not participating in their evening ritual of joint rolling and wine/beer drinking. Or, when I need to cross the street, the cars actually stop way before the crosswalk and wave me across, as opposed to the way cars in L.A. speed up, hoping to get past me before my foot leaves the curb.

But today, I began to think about tolerance in a different way.  I was invited to join a campus tour that was organized for a visiting group of design students from the Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar.  What, you say? Qatar?  Yep?  Apparently there is a branch of this American University in Qatar where their whole focus is on art and design. Yes, Ms. “Red Light District” and the headscarf wearing fashion designers from Qatar were chatting it up today in the wood & metal shop talking about 3D printing!

Can this only happen in Amsterdam? No, of course not, but it happened to me here which made me think about the fact that a unbelieving Catholic, Democrat voting, and a few times Republican voting, twice divorced, single mother of two, and a foreigner to this city herself, maybe has asked for some tolerance on her own behalf over the years.



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