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    Smiling Amsterdam: under surveillance

    27th January 2016

    Coat of Arms of Amsterdam

    Coat of Arms of Amsterdam by Ssolbergj

    I had recently undertaken a spontaneous trip to Amsterdam, the Netherlands. There were a few strong first-time impressions, which I want to document before they fade.

    The strongest first impression is from the check in and check out system in trams (and, likely, other public transportation nets). Tickets are all NFC-based, and you must swipe/touch special verifying devices upon entering and exiting a tram. If your ticket is valid, green light and a sound tone will notify you (and everyone around you) about this. If your ticket is no longer valid, you’ll get red light and a different (louder also? not sure) sound.

    These chipcards come in a variety of forms: non-reloadable cards for 1/24/48/etc hours (from the moment of the 1st check in), anonymous reloadable cards, and other card types.

    Upon entering a tram with an invalid (train :) ) ticket, we were greeted by… a woman in a cage! :) She was selling tickets to those who didn’t have them. It was already late evening, but she was smiling a lot and also tried to figure out if we really need just a 1h ticket, or if a multi-day ticket would be better for us.

    I am not entirely sure why checking out is necessary, other than for collecting loads of data on passenger flows (oh, sweet sweet data to analyze!). I also haven’t checked what happens if your ticket runs out while you are in a tram: will it fail to check out, forcing you to buy another one? Most likely not: should still let you out (there are actual tourniquets at tram exit doors).

    Check in/out system itself is not a negative impression, it is just peculiar. A bit on the negative side is the density of video surveillance cameras everywhere, especially in/around shops. I am mostly positive about video surveillance in public places, but I’d still prefer these cameras to be less visible. A simple dark-glass semi-sphere on the ceiling is much better than 2-3 various-size and -shape cameras looking at you. (These cameras are often so different that you wonder if some of them are fake or if they were gradually installed over the years to cover more angles.)

    But video surveillance density wasn’t really the 2nd impression, more like an afterthought or 3rd/4th impression. The 2nd biggest impression is that of the people. Smiling and happy-looking people everywhere! It does feel like a big difference to a place where I live in Germany. Even at the restaurants, it seems much more likely to be greeted and served with huge friendly, relaxed smiles in Amsterdam than in Saarbrücken. A few days is not enough to be totally sure… It could be that Christmas holidays contributed to this overall happiness that I’ve observed. It could also be that most of the smiling/happy people on the streets were tourists like me, enjoying their vacations. This still contributes to the city’s atmosphere, so I guess it is not too important what the real cause of happiness is :D

    Speaking of tourists, hordes of them! Everywhere! I do not even want to think how Amsterdam looks in the high tourist season in summer – could be not so happy anymore. At least during Christmas time I had only seen highly positive and patient attitude towards tourists – maybe except when tourists walk on the bicycle lanes :)

    The city itself is gorgeous! Looking at all the beauty I was only worried about lots and lots of tilted buildings and living conditions in them.

    Speaking of beauty, women in Amsterdam do dress up very nicely, and seem to use lots of cosmetics (sometimes too much).

    Just to round it up, I think art is at the heart of Amsterdam. It is everywhere – including the people. I’m lacking the words to define this more specifically in a concise manner. You have to visit it to feel this for yourself.

    I hope I’ll visit Amsterdam again soon. There are some more shady parts of it which I haven’t yet explored ;)


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