They Are Like Fleas

Posted on Monday 20 March 2006

A bit of history:

Six years ago, we took a bare-bones trip to Amsterdam with our teenagers. We were booked into a so-called two-star hotel that was only a slight step above a hostel–and I am confident many of those would have been better. (The perils of online booking back then.)

My husband and I decided to make the best of it by heading straight to the tiny bar in the small lobby–a two-stool set-up tended by the hotel bellman/manager/owner. He was thrilled. Amsterdam was booked solid that week and he had the only available rooms in town. (Um, wonder why.)

As we sipped our drinks, in walked an Anglo-looking guy with three Middle Eastern-looking guys. They ask our bartender/manager/owner to see the available rooms. They checked them out, declared them unfit to stay in, and left. My husband and I ordered another round and toasted the roof over our heads anyway.

A half hour later, the troupe is back to take the last rooms. While the Middle Easterners go to unpack, the Anglo guy joins us at the bar. He is tired, frustrated, and ready to make do with us and a bottle of something lethally strong.

“I have been with them for six weeks,” he says, as if he is continuing a conversation we’d already started. “I am German. They are from Iran. I have had to show them around Europe for six weeks. Business, you know? Now they want to come here to Amsterdam for the, uh, night life.” He says all of this with unbridled disgust in his voice. “What to do with them?”

He downs his drink and looks my husband square in the eye, adding his final thought on it all: “They are like fleas.”

Fast forward six years. Into my restaurant walk three gentleman–their button-down shirts are unbuttoned to their navels, they are clearly not American, but I don’t actually know where they hailed from. It is obvious this is their third or fourth try for an action-type bar. Unfortunately, it’s 2 p.m. on a Monday in a city where work comes first until Thursday.

“Hello,” says one as he bellies up to the podium, leaning too close to me. He makes a sweeping gesture to one of our three bars. “Is there another bar in here that is more crowded.? We want the most crowded.” Now, a group of 10 conventioneers had just walked upstairs to have sodas and appetizers. But, it qualified as the most crowded.

“Upstairs,” I direct them.

They descend within five minutes, unhappy, and telling me so. “This is nothing! Nothing is happening here!”

“Sorry,” I smile. “Maybe another place around the corner has more action.”

And as they nudged one another and leered one last time at me, I was immediately reminded of that perfect description, “They are like fleas.”

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