Let me tell you what happened to me in Amsterdam the other day.
I drive there from my home in the southern Netherlands, near Maastricht, for my interview at 11. I get there at 10 and park in a huge lot, nearly empty. From my film can I dump out all the eligible euro muntjes (coins) that I have: 90 eurocents. That buys me thirty minutes. I dump the change in the dispenser, push the green button, wait for the slip to print, and set it atop the dashboard of my VW Polo.
Having driven two and a half hours to get to Amsterdam, I need to take a leak. I go to the Amstel train station, but I see no toilet. I ask the girl in the food court. None, she says, in the whole station. But there will be, she says. Remodeling, she says.
I didn’t ask her where she goes to pee. Instead: But isn’t a rest room job one? She shrugs. I walk outside.
You should have seen me, all decked out in my interview suit, gold tie, leather portfolio, crouching down and taking a leak next to a pile of sand in the fietsenstalling place — dozens of bicycles all around this pile of sand. I can see people’s heads bobbing by on the sidewalk, out in the sun. I’m in the shade, peeing into a pile of sand.
Back at the food court, the cup of coffee and the Wall Street Journal Europe take me to 10:40. I’m seven minutes over my parking, but I figure no problem, because why ticket a car in an oceanic lot with room to spare?
I note the faces. Dutch faces, and African, and Asian, and Muslim-women-wrapped-up faces. Plenty of young people. Two young, hulky guys, one black the other white, walk by the food court, wearing identical T-shirts: “To protect and to serve,” the shirts say, in English. They meet up with other young men wearing the same T-shirts.
I round the corner into the lot; it’s 10:49. A man from the stadstoezicht has just put a clamp on my wheel. I ask him, what’s 16 minutes in an empty lot? Why are you doing this to me? I open the car and show him the film can with nothing but two cent and penny euro coins. I wanted to pay, I say. See? Why are you doing this to me? I give 10 minutes, he says.
I walk into my interview. Not five minutes in, the man says the company’s in big trouble and probably won’t be able to hire, but he’s glad to meet me anyway. I could have burned a bridge, but I held back.
I walk out and pay 70 euros to get the clamp off. Just another day in the life of an American in Europe.