For most foreigners, Amsterdam’s coffeeshops are mysterious, almost mythical places. Somewhere you can buy weed and smoke? If you’re coming from a more conservative and restrictive place, the concept is strange, alluring, and difficult to imagine. What is that experience like exactly? When you go to a coffee shop, what kind of characters do you find there? After spending significant time researching the Amsterdam scene, I’ve narrowed it down to six types that you can expect to run into. Note that coffee shop clientele changes depending upon neighborhood. The city center is overrun with tourists, while Warda 2 in East Amsterdam is less so. Wherever you go, hopefully none of these people kills your vibe.
They’re in their 50s or 60s (sometimes even older) and visiting Amsterdam to see the tulips bloom and go to the Van Gogh museum, but they can’t ignore the cannabis smoke that permeates the air. Catapulted back to their adolescence by the smell, the couple decides to give ganja another try. “I’m a little nervous,” the wife says as they light the joint. Before long they’re taking monstrous hits that leave them coughing and red-eyed. They inch closer to one another, giggling uncontrollably, feeling things they haven’t felt in awhile, and ask themselves why they ever stopped smoking in the first place.
You’ll typically spot these youthful travelers in a group, passing two joints around a circle, with empty space cake wrappers littering their table. Some are too high to talk, slumped into their seats, their eyes barely open. Those that aren’t comatose talk loudly over each other—nearly screaming—while competing to make their high thoughts heard. Euro-tripping after graduation or on a break from work, the pack of stoners has anxiously awaited the Amsterdam visit so they can all smoke their fears of the future away. They won’t leave the coffee shop for hours, because what else is there to do in Amsterdam other than smoke weed and go to the red-light district, right? There are certainly no tulips, art, or history to take in.
Unlike the tourists, they’re rarely in a large group. The young local usually sits alone or with a friend in the corner of the coffee shop rolling their own joints. They talk, smoke, say “Hoi!” to the few other locals they recognize, but never call attention to themselves. They don’t strike up conversation, but when asked for their lighter or an extra rolling paper, they never say no. It’s not uncommon to see a book in their lap or a notepad on the table. They come to the coffeeshop less for the weed than for a place to sit.
This foreigner will often reveal their true self early on, despite trying so hard to seem local and distance themselves from the tourist throng. They may ask a coffee shop employee for a recommendation, hoping to appear knowledgeable about the fine distinctions between strains, but then blow their cover by not knowing what an indica is. When handed their cannabis, they’ll casually say, “Dankuwel!”—the most formal version of “thank you” that the Dutch language has. Taking cues from the young locals, they’ll roll their own joints, drink black coffee, and sit in the corner of the shop with a book to read. It’s clear that their focus is not on their book, though, as their eyes dart around the room, looking for confirmation that they are successfully passing. While they can be ridiculous, at least they won’t ruin your experience by shouting about how high they are for the benefit of their comatose friend.
The older Dutchies come after work, between 7 and 10 p.m., and sit in groups of five or six, passing around joints—the Dutch happy hour. They talk and laugh when someone has said something funny, but never raise their voices. In between their chatter, their eyes are glued to the television watching Dutch music videos, the local news, or a football game in a cannabis daze.