Amsterdam: the exotic effect


In The Art of Travelling, Alain De Botton describes Amsterdam as exotic.

On disembarking at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, only a few steps inside the terminal, I am struck by a sign hanging from the ceiling that announces the ways to the arrivals hall, the exit and the transfers desks…

The exoticism is located in particular areas; in the double a of Aankomst, in the beighbourliness of a u and an i in Uitgang, in the use of English subtitles, in the word for desks, balies, and in the choice of practical modernist fonts, Grutiger or Univers.

If a sign provokes such pleasure, it is in part because it offers the first conclusive evidence of having arrived elsewhere.

It is a symbol of abroad.

A few papes later he raises the question:

Why be seduced by something as small as a front door in another country? Why fall in love with a place because it has trams and its people seldom have curtains in their homes?

However absurd the intense reactions provoked by such small foreign elements may seem, the pattern is at least familiar from personal life. There too we may find ourselves anchoring emotions of love to the way a person butters bread or turning against them because of their taste in shoes. To condemn ourselves for these minute concerns is to ignore how rich in meaning details may be.

…My enthusiasms in Amsterdam were connected to my dissatisfactions with my own country, with its lack of modernity and aesthetic simplicity, with its resistance to urban life and its net-curtained mentality.

What we find exotic abroad may be what we hunger for in vain at home.



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