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Window-shopping for sex in Amsterdam

book coverIn Travels as a Brussels Scout, a highly readable book about the author's Grand Tour through today's European Community, Nick Middleton describes an evening in Amsterdam's Red Light District:

There were groups of young men, but also small bands of middle-aged couples taking the evening air and mixed groups of teenagers who giggled at the shop window displays.

The canal Oude Zijds Voorburgwal seemed to be where Amsterdam's red light district began. The crowds lingered and cars cruised slowly by, inching their way along the narrow towpaths on both sides of the water that were lined with terraces of towering housefronts. Some of these buildings contained bars and coffe shops and clip joints with names like 'Banana,' but many were faced with door-shaped windows on to long thin rooms about the size of my hotel room. Above each window was a red striplight. Behind the windows sat women, usually on tall stools. There were thin ones and fat ones, blonde ones and black ones. Some were silicon-aided, Pamela Anderson look-alikes, others had all the lumps, bumps, and curves they were born with, while a few sported paunches. Most of them wore white bras and knickers which glowed a luminous purple colour thanks to well-positioned ultraviolet tubes. It was looking at kinky psychedelic goldfish.

Some of the women looked very bored, some were combing their hair to pass the time, others were talking to older women who might have been their mothers. Most, however, were making an effort to attract customers. If you caught their eye, they would smile alluringly, or worse still tap on the glass and beckon you to come in, just as if she was your long-lost frined inviting you for a coffee and a chat. These were real, live, laughing, smiling, hair-combing sex professionals. They were adept at looking as if they wanted it badly and wanted it with you. Now.

As an Englishman, I found it all a bit embarrassing. It was bad enough looking at these female-shaped pieces of meat, but when they saw you were watching and reacted accordingly and reacted accordingly it was all a bit too much. I didn't know what to do with myself, except to smile timidly and move on.

Middleton goes on to explain the Dutch government's rationale for sanctioning prostitutes:

No one has ever managed to get rid of the world's oldest profession, so why bother trying? Better to regulate it instead. There were health considerations to think about, labour conditions, public order, and of course another source of government revenue. Some said the love-ladies were just getting another pimp.

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