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Kat vs. Culture: Chapter 7
“Any fool can make a rule
And any fool will mind it.” ― Henry David Thoreau
Part XVII: Real Sees Real
In a series of fortuitous events back in October, after an accommodation hunt which gifted me with my first strand of gray hairs, I found a lovely room in Noord in an apartment building right above Albert Heijn. Over the past 8 months that Albert Heijn has seen me in all of my guises. If you look back through the security camera footage, you can observe me at the start of my life there: bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on some early mornings, buying bananas as if I cared about my health. And you can watch it devolve from there - flying in 5 minutes before closing time, grabbing a crate of Apple Bandit cider and a bottle of barbecue sauce in outfits which could charitably be compared to pajamas yet realistically could only be termed as ‘scoundrel attire’.
But this isn’t about my questionable grocery store fashion, which, btw, would land me in every 2000s tabloid if I were famous during the indisputable golden age of celebrity. And despite my self-centered tendencies which are clearly displayed in the previous sentence, this isn’t really about me at all. This is about the man behind the cigarette counter.
Let’s set the scene: the cigarette counter in the Albert Heijn is worked by four Muslim women and one Dutch man. Each time I smoke all the cheap cigarettes I smuggle in from Moscow, I am forced to go downstairs and admit that - yes, my addiction is indeed strong enough to make me spend €11.50 every other day on a pack of Marlboro Reds XXL. I’m not as proud of it as i would’ve been at 18, but youthful extremism is how we get here and physical and psychological dependency is how we stay.
The first time I went down to buy a shamefully overpriced pack of delicious death, sometime in early November, a Dutch dude (blond, broad, 26-ish) was working the counter. I smiled politely, tucked my hair behind my ear and said, “Marlboro Red - the big one, please.”
My voice was a bit shaky, I hadn’t asked for cigarettes in a while, and to be honest, despite remaining loyal to the brand since ’14, I have never fully gotten the hang of the word ‘Marlboro’.
Thankfully, my worries proved themselves to be unfounded; it came out fine, a little heavy on the ‘L’, but fine.
He turned around to get them off the shelf, first trailing off to the Marlboro Golds and then down to the Reds - really taking his time. Finally, after vocally guiding his hand like a claw machine, he turned around and set that fat, red, juicy pack of carcinogenic bliss on the counter in front of me.
The packaging had a picture of a morbidly obese man (sans shirt) taken from the most unflattering back angle I could possibly imagine. I’m sure that if I just happened to walk in on this in a hospital room or a sauna, I would’ve been a little grossed out and maybe even a little disturbed. But standing there, staring at a pack that would soon become mine - he ceased to be repugnant. I could almost feel the cigarettes in my hand, I could almost smell the faint tar aroma, and, at that point, I’d be willing to give that poor diabetic bloke a massage just to take that pack home with me.
DutchDude looked over at me, breaking me out of my nicotine deprived daydream: ‘Do you have your ID?’
“Yeah, of course”
I pulled out my American passport, flipped to the picture page, and angling the holographic stars towards his pupils, proudly presented it to him.
He looked at me, then looked at the picture.
Looked at me again.
Looked at the picture.
Then, seemingly satisfied with my age, he scanned the cigarettes and allowed me to complete the transaction, faintly wishing me to ‘have a good day’ as I rushed out to get my fix.
Rising Action - 2 Days Later
My cigarettes ended at around 8:45PM and I ran downstairs like a maniac, forgetting that I still had an hour before I was doomed to a night of nicotine withdrawal.And there he was again, standing at the counter, looking exactly the same as the first time I had the pleasure of making his acquaintance.
This time, I walked up confidently; he wouldn’t bite and I knew it. But despite what I thought was a convincingly entitled demeanor, he once again asked for my ID.
I was surprised, I’m not gonna lie. I quickly tried to make peace with the idea that perhaps I’m not as memorable as I think I am, flashed him my ‘land of the free’ citizenship and took my pack.
It depicted a confused blond boy looking cautiously at a cigarette as if it might spontaneously combust.
Climax - 2 More Days Later
10 am, two cigarettes left in the sheltered preteen picture pack. I decided to play it safe and top up before going to my lecture so I could smoke like as decadently as Tom Waits - never denying myself the luxury of a cigarette.
To give a little context, and I don’t want to brag, but this was back when I more or less cared about my appearance; the eyeliner was razor sharp, the cheekbones were chiseled, and the lashes were at their optimal batting volume.
I strolled up to the counter, feeling unequivocally like ‘that bitch’, and placed my usual order.
He reached straight for the Marlboro Reds, picking out a pack with the most ridiculously decrepit-looking woman in a wheelchair, and trust me, I’ve seen a few paraplegics in my day. ‘He knows what I want’, I thought, finally feeling like a ‘regular’.
So when he decided to shatter my small-town livin’ fantasy and proceeded to ask me for my ID a THIRD time, I could not contain myself.
“But…but…you know me,” I said, trying to sound as cool and collected as possible while delivering one of the most ego-crushing lines known to mankind.
“Oh yeah I remember you, but it’s the rule, I have to ask you every time.”
“Every time? Forever?”
“I’m sorry, but I’m afraid so.”
Since November, I have gone down countless times to buy cigarettes. When I finally started catching them on their shifts, he four Muslim women who work the counter, have asked me for my ID a total of one time each. After that, they started giving me the pack of cigarettes, taking my crumpled notes which I always have at the ready, giving me back my change (when applicable), and telling me to have a good day/night - an interaction which takes about 10 seconds in total and leaves me feeling like I just went to my favorite neighborhood Bodega.
DutchDude has asked for my passport every single time. The time I spend rummaging in my bag, he spends apologizing for having to ask and expressing how “fucking stupid” these rules are. I have practically emptied my bag on the cigarette counter on multiple occasions. He knows where I go to university and my program of study, a topic that came up when I slammed my student ID on the counter only to realize that it didn’t show my date of birth. The last time that I was there, through some harmless teasing on my part, I found out that he actually remembers my birth date. And yet, each time he’s at the counter, he looks at me and mumbles “you know what I’m gonna ask you”, and, boy oh boy, I really do know.
I haven’t had the heart to tell him that none of the other girls have asked me for my ID since fall - partly because I don’t want to make him feel lame and partly because I’m scared that his fetish for rules would lead him to snitching on them, which is something that I would never want to be mixed up in.
I really can’t say that I respect DutchDude. But his unyielding adherence to the same rules which he claims to despise really shows that a man can be committed to something: his own fear of consequences.
This Month On-Screen
Festivals and Exhibitions
Spanish Film Festival
The Amsterdam Spanish Film Festival (ASFF) is a unique film exhibition initiative allowing people based in Amsterdam and broader audiences to discover and engage with a selection of films from Spain and Spanish speaking Latin America. The festival aims to spread Spanish and Latin America cinema and culture across the Netherlands and create a meeting place for people with a special interest in this genre. The festival program talks about “pushing boundaries, looking for new perspectives and creating new connections”.
ASFF collaborates with filmmakers from Spain, which allows them to exchange knowledge with Dutch filmmakers, producers and distributors, in order to promote intercultural communication and dialogue. Like this, they want to increase Dutch and academic population’s understanding and knowledge of Spanish cinematography in the past and present times, by enabling a space for discussion and knowledge around Spanish and Dutch filmmakers.
The festival includes a wide variety of films from many different genres, including documentary. Most movies are very recent and not well known amongst foreign audiences. This also gives young filmmakers a platform to show their work for the first time to an internationally orientated audience.
The film festival takes place between the 28th of May and the 2nd of June. The main venues where the movies will be screened are Pathé Tuschinski, EYE and Cinecenter. Tickets are available on the website.
What to Watch?
Blockbuster of the Month: Aladdin
Remakes, remakes, remakes. Every classic that we loved as children are slowly being remade into a live action movie. This month it is Aladdin's turn. A story about a kindhearted street urchin who finds a magic lamp that can make his wildest wishes come true. There is someone else who wants the magic lamp and he goes to much length to achieve his goal. The Grand Vizier forgot about one thing tho, the power of the lamp. It is a magical adventure full of surprises and humor. A lot of people grew up with Aladdin and they now have the chance to revisit the greatness.
Release date: 22-05-19
World Press Photo Exhibition
Like every year, the Nieuwe Kerk at Dam Square hosts the World Press Photo Exhibition, with a carefully selected range of photographs made by photographers from all over the world. Most of them convey a clear political message, that comes across even better by listening to the audio tour provided. In this you can hear the personal stories of the photographers telling about the motives and contemplations that hide behind the pictures. In this case, the saying “one pictures tells a thousand words” really becomes true.
The photo exhibition is the result of a contest that is held every year, in which pictures are selected from many different categories. Together, they tell an impressive story about our society.
This year for the first time the exhibition has added an interactive component. In one area, you can watch documentaries that have also won prices. Furthermore, at the end of the exhibition you can vote for your own personal favourite picture. These are displayed on a big screen.
The exhibition still lasts until the 7th of July, so there is still time to go. I would highly recommend just dropping by at some point, because it doesn’t take long to see everything and it is well worth the experience.
Surprise of the Month: Pokémon Detective Pikachu
Ever since the trailer of this movie dropped there have been a lot of different opinions. A live action movie of the cult classic Pokémon is a bold move and after the trailer it wasn’t sure that the audience was going to like it. The Pokémons portrayed in the movie sometimes looked kinda weird and the audience was scared about the image of Pokémon. The movie is about a guy who meets a Pikachu and for some reason they can communicate with each other. Twogether they have to solve a problem.
Release date: 08-05-19