Basically, the way the system works (according to what I saw and what I read) is that prostitution is completely legal in the Netherlands, and every town of any decent size has a Red Light District. This second part was news to me, as I always thought it was an Amsterdam thing. Silly me. I never saw the Red Light District in Amsterdam, since when we had our layover there on the way to Poland we didn't know where it was, and when we stopped there on our way out I was sick as a dog, too sick to go looking for it. But I did see the one in Deventer.
Now, lest you think I am some kind of pig, I must clarify: I only looked, I did not purchase. I didn't even attempt a negotiation. A variety of fears kept me from even thinking too much about it, including: fear of getting caught, fear of getting away with it, fear of catching some disease (there's a prostitutes union, but there aren't any requirements on regular checkups), fear of exposing myself physically to a stranger, fear of being robbed or ripped off in some way. You know, the usual. The reactions from the women were uniform, however. All the women were quick with a wink or a kiss or a curled finger, within half a second of catching my eye. I passed them all by, however, and just kept walking.
I visited the place three times, once driving by, and twice walking along and looking. We had a perfectly legitimate reason for doing that, mind you. The other husband on the trip, Joe, my walking about companion, wanted to try and find a tattoo parlor. His son runs a tattoo shop, and he (the son) collects business cards from tattoo parlors from around the world. According to our simple logic, tattoo parlors would most likely be found in the Red Light District. I'm not sure why we came to this conclusion. I think it's because even in enlightened Holland, while tattooing and whoring may be legal, we thought such things wouldn't be popular with the refined set, so they'd probably end up near each other, shoved out of the way of good honest folk. Or so we thought. As it turned out, there wasn't a tattoo parlor in the entire city, but the district was interesting.
The "district" was actually a short street (maybe 30 yards?) long facing a one-way street. Along the street are a number of store front windows, and in each window stood or sat one or more women, all scantily clad (but not exposing themselves). They were all either older women, or darker skinned women, and they all looked bored. And for good reason. They had nothing else to do but stand around in their underwear, waiting for a customer. We were told later by our host that in the mornings (when we visited) the women are usually older or foreign. In the evening, when business would be brisker, then younger paler women would stand in the windows. This was an interesting detail. Who owns the windows, the union, the women, or a third party? Who decides who works when? The details of such a business seemed so bizarre, and yet they would have to be worked out.
Furthermore, it is illegal to photograph these women. They are people working at an honest job, not monkeys in a zoo. Our host, Teun, told us an interesting story about this: his wife teaches at a language institute in the city, which means when foreigners come to visit, she or Teun are often asked to show them around. Fewer language barriers. Anyway, a group of Italians came and they wanted to see the Red Light District (apparentally Americans and Italians always want to see the Red Light District. Folks from other countries, not so much). Teun said fine, he'd take them, but they can't take any pictures. He explained why and they all said, no problem, we understand. But when they arrived, one of the Italian gentlemen pulled out a videocamera and started filming the ladies. When Teun told him to put the camera away, he ignored Teun.
To his regret. Furious at being filmed, one of the women ran outside and brained the man with a water bottle. Teun's response: "I told you not to do that."
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