September 11, 2008

The only way to make it work is to ask for help

Last weekend I helped some friends move in true Amsterdam style - from a houseboat to a 3-story apartment in the Jordaan, complete with a long, narrow, spiral staircase (and earlier last week, I moved a heavy bookshelf into my place with the help of a friend and two bikes!). Only one way to get something like 30 boxes of books (in addition to furniture and everything else) into an apartment like that - through the windows! My friends used the same mover I used a couple times - the White Van Man (highly, highly recommend giving him a call if you need anything moved).

Since they were moving a significant amount of things, they paid for a permit that allowed the van to block the street for a few hours. Parking in Amsterdam is a real issue - the streets are so incredibly narrow and there are thick, metal poles that line many of the (narrow) pedestrian sidewalks so vehicles can't pull over on the canal rings. The only way for delivery vans to unload in many places is to simply stop in the middle of the street and block traffic until they're done, which everyone is used to. Today as I cycled to work I weaved around at least 12 cars waiting for a delivery van to finishing unloading along the Keizersgracht - I can't imagine how annoying it would be to own a car in this city (and I never plan to find out).

Anyway, my friends are smart and responsible people, so they made sure to cover themselves by getting permission to block the street (I think that costs around €45). There was a human chain of people on the narrow staircase, passing up light items from the moving van to the 2nd floor (which is the 3rd floor if you're American). The movers hooked up the ropes and pulleys to the hook that hangs from the top of the building (those hooks are on just about every house in Amsterdam) and started hoisting up everything from tables to furniture, which went through the windows. I stood guard outside to make sure nothing went crashing through the glass storefront on the ground floor (nothing did). We drew quite a crowd as the move carried on - groups of tourists would stop to take pictures, neighbors welcomed my friends to the neighborhood, cyclists would pull over to smile or laugh at the scene. When all the hard stuff was over, we gathered on the roof terrace and celebrated with pizza and beer.

When I think about how much help I had when I first arrived in Amsterdam in terms of moving, apartment hunting, etc., it makes me feel like I owe the world a huge debt of gratitude. Everything I have here - a job, a great place to live, my bike, etc., is because I've had help along the way. A huge chunk of that help came from people I had only just met but were perfectly willing to carry my furniture, loan me bikes, give me a place to stay, or most importantly, introduce me to their friends. There's no real way to repay the amount of kindness that I've been shown, but I 100% guarantee that even if I barely know you, I will help you move. I still need to ask my friends for help all the time - for directions, advice, translations, tips, etc.

I usually get a few emails every week from people who find this blog and want advice, and I'm always happy to try and help. You can contact me at, or just leave a comment here.


amsterdamize said...

Last night this topic (of unconditional help) came up when I was in town with a friend, who took me out to dinner and drinks, cause she figured I needed that after some lousy weeks of stress and worries. Without actually touching on it explicitly, the consensus of 'don't mention it' and 'that's what friends do' and 'I know you'd do the same' was quickly established and's a given, you know.

It worked. :)

Moving can be a joy that way, indeed. I'm a veteran, I've moved 14 times in 15 years, 10 of which in the first 7 years. In the light of your true story, a small price to pay to be able to live in Amsterdam, I'd say :).

See you at your party!

Another American Expat said...

14 times in 15 years, damn! I tried to count how many times I've moved once and just thinking about it exhausted me so I gave up. I'm so happy with my current apartment, and yes, I'm looking forward to meeting you there next week! In a small-world type of moment today, I had a meeting today with Gabriel, who said he used to work with you at xolo.