‘dam diary: the woes of working in an irish bar

After a couple of weeks of working in the bar, I’ve been exposed to the Dutch people at their best, their worst and their ugliest. One of the reasons Amsterdam appealed so much to me in the first place was its cosmopolitanism, which inevitably meant that one language prevailed; which, luckily for me, was English.

I normally hate the whole western white middle class pre-requisite that any country in which they’re spending their money owes it to them to speak English – usually when I travel I try my best to at least pick up a few words in an effort to build some kind of middle ground. But here, every second or third person I meet is from a different corner of the planet; which for me justified my not learning the language – it sounds like someone being asphyxiated by popcorn kernels anyway.

Unfortunately, the clientele of the pub don’t agree. Most of our customers during the day are middle-aged Dutch couples, who don’t take kindly to us ex-pats rocking up and diluting the purity of their orange city. You get the kind ones – who accept that you don’t speak Dutch, try their best to make their order in English and even give you a tip (albeit a small one, the phrase “go Dutch” didn’t come from nothing). You get the irritable ones, who raise an eyebrow when you explain your linguistic situation, retort with “but we are in Holland” (to which I reply with a swift finger jab towards the gilded “Irish Pub” sign), but get over it quickly enough. And then, you get the absolute arseholes – safe and confident among their seven or eight equally bitter drinking buddies – who hear you say you don’t understand but continue speaking Dutch anyway. They communicate with exaggerated grunts and hand gestures as if you’re some sort of dopey animal, roll their eyes and eventually surrender by shouting their answer in English and then snigger with their mates as you walk away with your very scribbly strokey illegible note pad.

Another thing that gets my goat about them is the way they always need a few minutes to peruse the not very extensive drinks menu (red or white wine, draft beer, coffee or a soft drink) before deciding. Part of me thinks that they only do this for the satisfaction of clicking their fingers at you from the other side of the terrace. At that – they always order a cappuccino.

The pub has no chef or kitchen – there’s a microwave and a tiny oven behind the bar, and the menu clearly reads “SNACKS” – not “full Irish breakfast” or “best bitterballen in town”. Snacks include toasted sandwiches, cheesy nachos, microwavable tapas and frozen croissants, prepared by yours truly, which is a deterrent in itself. Despite the fact that on the same street you can find every kind of food that could possibly tickle your fancy, people persist on racking up bills of up to 70 quid on our watery, salty, often grossly over-cooked cuisine. It baffles me. Maybe they do it because I’m such a charismatic and entertaining waitress they can’t bear to leave… Maybe not, though.

The other morning I was left to my own devices for a few hours and I truly understood the meaning of the Apocalypse. The second I flipped the shutter the terrace was full, everyone was starving and seeing as it was Sunday, they felt like treating themselves to the finer drinks in life – which was very annoying for me as I had finally mastered (ish) how to make a cappuccino. No cappuccinos on this particular occasion; Bailey’s coffees and Irish coffees were the order of the day. Thankfully, the owner was about and he said he had had a few Irish coffees in his day and could handle things on that front. But then – this one swans in, plonks herself down and asks for a mocha. Good Lord in Heaven above, what is a mocha? I didn’t know, my boss didn’t know – there were no options. He told me it was up to me and I timidly rose to the challenge. With a quivering hand I took the tin jug and tossed in milk, cream, coffee, pancake syrup, nutella, anything I could get my hands on really – well, hand; the other hand was occupied trying to attend to the toaster which was now smoking vehemently. With this distraction the bloody drink was stone cold by the time I served it but I just wanted rid of it at that stage. The woman paid and I heaved a sigh of relief. Moments later I saw a clicking hand in my peripheral vision.

Oh no.

“Excuse me Miss, but – what is this?”

With every shred of indignance my body would allow;


Follow Caoimhe's Dutch adventures here: @OConnellCaoimhe