Cultural missteps are usually learning experiences and no big deal. I was not expecting a foreigner or even Borat-type moment when I entered a small drugstore today.
Personal choice dominates here and people are not easily shocked by preferences that aren’t exactly mainstream. Of course this applies to sex, which the Dutch nearly unanimously say is natural and not a big deal because it’s in the open. And the Dutch are happy to point a finger west saying that Americans are too prudish on the subject.
So here I am earlier today in line at a small village drugstore to buy some Nicorette gum. (Kids, don’t start smoking and stop reading here) A lady in her late 40s with a post-office jacket is paying at the counter ahead of me.
I can't help but notice the condom display front and center at the cash register while I’m waiting. There is one package different from the others, and I become curious what it is. I take it discreetly and discover that it is a vibrating ring to be placed on the man’s component during sexual intercourse. The advertising on the package says that it was for both partners' pleasure!
We didn’t know about vibrating sex rings when I was growing up in Mississippi, and this device is on display for all paying customers to see. I approach the counter as the lady in front of me appears to exit the store. A man in his 80s has taken his place unseen in line behind me. I present the packaged device to the lady in her 60s working the cash register and I ask of curiosity in a low voice, “how much does this cost?”
Most people in the Netherlands speak very good English. The lady working there does not understand a word I am saying, but by this time she has the device in her hand and is calling over my shoulder to the lady who was previously in front of me to translate. The cashier says something in Dutch like, “Hey, the American wants to know how much the vibrating sex thing is!” The post office lady then reappeares from nowhere to help translate with a grin on her face.
I begin to feel embarrassed when I notice the elderly man behind me in line laughing and saying that I need to learn how to ask that question in Dutch. Here I am standing in the middle of these three Dutch people inquiring about the price of a sex ring and everyone is enjoying my situation. I think to myself that I’ve really stepped in it now, so I should laugh at the moment as well.
After a minute we all determine that it is priced at 9 euros. Well I don’t consider my self a cheap…..whatever……but I also don’t have enough cash on me to buy that and the gum. By the way, Visa is not widely accepted in the Netherlands. I politely thank everyone present and make my exit after replacing the device back on the display.
If devices like that are displayed prominently and sold in drugstores, what’s sold in sex shops? I wonder if the elderly man behind me in line bought the device.