A few weeks ago I was alone at a bagel restaurant, looking at a gallon-sized glass dish of loose candy that was just there for people to eat while they waited, when I heard my mom’s voice. My mom was supposed to be on the other side of the world still asleep, but in the bagel restaurant in Amsterdam I heard a voice that was unmistakably hers from across the room:
“Dude, with soccer you meet people who are die-hards for their team and I’m like, what team even is that.”
I turned around and to my surprise the voice didn’t belong to Susan, but to a college student in Amsterdam on vacation. This happens a lot.
Growing up I loved a book called Are You My Mother, about a baby bird that thinks everything is its mom. What an incredibly dumb bird, was I think the message. Who would think everyone was their mom? To clarify, I don’t think everyone is my mom. I just think everyone with American accents is my mom. Men, women, children, groups of teenagers, lots of sunburned young women on vacations living their best life: I hear what I’m sure is her voice about once a week.
It seems like almost everyone speaks English here, but the American voices stand out. If there were someone with an American accent talking casually about bus schedules standing next to someone yelling my name into a megaphone, I’d probably notice the American accent first.
I took two handfuls of the candy (that’s fine right? It was just there in a huge jar) and sat closer to the Americans so I could listen to their voices. There were five of them, all college-aged and wearing jeans and polos.
“Can you believe we’re here?” One of the boys in polos asked.
One of his friends in polos confessed that he hadn’t told his parents where they were going, and for all they knew he was at a friend’s house in Connecticut.
Another boy in a polo said that his parents knew he was in Amsterdam — but they didn’t know about the red light district.
“The red light district is sort of Amsterdam’s best kept secret, bro.” he said in my mom’s voice, and his friends nodded in agreement.
In Portland our friends have a dog named Frankie who is about the size of a lunchbox, and it’s fun to watch her interact with other dogs, especially very big ones. We’ll sit and watch them smell each other, and we’ll whisper “Do they even know they’re both dogs?”
I thought about this as I looked at the five boys in polos. Do they even know?
Would any of them guess that the woman at the next table, the one who ate four handfuls of loose candy and then left, likes their voices because they remind her of the voice she heard in the womb? Or am I just another one of Amsterdam’s best kept secrets?