When does it stop being a party and start becoming a problem? Is there a way to steer clear of addiction? Every Wednesday, Mike McGowan, host of the podcast "Avoiding the Addiction Affliction," explores substance use disorders with expert guests. The podcast series is sponsored by the Kenosha County Substance Abuse Coalition.
Original cover art created by
Kelly P. of Kenosha, Wisconsin
Professional Trainer and Founder of Tourist Run Amsterdam
The coffee shops of Amsterdam in the Netherlands are legendary but not for their coffee. Other countries and cultures address drug usage differently than in the United States. Paul Bierman talks about the coffee shops of Amsterdam, where, despite it being illegal, cannabis usage is allowed. Paul Bierman is a professional trainer and founder of Tourist Run Amsterdam, and on this podcast he discusses the evolution and effects of the drug tolerance policy in the Netherlands. He gives a variety of tours of the Netherlands capital city, including the Coffee House Tour. The Coffee House Tours and others can be accessed at https://touristrunamsterdam.com/
Paul is also a professional trainer who helps people develop their public speaking skills. His trainings are unique, insightful, and entertaining. He can be reached at www.entertrainer.nl (The web site is in Dutch, but Paul trains in English for those companies who have English-speaking employees.)
[00:00:00] [Jaunty Music]
[00:00:12] Mike: Welcome everyone to Avoiding the Addiction Affliction series brought to you by the Kenosha County Substance Abuse Coalition. I'm Mike McGowan, you know, on these podcasts, we've talked a lot about usage and the using culture in this country and especially in the state of Wisconsin. And whenever I give talks, I hear the response.
[00:00:32] Well, in Europe, they don't have a problem with it or something like that. And these statements are usually given by people who have never been to the country they mentioned, have no knowledge of that place. So I thought it might be fun and interesting to have a few conversations with actual people who live in some of the countries that get mentioned to me. These won't be research or scientific conversations, just chats with real people who actually live there.
[00:00:59] Today, I'm delighted to have as our guest, Paul Bierman who lives in the Netherlands Amsterdam, Paul?
[00:01:07] Paul: Amsterdam.
[00:01:08] Mike: Which if you're not familiar is the capital of the Netherlands. And among other things, Paul is a professional trainer and founder of Tourist Run Amsterdam. Paul gives a variety of tours in Amsterdam.
[00:01:19] We'll be talking about one of them specifically today. Welcome Paul.
[00:01:24] Paul: Thank you. Thank you for having me. Hi, Mike.
[00:01:26] Mike: Now say your last name again for me?
[00:01:30] Paul: It's Bierman.
[00:01:31] Mike: Bierman.
[00:01:32] Paul: Yeah. So my great great grandfather must have been a brewer or a drinker, but we'll never know.
[00:01:37] Mike: Well, you know, that's interesting. My last name McGowan in Gaelic means son of blacksmith.
[00:01:43] So somewhere along the line we were blacksmiths.
[00:01:46] Paul: Okay.
[00:01:47] Mike: So what, what about you and beer? Do you drink beer?
[00:01:50] Paul: Well, the stupid thing is I'm not a drinker. I only like Baileys with ice, but that's always had been a problem. Even when I was young, I would go to clubs. You know, it was very boring. Just this little Coke for me, coke I didn't mean cocaine.
[00:02:04] I meant Coca-Cola. [laugh] So yeah, not a drinker.
[00:02:10] Mike: You know, Paul, I, I thought we'd start by tell us a little bit about the tours that you do. I, I looked into them and they're fascinating. You do a lot of these tours, right?
[00:02:20] Paul: Yeah. So it all started with my own tour, which is called Tourist Run Amsterdam. So I'm, I I've always been a runner pretty sporty ran a lot of marathons and I found out there are a lot of these running tours around the globe.
[00:02:32] So I started Tourist Run Amsterdam about 11 years ago, but you know, runners I have to say travelers are not that much running when, while they're traveling. So I only get a few clients a week, so I thought. I could also join one of these walking tour companies. And I walking tour company offers a variety of, of, of walks like boot walk, alternative tour some boat tours, the classical tour, and also the dark tour about the creepy side of Amsterdam, the hangings and such, guillotine.
[00:03:04] Mike: Oh, [laugh] great. That's something you have that we don't have. Well, you have tons of art also, right? Wasn't isn't Amsterdam the home of Van Gogh?
[00:03:14] Paul: Yeah. So we have [inaudible]. We have the [inaudible], which is more like the, the biggest machine [inaudible]. A lot of these famous painters of the 17th century, like Rembrandt [inaudible], but we have around one of the 17th museums in Amsterdam only.
[00:03:30] So yeah, you can do whatever even have for purses, body parts, [inaudible] museum, Jewish museum. There there's no end to it. There's a lot of museums in Amsterdam.
[00:03:40] Mike: Wow. Did you say body [inaudible] Wow.
[00:03:46] You know, one of the tours that you give and the reason that I wanna do this among all of them is something that you call the coffee shop tour.
[00:03:57] Tell us about coffee shops.
[00:03:59] Paul: Yeah, so it's actually. It's actually an alternative tour including coffee shop. The alternative tour is more like the heart and soul of Amsterdam. So it's indeed more about drugs, but also about the hippies, the seventies, the squatters, the gravity, you know, these kind of things, street art, but about the coffee shops well it all started, you know, during the war.
[00:04:21] It took the Germans at the beginning of the war, it took them three days to come from the border, the German border to the coast of Amsterdam, the coast of the Netherlands I have to say. So during those three days, you managed to get all the ships out and sent them to Canada. They were shipped in the, they were docked in the base of Canada.
[00:04:39] And when the war ended, all the ships returned. We were the only country in Europe with a lot of ships still because we were, we saved and timely. And you know, when you would be, when you would have a young son. And he didn't behave. What we usually did. We sent him to these ships. He said, you go work on the ship.
[00:04:59] Then you come become a man, a real man. So these guys, they went everywhere, sailing on these ships. And you know, they, they went all around and by the came to back to Amsterdam, they were real man with gold teeth, golden chain, a tattoo, a real man. And they stood in Amsterdam and they walked, they went to these bars and they told the people, are you guys still drinking?
[00:05:19] I went to Lebanon and to Vietnam. And these were guys, they, they used brown substance and they put it in a pipe. And after smoking that they were giggling. So the Amsterdamers started being curious, said, what? You have this, this, this stuff. It makes you giggle. What is it? And then, you know, these guys, you couldn't buy anything.
[00:05:37] There were no coffee shops still. So they would usually hang out in the red light district in the bar. So then you have to look for the sailor who had something with them and say, yeah, well, today I took some Lebanon. Then you would say, okay, can I have some, yeah, sure. You wanna smell it? And you smelled it.
[00:05:52] You said, okay, well, yeah, but then you found out at home that it was just a dog shit. What you bought, what you bought. Right. [laugh] Because they were funny [laugh] so, yeah, so there were so the, and the hippy time more and more hippies came here and they all wanted to have these drugs. Behind the counter of many shops, they started selling them because in the sixties and late fifties, you had Janis Joplin came to Amsterdam, Jimmy Hendrix. And they all went to. Underground bars like the [inaudible] in Amsterdam and they, they used they got this cannabis, so it attracted a lot of Americans because San Francisco used to be the magic capital of the world. Well, Amsterdam was the magic capital of Europe.
[00:06:35] So a lot of these hippies came to Amsterdam, which also a lot of tolerance, a lot of freedom, you know, and it all started [inaudible] where. Can I get it? So everybody's sold behind the counter. So there's a huge debate to the parliament. They say, oh, you know, we can't forbid we cannot arrest all these hippies.
[00:06:51] Right. So what do we do? And the Christian parties, they say, we don't want any drugs ever. Zero tolerance. So they compromise. They said, okay, you call it coffee shop and you sell it behind the counter. But it will never be legal. It will be what we call [inaudible]. We like let turn a blind eye. So that's actually what we did at the end.
[00:07:12] We, we sort of, we have. Stupid ID that we sell it, but you cannot grow your own plants. So one of the hipocrite things in Amsterdam is that you can sell as many plant many weed, many joints, if you like, but you cannot grow your own plants, but this is how it all started in the seventies.
[00:07:29] Mike: Well, and, and you can buy it and use it in the coffee shops. Right?
[00:07:34] Paul: Right, yeah. Yeah. So you can use it in the coffee shop. You can walk around in Amsterdam and nobody will bother you. It's one of the things that we gain as of the seventies, you can smell it all around. It's all around town. Yeah.
[00:07:49] Mike: Even though it's still illegal.
[00:07:52] Paul: It is illegal officially, but it's tolerated. Let's put it like that. Yeah. Sometimes it's really easy to find the people growing weeds because for growing weed, you need lamps and they use these helicopter with thermal. What is it? Infrareds so they try to detect heat pockets. So that's how they can, can locate them. And sometimes, you know, we have sometimes people with a roof and then when it snows the snow melts on all the roofs, except for the guy who's growing plants.
[00:08:20] And then the police, the neighbors will call the police. And that's the end of your little money maker. [laugh]
[00:08:26] Mike: Do actually sell coffee in the coffee houses.
[00:08:30] Paul: Yeah, you can, you can buy coffee, but you cannot buy alcohol.
[00:08:34] Mike: No alcohol.
[00:08:35] Paul: There are different places like coffee company and other places, but most people go to the coffee shop just for the weeds.
[00:08:42] Mike: And, and so I noticed though that in your statistics, something happened in the early two thousands, right? It, it seemed like the, especially like around drinking that your young people were having a huge problem and that's been reduced a lot over the last 15 years or so.
[00:09:03] Paul: Yeah. With regard to the drinking.
[00:09:05] Yeah. It reduced from, I think 72% to 47% of all the drinkers in the age of 12 to 16. So indeed at school, they, they try to give a lot of attention to that subject because when your brains are still growing, you know, it's very harmful if you are drinking alcohol. So indeed. But what you can see is that the usage of alcohol is higher.
[00:09:30] At people who are who have smarter jobs who get study than the, the people who are have normal jobs. So the so-called intellectuals are drinking a lot more.
[00:09:41] Mike: You know, paul, that's the same thing. It is here too. We've we, people, people have a misconception of that, but the usage tends to be higher among those people that make the most amount of money.
[00:09:52] Paul: Yeah. Well, can get back to the part of the, the, the coffee shops?
[00:09:57] Mike: Yeah. Yeah.
[00:09:57] Paul: Cause people think it's all about coffee shops, but you also have grow shops and smart shop. Now in a, in, in a grow shop. People buy seeds. That's one of the funny things you can buy as many seeds as you like, but you cannot grow your own plants.
[00:10:12] Maybe you can feed them to your parrot and see what's happens. But we have grocery with where you can. Tremendous amounts of, of seads. And you can officially do nothing with them.
[00:10:22] Mike: But...
[00:10:24] Paul: But people do grow of course, a [inaudible].
[00:10:27] Mike: Is that another government turn a blind eye?
[00:10:30] Paul: It is another one. Yeah. Yeah. And and then we have smart shops and a smart shop.
[00:10:35] They used to sell what is it? Mushrooms. But we had a French tourist. She thought she could fly. She opened her hotel bathroom, spread her arms and died on the streets of Amsterdam. From that moment on, they forbid it, they said this organism growing above the ground, that hallucinating effects.
[00:10:49] Will be forbidden as of today. But the people from the smart shop are smart, smart people. So a mushroom grows upward, but a truffle grows downwards. So they still sell truffles. It comes in a box. It will cost you 25 euros. And when you take the high wires, which is the top rated one, then you can see pink elephants playing drums.
[00:11:08] You can see Fabergé eggs jumping on your own chest. You know, you'll, you'll be the best artist of the whole planet. This is still allowed and sold in the, in Amsterdam, in the smart shops.
[00:11:19] Mike: The Netherlands makes a difference between hard and soft drugs.
[00:11:24] Paul: Yes. So this is a law of, I think 1972 when they make this compromise.
[00:11:29] So hard drugs are strictly forbidden. Cause you can see youngsters at festivals. They use a lot of these ecstasy pills. Well, officially that's forbidden, but I think 90% of all the people going to festival are on ecstasy or on other substances ketamine mean MDMA. But also of course, cocaine mainly used in the business area, fancy bankers, lawyers.
[00:11:52] They use a lot of this cocaine. So, and, and I have to say that. You even have a new breed, it's called a yoga sniffer. A yoga sniffer is a young conscious woman with a very healthy lifestyle. So she goes to yoga lessons. She drinks minty, she's vegan, but in the weekend she uses cocaine, [inaudible] and nose.
[00:12:10] It's called work hard, play hard type. We have a lot of these yoga sniffers, she' hipsters and Amsterdam who are, are, yeah. Using Coke.
[00:12:19] Mike: Which kinda runs contrary to your healthy lifestyle, right?
[00:12:23] Paul: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. But this in Amsterdam, I have to say it is turning a little bit into an [inaudible] state. It's not really a good commercial, a good marketing for Amsterdam, but we do have real issues with that because, you know, people don't realize when they order a little pill.
[00:12:38] There's a whole criminal scene, drug gangs try to own the drugs market. Sometimes use a lot of violence to take each other out. So it is we only have 25 homicides per year. And for you in, in, in the us, you say, well, 25. It's not much for a big city, but it's half of them are drugs related. So they sometimes use machine guns and it's, it's pretty nasty.
[00:12:59] Mike: Yeah. Well, I was actually gonna say that just because it's tolerated or people look the other way and you do have the coffee shops and you can smoke cannabis in the coffee shop. It doesn't mean that there's no drug problem, right?
[00:13:15] Paul: Well, we regard to, with regard to the coffee shops, I would say most people will get a little bit mellow, a little bit relaxed.
[00:13:21] You know, some people are, have a lot of tension in their, in their office that they'll, they'll just try to relax with a joint. And when they do that for me, I think it's fine. It doesn't really hurt anybody. I mean, alcohol and Coke make people more aggressive, but of course, with all temptations, when you cannot limit yourself, control yourself. I had a guy, he was renting an apartment of me and, you know, he was just like 21 years old and he smoked all day. Nothing came out of his hands. You know, that his parents was supporting him. So even with cannabis, you can get pretty much addicted. And, but I think in general, when you take a joint like once a week or twice a week, or maybe once a day, even it's much better than you, when you take a lot of alcohol daily and get drunk daily, because if you look at your body, People who, who don't eat healthy.
[00:14:11] So I'm pretty sporty myself. You know, I ran this, this marathons, but I can imagine that when you are taking too much food, too much alcohol, that can also be very harmful, but that that's legal, you know? So I would say [inaudible] now then might not harm that much.
[00:14:28] Mike: What, what, what do people do in the Netherlands?
[00:14:31] If they do get into trouble, do you have resources that help people when they get into trouble?
[00:14:36] Paul: Yeah. Yeah, we do have the most famous one is the [inaudible]. It's it's it's, it's like a clinic, a rehab, and they have different courses try to change your behavior or trying to find the reasons behind why you have to, why you are looking for drugs to what is it, why you are turning into drugs so that they have different courses and also different ones for young people, especially.
[00:15:03] And so you, you you'll go to, to rehab and, and that is in fact insured by the insurance company. So when you have a, a reference of your doctor, you you can get it fully paid.
[00:15:16] Mike: Say that again? You get it fully paid.
[00:15:19] Paul: Yeah.
[00:15:21] Mike: That's part of your tax structure?
[00:15:24] Paul: Well tax. Yeah. Yeah, at the end, it's all tax money. You're right about that. But in the Netherlands, it's like this, you have to, you have to have a mandatory insurance for healthcare, like Obamacare, your country, but the first 350 euros, you have to pay yourself. And after you, you get you get you get 100% back. For sure. Some treatments for the, for instance, the, the addiction treatment.
[00:15:49] Mike: Wow.
[00:15:49] Paul: Yeah.
[00:15:50] Mike: Tremendous. Now I also wanna ask you, you must still have celebrities who come to Amsterdam.
[00:15:58] Paul: Yeah, yeah, yeah, they do. They well the most famous one at the moment is Snoop Dog.
[00:16:03] Mike: [laugh]
[00:16:03] Why am I not surprised, right?
[00:16:08] Paul: Oh yeah. Really. Because he [inaudible]. Right. But no, he, he, he always goes to a coffee shop called Grey Area, but there are a lot of celebrities went there, like 2Pac. And well, let me think one of the country singers, I, I forgot his name, but there are a lot of and in the old days, of course, I already told you Janis Joplin, Jimmy Hendricks.
[00:16:26] And obviously there are a lot more, but I don't know all of them, but we have some coffee shops with a bit more famous, [inaudible], this is how you can get with the coffee shop. And that's where they took Oceans 11, the movie with the, you know, with the Clooney and Brad Pitt,, I think yeah.
[00:16:45] Was taken in Amsterdam. Partly. Yeah.
[00:16:47] Mike: Wow.
[00:16:48] Paul: So funny. Yeah.
[00:16:49] Mike: Paul, I wanted to ask you also about your, your other part of the career, which is your professional trainer as well, right?
[00:16:57] Paul: Yeah. What I do is these public speaking courses. I help people grow confidence because a lot of people are anxious and I help them grow confidence, be more passionate, more interactive, bit more personal.
[00:17:10] So to get a little more attention and, and a little bit, bit more impact. So this, this is what I have a special course, and it's called a presentation house. What I do, I have different rooms in the house. I actually have this little house in my own houseboat. And I lead you through the rooms and every room teaches you a lesson.
[00:17:29] So for instance, I have panic room and panic room is is dealing with all the mental problems you might, that might occur to you. That's the part that will helps you grow confidence. So the guest room to see who your audience is. The bedroom, because in the bedroom, there's also some tension between the two partners, but also of course you have to connect.
[00:17:49] So those two elements are dealt with in the bedroom. So the, the, the kids' room upstairs is where, of course you have to talk about authenticity. What makes you, you, what is driving you to help you make your your speech more? So I I'm going through all the rules and at the end, all the rooms at the end, you have all the keys in hand to give you to give a presentation which will stand like a house.
[00:18:14] Mike: Wow. Tell me, we've focused a lot on mental health too. Tell me a little bit more about the panic room.
[00:18:21] Paul: Okay. So what happens is that when you are standing in a group, we are if you believe in evolution, you know, we, we were once apes. We, we love that, that, that, that, that the security, the safety of the group.
[00:18:32] But when I take you outside the group, you, you, your, your neocortex will think Help I can be eaten by the lions any moment, so I will become food. So what you have to to know is that you don't become food, but you have food because all the things, your great stories you have to share is the foods you will share with the audience.
[00:18:54] So you have to just imagine that the, the, that they're behind the fence and you would just. Like a package of like a present, a present that you are giving nicely packed, which are unwrapping for your audience. So it is in fact you, you have to grow confidence. Going through all these rooms and knowing that what you have to share is priceless.
[00:19:13] What you have to share, your unique insights are so much so worthy to your audience that will also help you. But of course you have to also do it a lot of times to, to, to, to build confidence. Right? So I'll tell about the process. Now tell that also people who are excited also sweat, they also be, have a higher heartbeat.
[00:19:33] So between fear and excitement. Those two emotions are closely linked, but I, I, when when you come to me to my houseboat, then I'll tell you everything, but I'm also glad to fly over to Wisconsin and tell everybody in your state and give the presentation courses right there. Or we can do it by a Zoom.
[00:19:51] Mike: [laugh] That would be great, actually.
[00:19:54] Well, you know, When I ask people that is a huge fear, right. That the fear of public speaking are most adults it's right up there with their biggest fears.
[00:20:06] Paul: Yeah. True. So number five, I think after death divorce and accidents, but before terrorism.
[00:20:13] Mike: Wow. Now you and I speak right.
[00:20:15] This is not one of my fears, but why, why is fear of public speaking so terrifying for some people
[00:20:24] Paul: Because they feel exposed.
[00:20:25] Mike: Mm.
[00:20:26] Paul: That is it. You know, when you are exposed that's actually you are, you are not in the group you're exposed and that makes people really shy. That's why a little kids you know, the first, maybe one, two years, he, or she's not aware.
[00:20:39] But at at year three or so, she's he or she's hiding behind mama's leg, because then it suddenly she realizes that when she's seen or does something funny, it people are laughing, people are looking and that's what makes them really a bit anxious.
[00:20:56] Mike: Hmm. Fascinating. You know, we've been through a lot in the last couple of years. And I, what we found here is that because we're all isolated from one another and masking up and whatever, that there's been a skill deficit that people haven't practiced some of the stuff that you're talking about in the last couple years,
[00:21:19] Paul: Yeah, I, we have the same here, but I have to say American America are great public speakers in general.
[00:21:25] Because in, I think in your school, you do get presentation classes, not sure, but here in the, in Europe people are less skilled in presenting then in the U.S., I think.
[00:21:38] Mike: Well, Paul, maybe we can maybe we can set it up a Zoom or bring you over here. That would be a blast actually.
[00:21:44] Paul: Yeah. Yeah, just do it. We'll discuss off this little podcast [inaudible] discount. No worry.
[00:21:51] Mike: That sounds great. Listen, Paul, I wanna be respectful of your time today because it's it's evening there, right? It's early evening.
[00:21:59] Paul: Yeah, it was just half past five almost.
[00:22:01] Mike: Yeah. So it's morning here still. But I wanna thank you so much for starting this little series out for us.
[00:22:07] We're gonna be talking to people from other countries as well, and maybe even, maybe even a few states that are different from Wisconsin, but I put, I'll put the resources for Paul's workshops as well as his business on the back of this podcast. And for those of you that are in the Netherlands, please, or going there, please look him up. It's fascinating for those of you who are stuck here. We , we invite you to listen in next time when we'll talk about more issues around substance use until then stay safe and come out of your shell a little bit.
[00:22:41] [END AUDIO]
The Kenosha County Substance Abuse Coalition’s mission is to support networking, encourage education, explore gaps, and realize solutions to improve treatment and reduce alcohol and other drug abuse in our community with a primary focus on families.