Thursday, 30 January 2014

Hiep, Hiep, Hoera!

One of the most prominent cultural differences that Ive encountered during my stay in the Netherlands is birthday protocol. Birthdays, for me, conjure connotations of singing 'happy birthday' in a darkened room, gathered around a birthday cake with candles and wishes. The Dutch, however, do things a little differently. When I asked about traditional birthday foods I was met with blank looks of confusion. You'll find no sausage rolls, pineapple and cheese on sticks or jelly and ice cream here. The main aspect of this that I find most challenging is the lack of actual, real birthday cake. As a kid there was nothing quite like coming home from a birthday party and digging out the piece of birthday cake at the bottom of the party bag; peeling off the icing and saving it til the end. Heaven. A piece of apple tart, lovely though it is on any other day, just doesn't cut the mustard! 

And I know you Dutchies love a boterham, (that's a sarnie to you Brits) but is a birthday really an appropriate time to be celebrating this mundane lunch food? It's customary to pulverise the life out of countless things and call it a meal in the Netherlands and sandwich fillings are apparently no exception. They'll blend just about anything and slap the sloppy mess between their bread, the worst being Filet Americains (essentially just a chunk of raw meat passed through a blender). To me, this is no way to celebrate turning another year older. The increasing number is enough to remind me of my impending death, I don't need an early glimpse into the winter of my life by sucking my sandwich through a straw. The Dutch love sandwiches so much that they find them an appropriate figure head to place on the front of birthday cards. No, I'm not joking. Here is the proof:

Also, it is generally just expected that you will provide some sort of birthday party for your friends and family on your birthday. You are the host and you wait on your guests (who you basically didn't even invite) until they have reached their fill of sandwiches, tart and a good old game of shitting nails (you'll have to enlist the help of our trusty friend Wikipedia on this one). But I have to wonder how or even if, anyone ever gets thrown a surprise birthday party here. Perhaps on a surprise birthday no one turns up, who knows? I hate the whole big birthday fuss thing so perhaps next year when my mum asks the annual question as to whether I'd like a surprise party (it's not a surprise if you ask me if I want a surprise party) I'll tell her to throw me a Dutch one! 

The other strange thing about birthdays is that people congratulate the other party guests on the birthday of the person whose birthday it is. It has taken me a few times to work this one out and I still just sort of smile and nod when I get lunged at with an outstretched hand. If all else fails, just pretend you know what's going on and that it's not wildly bizarre. Perhaps fill your face with a boterham so it's not immediately obvious that you haven't got a clue how to offer a correct and appropriate response. Oh and if you can help it, try not to buy a 'Get Well Soon card' by mistake for a five year old's birthday. Though I'm pretty sure a cartoon frog with googly eyes on the front is more birthday appropriate than a sandwich, surely?   

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Red Peril

To set the scene, Urban Dictionary describes a 'ginger' as 'A human, characterized by pale skin, freckles and bright red hair. "Gingers" are generally considered to be inferior to their more melanin-rich brethren, and thus deservingly discriminated against. Gingers are thought to have no souls. The condition, "gingervitis" is genetic and incurable.' I have had first hand experience with this with one of my best friend's mum's never growing tired of asking me whether I'd like a nice cup of 'Red Bush' snigger, snigger. However, one thing that is really great about being in the Netherlands is that being a little bit ginger is completely acceptable and even desirable, would you believe it? In fact they even have a whole two day festival in September (Roodharigendag) devoted to celebrating the carrot tops! Though I can only imagine that the streets of Breda, where the festival is held, during this time look like an explosion in a Wotsit factory.

I think most of us girls at one time or another have fallen victim to the classic 'home dye gone awry' situation, so my suggestion would be to hop on the next plane to the Netherlands and soak up the praise. I'm not sure why the whole ginger hating phenomenon began in the UK but I would guess that our large inventory of orange foods are only exacerbating the issue. (I don't think orphan Annie did us any favours either). In the Netherlands biscuit trivia is minimal with no distinction between a 'biscuit' and a 'cookie' and I'm pretty sure I haven't seen any ginger nuts knocking about on the supermarket shelves. They really don't take it as seriously as the Brits, I mean, you need the differentiation so as not to find a nasty surprise at the bottom of your teacup, right? So the Dutch are definitely not dunkers, but this can only be good news for the copper community.

The most amazing part of the festival is that some red-headed children in certain areas of the Netherlands get a whole week off from school in order to celebrate. I'm pretty certain that would cull the bullying issues in school corridors and even make for envious 'melanin-rich' children. I know everyone has an 'If I were Prime Minister' speech ready in their dreams, but I think this has to be the first time in history that someone took their's a little too seriously. I mean, come on, people come from around the globe to join in with the festivities and there are even dedicated lecturers that come to speak on a myriad of ginger related topics.

Strangely, considering less than 2% of the Netherlands' population are sporting the ginger tinge, it was a bit of a coincidence to discover that the girl next door is also in this minority and shares my name too! Maybe she would like to accompany me to this years festival. I think it might be classed as ginger etiquette to ask. She'd probably be quite upset if I went without her. Gingers united.

(Also, freckles mean I am a walking dot-to-dot. How is that anything less than amazing?)

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