Thursday, April 17, 2014

O is for Orange

“I have a question,” I said sitting at a cafe overlooking the boats sailing down the Amstel River, their flags flapping in Amsterdam’s breeze.
“Yes, we’re going clubbing tonight so wear that new red top,” my Dutch friend said popping a peanut into his mouth. 
“That wasn’t my question.”
“Then shoot.” 
“The Dutch national flag is red, white and blue.”
“That’s right.”
“So what’s with all the orange flags?”
“…Why can’t you ask me about clubbing?”


The great thing about having friends who live overseas is you can visit them—score!—and learn about their culture—double score! Of course if your friend is a social butterfly who prefers pop culture to all other cultures, be prepared to hear a lot about the club scene, music and fashion. Which is all well and good because I enjoy those things. Further I know there is no one more knowledgeable about the club scene than my Dutch friend Benny; no one more into music and definitely no one more fashionable because he studied fashion and is now a clothing designer. In fact his jeans are more famous than me, which come to think of it, is not saying much.   

However if I wanted any other information about his country, his hometown of Amsterdam or the beers we were drinking, I had to ask him point blank. I’d noticed that every ship, boat and dingy in the Netherlands sailed the three striped Dutch flag. But there was also a large number of orange flags flying with the red, white and blue. What was it with orange flag?

“It’s in honor of the House of Orange-Nassau,” Benny said sipping his Belgian beer. He went on to explain how that was the last name of the Dutch Royal Family. “Our king is King Willem Alexander of the House of Orange-Nassau.”
“But why call themselves ‘Orange’ when there aren’t any oranges in the Netherlands?” 

Benny proceeded to explain that there is a city in southern France near the Rhône River that is called “Orange”. Over 2,000 years ago the Romans settled it and developed it in the image of ancient Rome complete with a coliseum and a victory arch. Then 1,000 years ago the city became part of the Burgundian Dukes’ Empire. 500 years ago and through another royal marriage, it became part of the far flung territories of the Low Countries—today’s Belgium and the Netherlands—at which time the leader of the Low Countries, Willem “the Silent” of Nassau added “Orange” name to his title. Then he went onto to lead a revolt against the Spanish and create a free Netherlands.

“But today Orange is in France, not the Netherlands,” I said trying not to sound too obvious.
“Yes,” Benny nodded. “But by the 1800 when King Willem I of the United Netherlands and Luxembourg ruled, Orange-Nassau was already his last name and it has remained so until today.” Benny popped three peanuts into his mouth. “Now let’s talk about tonight’s club.” 

Hmmm I guess it’s easier to show pride in the Dutch government with an orange flag than with a Nassau flag. Which raises another point…

“What’s Nassau?”
“Nope! We are done with history! Now we’re going to decide what you’re wearing tonight to go clubbing!”

After our afternoon together, I knew exactly what to do: I wore orange for the House of Orange-Nassau and a pair of Benny’s jeans. It was a fun Dutch night.