Saturday, April 19, 2014

Q is for Queensday

“Queensday in Amsterdam! This is exciting!” I said hurrying along a red brick sidewalk in that city.
“It’s the Dutch national holiday,” Benny said carrying a bag of old bowls. Just then a man dressed as a woman in an orange dress and heels walked past us.
“The Netherlands has a lot of queens,” I continued.
“I could have told you that.”


When overseas you really get to know a country and its people if you are lucky enough to experience their national holiday. For over a century in the Netherlands the national holiday has been known as “Queensday” in honor of the three female monarchs who ruled this county consecutively throughout the 20th century. Queens Wilhemina, followed by her daughter, Juliana followed by her daughter Beatrix ruled the Netherlands from 1890 to 2013. Yes, the Netherlands has had a lot of queens. 

But this changed with Beatrix’s abdication in 2013, As of April 30, 2014 the national holiday is now called “Kingsday” in honor of King Willem-Alexander. Although the name has changed, the event remains the same. Kingsday is celebrated throughout the country but the biggest party is in Amsterdam where over 500,000 visitors descend on the city, who join the local residents in celebration by wearing orange, singing songs and sailing on the canals. It’s one big block party that’s city-wide. These activities on the national day show that Dutch people are proud, patriotic and like to party.

“What’s the bag of bowls for?” I said stopping on a bridge over a canal.
“I’m selling them,” Benny said removing them from the plastic Dirk store bag and setting all six of them on the ground.
“Today? But isn’t there enough going on with all the people and the dancing in the streets?”
“It’s also part of Queensday,” Benny said as a blond woman stopped to look at his bowls.
“You’re having a swap meet today?” He nodded then announced the bowls’ price at five euros. The woman asked for three euros, Benny agreed to four then put the bowls back into the Dirk bag and gave them to her in exchange for four coins. 
“Now,” Benny said “Let’s go shopping!” 

As Benny dragged me off the canal we plunged into a square that was packed with vendors selling merchandise on the national holiday. For Americans it would be like having a barbecue and fireworks while hosting a garage sale and shopping at other people’s garage sales, yard sales and antique markets. I found this buying and selling so odd… until I spotted a glass flower vase with gold stripes. It sounded ugly but was very cool so I bought it on the spot. Meanwhile Benny purchased seven lamps from two different sellers. Needless to say the four euros he earned by selling his bowls was a drop in the bucket compared to how much he spent on lighting fixtures. 
“Your apartment is so small, why buy seven lamps?” 
“Because more is better!” Benny grinned.

This swap meet also illustrated the Dutch character: the Dutch like selling things they no longer use. And since they live in small homes and houseboats without hoarder-sized houses, garages or storage units, it’s better to sell the stuff than store it. Likewise, they like to buy things—and here’s the clincher—at a good price. The Dutch rationale is: anyone can spend a lot of money on something nice but getting something nice for a cheap price? That’s part of the national character, too!

We bee-lined for Benny’s apartment to deposit our purchases then we met up with some friends of his on a party boat. The plan was to drink beer and sail around Amsterdam but with so many other people having the same idea we didn’t sail, we anchored.  

A swap meet, dancing in the streets, boats, it was a different kind of national holiday.
“The Netherlands is funny,” I said lifting my bottle of Heineken.
“Funny as in ‘ha-ha’ or funny as in ‘strange’?” Benny said beside me before emptying his bottle.
“Funny as in both. But I like it!”


Happy Kingsday! Gelukkige Koningsdag!