As a man with ginger hair I have had to accept that I will never be capable of having a proper sun tan. It is scientifically impossible. My light hair and pale sensitive skin means that I get third degree burns even when just thinking about spending five minutes exposed to sun light. Most vampires are capable of achieving a healthier sun tan than I ever will be.
Maybe that is why, during my mid 20s, I decided to do something about it. Something that quickly became an addition to the list of stupid things I did in my mid 20s. I decided to get a fake sun tan.
First I had to figure out how someone went about getting a fake sun tan so, one Saturday afternoon, I walked into the local Body Shop in Haarlem and started asking questions. This resulted in a few strange looks from the people who ran the shop, mostly because I don’t look like the kind of person who would normally walk into a Body Shop and start asking questions about fake sun tan products.
It didn’t help that I had to ask them to explain everything in tiny, step by step detail because I could not read the Dutch instructions of the products they recommended.
I then confused them even farther with my reaction after they informed me that I would need two different kinds of fake sun tan dye; one for my body and one for my face.
“But I can just use one for both right? It’s all just skin.” I asked.
“I would not recommend it.” Replied the shop attendant, looking worried in a way that suggested she ‘really’ would not recommended it.
“It’s ok. I’ll just take the body dye, thanks.” I replied, not picking up on the rather obvious hint at the time.
I returned home, happy that I would soon have a sexy tan. I entered the bathroom, stripped naked and started applying my fake sun tan body dye… everywhere. Soon I would have an amazing tan… or so I thought.
When I looked in the mirror a short while later I discovered that things had gone horribly wrong. I’d left the dye on for too long, far too long. It had had almost half an hour to soak into my skin. I had turned completely brown. Not a healthy sun tan brown but a ‘I just had an accident with a tin of brown paint’ kind of brown. I looked like an out of season Zwarte Piet.
To make matters even worse it seemed that I had not distributed the dye evenly. My new sun tan was rather more ‘patchy’ than you would expect from the real thing. Between my fingers, for example, the dye had been able to accumulate and had turned the sides of each digit extremely dark in comparison to the rest of my hand. I won’t mention the other bodily crevices where this had happened but there were a few, some easily visible, some more private.
There is a serious problem when it comes to using fake sun tan dye. If you mess it up (as I had done quite spectacularly) you can’t simply remove it. You have to wait it out until it fades away a few weeks later. This meant that I had to return to work on the Monday looking like I had fallen into an entire vat of industrial strength sun tan dye when I had left on the Friday as the palest and whitest guy in the office. Obviously, no one was fooled by my fake sun tan. In hindsight, it probably didn’t help that it was already October.
For the next few weeks everyone was asking if what I had done had been by choice or if I had somehow been forced into it. I had to reply, “neither.”
By the end of November my skin had finally returned to a more normal colour for someone of my complexion (just in time for the real Zwarte Pieten to show up).
I told myself that I would never do anything as stupid ever again as long as I lived… That was until a few months later when someone convinced me that I would look good with blond hair with brown patches. Hair dye also takes a few weeks to wash out.
If you spend any amount of time living in the Netherlands people will tell you that there are several very good reasons why you should learn the Dutch language. For example; they might suggest that it will make it easier to meet people and make friends, or that it will help you fit in and understand what is going on around you.
But they are wrong. These are not the reasons why you should be learning the Dutch language. There is only one reason that really matters and it is very, very important one… It is so that you receive the haircut you were intending to get when visiting the hairdressers.
“Oh my god! What happened to your hair?” my wife asked while trying to hold back her laughter. Something she had been unable to do when I had first walked through the door a few seconds earlier.
“There was a communications mishap,” I replied.
“What did you do?” She asked, because in these situations she knows it is usually caused by something I did… she was right.
“I tried to talk Dutch,” I replied, defeated.
When I had arrived at the hairdressers half an hour earlier I had been determined to speak Dutch. My hair had been getting quite long but I only wanted it trimmed a little. So I sat down in the chair, looked at my hairdresser in the mirror and confidently told her in Dutch how I would like my hair cut… Unfortunately there is a big difference between saying, “Ik wil het een beetje korter,” and what I had accidentally said; “Ik wil het kort.”
For the English speakers amongst you that is the difference between saying, “I’d like it a little bit shorter please,” and, “I’d like it short.”
Unfortunately I did not realize that I had made a mistake straight away. When the hairdresser reached for the electric hair trimmer I had been slightly puzzled but I had not really thought to ask what she was planning to do with them. Out of English politeness I thought it best not to bother the nice lady and point out that this light trimming only required scissors. I assumed that she probably knew what she was doing… But then one side of my head had suddenly been shaved off and I found myself rapidly reassessing the situation.
As my hair fell to the ground in great big clumps my English politeness took control of the situation and told me to keep on smiling and act like everything was going to plan (It’s an English survival instinct). Meanwhile, my inner English panic was doing what it does best and discovering several new swear words to describe the situation. Before my sense of politeness and my sense of panic could reach a consensus on how best to handle the situation it was too late. My hair was gone. I suddenly realized my earlier mistake.
To fully grasp what this looked like it is important to remember that in real life I have a beard. This meant that I now had more hair on my face then I had on my head. I think if you take a moment to visualize that we can all agree that that is a very strange look. My hair was now short enough that I could easily enroll in the army or be mistaken for a mob bosses henchmen.
And that was why my wife had been unable to control her laughter when I had first returned to our apartment (and for the several hour that followed that).
“Why didn’t you say anything?” She asked after I finished my story.
“I… don’t… know,” I replied.
“Didn’t you learn from last time?”
Oh… yeah. I should probably mention this was not the first time something like this had happened. I really should improve my Dutch.
The other day I physically attacked a waitress. I didn’t mean for it to happen. She certainly didn’t deserve it. She had been polite, she hadn’t kept us waiting for long and she had even gotten our order correct. But I attacked her anyway… but not intentionally.
It all happened in a small cafe in Amsterdam as I had lunch with two friends. I was in the middle of telling a joke. It wasn’t a particularly funny joke in hindsight but I was being very animated while telling it. Unfortunately, as I threw my hands into the air to tell the punch line I was unaware of the waitress walking up behind me holding two cups of mint tea (which we had ordered).
What happened next happened extremely fast so I will slow the text down, allowing you to properly follow the full sequence of events.
As I threw my hands into the air I felt one of them suddenly connect with something hard. This was followed by a sudden gasp from everyone in the cafe.
I quickly spun around in my chair to see that I had just punched a glass tea cup out of the waitresses hand and propelled it across the room. In a panic I reached out to grab the airborne tea cup but I was too late. It was already out of reach and flying towards a table of two now very nervous looking business men.
This also meant that instead of grabbing the tea cup (which was still in flight) I awkwardly grabbed the waitresses now empty hand, throwing her off balance. Suddenly the tea cup in her other hand was sent flying in the opposite direction as she started to stumble backwards.
I quickly tried to reach out again, this time to stop her from falling. At least that had been my intention. Due to my general lack of coordination I only made matters worse. Instead of reaching out a helping hand and steadying her I unintentionally pushed her down the small flight of stairs that lead up to our table.
The contents of tea cup number one narrowly missed landing in the business man’s lap. Tea cup number two landed with a smash on the wooden floor and the waitress landed with a thump on her butt.
Everything was suddenly still again… To everyone in that small cafe it had just looked like I’d disapprovingly pushed the tea away and shoved the waitress down the stairs for bringing me such a unsatisfactory beverage.
My friends looked shocked. The waitress looked shaken. The business men looked relieved. I looked at the door and wondered how quickly I could make my escape. However, retreat was not an option because not only would it have been impolite and rude but the fallen waitress was between me and the door.
Luckily (for me and for her) the waitress was alright. She was quickly back on her feet and trying to make sense of what had just happened as I blurted out an embarrassed apology the way only an Englishman can (to both her and the business man who had almost been covered in boiling water and mint leafs).
For the rest of lunch I sat very still, not daring to move my arms. The waitress brought us two new teas. This time she announced her approach just to be safe. I occasionally apologised again just to make sure that everyone was aware it had really, really been an accident (and not some violent outburst). They seemed to believe me but kept their distance.
I’ve not been back to the cafe since.. just to be safe.
Camping is extremely dangerous. Not many people realize this but it is. Explorers of undiscovered jungles and unclimbed mountains have some understanding of the hazards involved but even they have never faced anything as dangerous or deadly as a family camping holiday on an ordinary (already discovered) Dutch camping site. If they had they would never want to look at a tent ever again and would most likely give up their adventurous life in favour of a much safer career.
Camping is extremely dangerous! Especially when you are an accident prone Englishman like me!
It all happened on what first appeared to be a nice sunny day (mainly because it was). My wife, daughter and I were enjoying a very Dutch holiday in our newly purchased second hand caravan. Everything seemed to be going fine until I undertook a very dangerous and foolish task… trying to find some shade!
Don’t laugh. Men have died trying to achieve less.
To be more specific I was attempting to put up a sun umbrella so we could enjoy breakfast in the shade. Unfortunately, the sun umbrella was not as enthusiastic about this idea as I was. In fact, it was being extremely stubborn about it and preferred to stay firmly closed. No matter how hard I tried to force it open it simply refused to budge. It continued to show its stubbornness and unwillingness to do its job for several minutes as I pushed and pulled and struggled and generally lost a battle with an inanimate object. That is until it very suddenly and unexpectedly gave in and popped open.
I was about to cheer triumphantly but a not so triumphant collection of swear words shouted in quick succession came out of my mouth instead. This was because the sun umbrella, unhappy about being forced open, had decided to let it’s feelings on the subject be know by slicing the palm of my hand open in the process (thus adding to my very extensive collection of personal scars).
I finally had my shade but for some reason I was finding it a little difficult to enjoy the victory as I bled all over the ground from the large hole in my hand. Maybe it was because the first aid kit suddenly seemed a lot more important.
This particular first aid kit looked like it had not been opened since the 80’s. Luckily it still contained everything we needed to treat my injury; disinfecting alcohol (hurt like hell), plasters, bandages, and various other medical supplies. At the very bottom of the box it also contained (rather worryingly) four screws! I couldn’t really figure out what kind of first aid emergency would require four screws but I was very glad that my injury (which suddenly seemed a lot less severe) did not. I can only guess that someone had borrowed the bone saw and forgotten to return it.
As we bandaged up my hand, just to add insult to injury, the sun disappeared behind a cloud. A short while later the sun umbrella fell over.
Over the course of the next few days I discovered that some things are very hard to do when one of your hands is tightly wrapped in bandages. For example; I was only able to apply sun screen to one side of my body (which could have resulted in a very distinctive sun tan if my wife had not been there to help). Whereas things like cleaning up spillages became considerably easier (but not very medically hygienic).
But the main thing I learned is; camping is very dangerous!
“You’ve got something stuck between your teeth.” My wife informs me as we finish dinner.
“Thanks,” I reply after successfully removing the offending food fragment.
“Do I have anything stuck in my teeth?” She asks in return.
I quickly check as she grins at me but find nothing.
“No. You are more…”
I suddenly stop mid-sentence as my brain jumps into the conversation like a bodyguard diving in front of a bullet.
Me: “What?! What is it?!”
Brain: “You can’t say that to a woman. Do you have any idea how that sounds?”
Me: “What? How what sounds?”
Brain: “You were about to say; You are more practised at eating then me.”
Me: “I was only… Oh… Oh god… You’re right. That sounds terrible. ”
Brain: “Quick! You’ve got to come up with something else!”
Me: “I… Err… Umm..”
Me: “Err… experienced at eating?”
Brain: “Don’t be stupid! That sounds worse.”
Me: “Oh no! She’s looking at me funny. I’ve been paused for too long. What do I do?!”
Brain: “Say something. Anything… Anything not stupid.”
“…better at eating then me.” I finish aloud.
Brain: “Oh you idiot! That’s not even correct grammar.”
Me: “I panicked. You made me panic.”
Brain: “Keep me out of this. You’re on your own.”
My brain suddenly falls silent. I am left alone. I brace myself for the reaction of my wife who is simply looking at me with an unreadable look on her face. There is a moment of silence and then… she bursts out laughing at the look of absolute fear on my face.
In other news: Invading Holland has been nominated in the Expatica ‘I am not a tourist’ Expat Blog competition along with some other very talented writers. You can check it out here and vote if you like.