“It’s not a circle party. I promise,” the host of the party that is apparently not a circle party tries to assure me.
Ever since I wrote about the phenomenon of Dutch Circle Parties everyone has become very nervous about inviting me to parties. It is as if they think of me as some sort of secret party critic who will sit in the corner (if I can find one) , quietly judging their party based on how Dutch it is. They will often take drastic steps in an attempt to stop their party becoming the typical kind of Dutch Circle Party that I write about. Unfortunately, in their desperation, they tend to take the name ‘Circle Party’ a little too literally.
“See. The chairs are not in a circle,” the host happily points out when I later arrive at the party. “We arranged them in a triangle instead.”
I silently nod and make a mental note to rate the party in my review book later.
This happens a lot. The problem is no one seems to realize that a circle party does not specifically require the chairs to be arranged in a circle. In fact, any attempt to arrange the seating in a different shape will still result in a circle party. Triangles, squares, rectangles, dodecahedrons, artistically abstract squiggly random shapes will all still end with the same outcome.
Allow me to explain it scientifically…
A circle party is actually any party where the chairs have been arranged in any shape or pattern that forms a closed loop. There are other scientific factors that must be present such as tea, cake and someone’s grandmother but the primary factor is a seating arrangement that creates a closed loop of social interaction. It does not actually have to be round. Dutch Circle party was just a catchier name then ‘Dutch Closed Loop Party’.
“It’s not a circle. See. We left a gap,” the host will sometimes say.
This might seem like a good solution to the problem. However, even if there is a ‘break’ in the loop it merely creates a section where the party guests have to talk a little louder to hear each other over the space between seats. The ‘circle’ still exists even if you cannot see it. It is being created by your guests. They will most likely draw their seats closer together anyway, thus closing the physical loop as well.
“We made two seating areas instead of one,” the host will try if they are getting desperate.
Good idea. Unfortunately all you have achieved is the creation of two circle parties in one, thus doubling the circle-ness of your circle party… In trying to stop the circle party from happening you have only made it stronger. Plus your Dutch guests will inevitably merge the two circles together, dragging the seating over from one to the other. It is their natural instinct.
“What are birthday parties like in England then?” The party host will often ask me in a slightly annoyed tone at the end of the mid-party scientific lecture as I put my flip board away.
The difference is usually that there are less seats than guests. Thus, guests are free to move around the party like particles colliding with each other, spilling their drinks. This is because they lack the constraints of a physical chair… This idea usually freaks the Dutch party host out because they cannot imagine a party without adequate seating… or with music loud enough to require occasionally shouting to be heard… or a party that starts after 7pm instead of finishing before it.
Find out more about Dutch Circle Parties by checking out these posts:
The Original Circle Party Guide
How to Identify a Circle Party
…or get your very own Circle Party T-Shirt
Have you been living in Holland for a while? Do you think you might be becoming Dutch or do you think you might actually be Dutch? Here are a few more warning signs to look out for:
You are familiar with and have used the two tone sigh.
You enthusiastically over extend the word ‘Goedaaaaaaaaaa’ until you’ve figured out what time of day it is and whether you should end with morgen, middag or avond.
You consider ice cream toppings on bread a healthy breakfast.
You are no longer impressed by windmills.
You have a calendar hanging in the toilet which contains the birthdays of all your friends and family.
Your throat no longer hurts when you try to pronounce any Dutch words containing the letter G.
You regularly use the word ‘so’ to communicate a wide variety of thoughts and emotions, without feeling the need to put it into a full sentence.
You no longer pause to consider what a frikandel is made of before eating it.
You know what a kroket is and know to avoid the orange ones.
You’ve started making your own sandwiches to take to the office (but often eat them on the train).
The Albert Heijn layout has started to makes sense.
You have used your bicycle to transport one or more of the following: an item of furniture, a mattress, a suit case, a crate of beer, another bicycle, newly purchased electrical equipment, the weekly shopping or other large objects.
You consider 15 degrees warm and will happily have a barbeque under such conditions.
When you speak Dutch the Dutch actually reply in Dutch.
You are aware that it is ‘The Netherlands’ and not ‘Holland’.
You no longer freak out and start to panic in front of your friends when the emergence alarms are tested at the start of the month.
You are able to eat more than two oliebollen in a day.
You own, have owned or know someone who owns a caravan.
You’ve started using strange sign language to indicate when something is ‘lekker’.
You never lose hope about the Elfstedentocht.
For more warning signs that you might be becoming Dutch check out part 1.
“A Christmas what?”
“A Christmas Cracker.”
It was a few days before Christmas on a cold evening in the North of Holland and I was desperately trying to explain the very English tradition of Christmas Crackers to my Dutch family-in-law. A task which I was quickly discovering is very hard to do without sounding like a complete and total mad man…
“It’s a kind of long tube thing…”
… Mainly because the Dutch don’t have the tradition of Christmas Crackers…
“…and two people pull an end each…”
…and when you try to explain it to someone who has never heard of it before, it does sound like a slightly odd tradition.
“Then it goes bang and you get a small gift, a paper hat and a bad joke.”
Or maybe I was just doing a very bad job of explaining it. The look on their faces seemed to suggest that that was a possibility.
I was not used to this. Normally I am the one being confused by Dutch traditions and thinking they sound completely mad as some poor Dutch person tries to explain them to me. Now the situation had been reversed and my world turned upside down. Now I was the crazy one.
“Does the joke have to be bad?” My father-in-law asked.
“Yes. That is very important. That way everyone can groan together about how bad the joke is and the person reading it can’t be blamed for telling it wrong,” I answered, explaining the deep psychological mind games behind Christmas cracker jokes.
“And you have to wear the paper hat?” asked my brother-in-law.
“Of course. You wear it during dinner,” I answered as if pleading them to understand.
“I… don’t know… but you do.” To be honest my argument might have been losing some ground.
There was a short pause.
“Very strange people those English,” commented my mother-in-law.
I decided they were probably right. There was no point denying it. It is a very weird tradition that proves the English can be as strange as the Dutch.
Besides, I was never going to win. It was three against one.
Previously I shared a few of the warning signs for expats to look out for if they think they are starting to become Dutch. But what about the Dutch themselves? Could they also be influenced by all of us English expats moving into their country? It’s very possible. Here are a few early warning signs that might indicate you are starting to become English.
When a disaster strikes, no matter how devastating or terrifying it might be, your first instinct is to ‘put the kettle on’ as a means of putting things in to perspective. Even the apocalypse will seem easier to deal with once you have had a nice cup of tea (including milk and sugar).
Saying the word ‘sorry’ becomes an uncontrollable, automatic and involuntary reaction to everything, including things that have not actually happened yet, things that might not even happen and things that you are in no way responsible for at all. In extreme cases you will even apologise for apologising too much.
Your manner of speaking becomes similar to that of a Victorian villain in an American movie.
You start watching Strictly Come Dancing.
You suddenly realize you know the rules to cricket.
You become compelled to drive on the left hand side of the road (a real problem if you are on a Dutch highway at the time).
You start requesting ketchup instead of mayonnaise with your friet. In extreme cases you will be very specific that it must be HP ketchup.
In addition you start to refer to friet as chips and will be disappointed if they are not soggy.
You become confused by the Euro.
You measure how well you are doing in life by comparing your happiness to that of the average Eastenders character.
You consider Baked Beans on toast a ‘treat’ and know what Egg and Soldiers are.
You’ve written a letter of complaint at some point in your life.
You consider queuing a hobby.
You become frustrated by the American spelling of the word ‘colour’ and ‘favourite’.
There is something very undignified about losing a fight with a bicycle rack. Even if you do manage to win you still can’t walk away without feeling more than a little humiliated.
The problem is that there are just so many bicycles in Amsterdam and so few bicycle racks to park them in. Bicycles end up being forced in to them and tightly jammed together at all kinds of odd angles. And because it is often impossible to find anywhere else, you have no other option but to add your own bike to the tangled mess when you want to chain it up somewhere.
Parking your bicycle in a bicycle rack is an exercise in brute force and perseverance and it is very important that you don’t mind (or care) if a few things get broken in the process. Peddles get trapped in wheels and handle bars become entangled with brake cables. It’s like trying to force two unrelated jigsaw puzzle pieces together with a hammer (if they were both made out of sharp, rusty metal). It’s a task that would send even the most calm and serene of people into a blind rage. Even when you have managed to do it (and the urge to murder has started to diminish) the real trouble has only just begun.
Because you have now ‘successfully’ forced your bicycle between its two rusty neighbours there is even less room for you to manoeuvre and you still have to somehow lock your bicycle to the rack.
Reaching over the handlebars won’t work because you can no longer squeeze yourself between the bikes to get close enough (even when awkwardly stretching over while standing on one leg).
This often leaves you no other option but to crouch down and squeeze yourself awkwardly between the bicycles as you reach out, chain in one hand and the keys in the other, trying to lock bicycle and rack together and remain calm. However, as if this situation was not infuriating enough already you will inevitably find your goal frustratingly just out of reach when your coat or backpack suddenly becomes caught on some random bicycle part which you are now unable to free yourself from. At this point it’s worth questioning how much you actually like cycling and if it is all worth it.
But eventually, after much frustrated and annoyed struggling, you finally manage to reach and successfully lock the chain around the front of your bicycle and the rack. You can relax. You have been successful…
But then you try to stand up.
Whatever random bicycle part you became snagged upon while trying to lock your bike is now the same one stopping you from backing out as well (and threatening to pull half your clothes off over your head if you try). It’s like being a fly trapped in a spider web made of bicycle chains and break cables.
It is then, after a while of unsuccessfully struggling to get free a very embarrassing realisation starts to settle in. You are a grown man (or woman) trapped in a bicycle rack and you have only two options open to you. Remain trapped for several hours or face the humiliation of of having to call out for help from a random passerby (which should not be too hard because by now you’ve already drawn a crowd of on lookers).
And as if that was not enough you know that whichever option you choose you have to do the whole thing in reverse when you want your bicycle back.