In the Netherlands there is only one true way to know when Spring has arrived. It is not the blooming of the first tulip or the birth of the first baby duckling. It is quite simply Rokjesdag.
Rokjesdag (also known as skirt day) is the name given to the first day of the year when it becomes warm enough for Dutch ladies to start showing off their bare legs again as they once more begin dressing in a selection of short skirts, dresses and shorts.
It also happens to be the day when most Dutch men start wearing their sunglasses in what they ‘think’ is a clever deception allowing them to enjoy the ‘traditions’ of Rokjesdag without getting into trouble with their wives of girlfriends. It never works out as they expect.
Most people in The Netherlands are familiar with the concept. In fact, a lot of Dutch people don’t consider spring to have officially started until Rokjesdag has taken place. The term was made popular by Dutch writer and columnist Martin Bril who called it a great and beautiful day. It has become so recognised now that a Dutch movie was released this year about it. In short, it is the most official un-official holiday in the Netherlands.
When is Rokjesdag?
The Dutch probably would make Rokjesdag an official holiday if the unpredictable Dutch weather didn’t make it impossible to set a fixed date for the event. One year Rokjesdag might be in April, the following year it might be in May and the year after that it might be in April, May, June or July. It’s the only holiday that can be affected by chaos theory. As the old saying goes, “A butterfly can flap its wings in Brazil and cause a Hurricane in Hong kong and Rokjesdag in The Netherlands.”
This unpredictability is probably the only thing stopping the Dutch from creating official ‘Happy Rokjesdag’ greeting cards for the occasion as well.
How do you celebrate Rokjesdag?
There is no official way to celebrate Rokjesdag (yet, give the Dutch time). However, most people agree that at least 50% of the female population has to be showing off their legs for it to be considered a true Rokjesdag. Anything less and it is simply a group of women who have badly misjudged the weather (and are probably freezing).
Wearing tights or leggings is viewed as cheating. Only items of clothing that put bare legs on display count; skirts, dresses, blouses, shorts. Men are also free to join in with the tradition of skirt/dress wearing if they wish. Rokjesdag is for everybody to enjoy, male or female. It should be fun for everyone… However, most men choose to wear shorts.
The important thing to realize is that Rokjesdag is more than just one day. It is merely the opening ceremony to (what is hopefully) a summer of clear skies, warm weather and short dresses… That is if the Dutch weather does not spoil everything.
If you have spent any amount of time living in the Netherlands you’ve probably been invited to a Dutch Circle Party and thought that you have experienced the strangest thing the country has to offer. However, you would be wrong.
It is true that a party where everyone sits in a circle, drinking tea or coffee while enjoying a slice of cake and a polite conversation with an elderly family member is strange, but it is not the ‘strangest’ party experience possible. There is another far more bizarre level to the Dutch Circle Party that not everyone has experienced yet… The Children’s Dutch Circle Party.
The first strange thing that you might notice upon arriving at a Children’s Dutch Circle Party is the slight lack of children. That’s not to say that there won’t be children at all, there will be at least a few. They will just be greatly outnumbered by the amount of adults present. In some extreme cases there might not even be any other children attending at all beyond the birthday girl or boy themselves. This is because the invites are usually organised by the parents and they will invite people that they want to hang out with. This also means that having no children of your own does not protect you from an invite to a Children’s Dutch Circle Party. The only real way to avoid such an invite is to make sure you and your partner never make friends with anyone who has children or is thinking of having children.
Before you sit down you’ll be expected to shake hands with everyone in the room and congratulate them for simply knowing the birthday boy or girl, just as you would at a standard Dutch Circle Party. The only difference is that where you would usually start with the birthday person themselves you will now finish with them instead (if you actually congratulate them at all). This is usually because they are too busy running around the room on a huge sugar rush (from eating all the sweets on display) with all the other children.
If possible you’ll then give the child their birthday present (or give it to the parents if not) and they will happily open it. However, they probably won’t play with it much yet. Once the gift is opened and everyone has seen what it is the parents will put it up on display on a nearby table or shelf with the other gifts for later guests to see.
Once the introductions and congratulations are complete it is finally time to take a seat. Of course it would not be a Circle Party without the typical Dutch Circular seating arrangement. Luckily (depending on how you look at it), the Dutch adults are on hand to provide it. As if by natural instinct they will form the familiar seating circle in which to enjoy their coffee, tea and slice of cake. The children however who do not fully understand the rules of a Dutch Circle Party yet will be running around the circle, through it, across it (and in some extreme cases) over and under it (in a manner that might have some of the adults requesting them to, “doe normaal”).
When it comes to requesting a drink the chances of there being alcohol are surprisingly much higher at a Children’s Dutch Circle Party than at a standard Dutch Circle Party (where it is often considered strange behaviour to request a beer). This isn’t because the children have a serious drinking problem. It’s because one of the organisers of the party is probably a Dad who (since becoming a Dad) misses beer and knows that the other Dads will probably miss beer too. He has thus used the excuse of being a good host and the event having the word ‘party’ in it to buy a crate of beer. The children however are still only allowed non-alcoholic drinks (no matter how much they ask).
For the most part the children are usually left to entertain themselves while the adults try to continue the kind of conversations they would have at a normal Dutch Circle Party (but with their concentration occasionally interrupted by having to react to the sound of something breaking). To the outside observer it probably looks like a standard Dutch Circle Party that someone has just released a random group of wild children into.
By the end of the day the room will look like a toy bomb went off in it since the children have had several hours to scatter their playthings over and under every available surface (this will not include the gifts on display of course). The adults will be exhausted from being in the vicinity of hyperactive children all day, the snacks will be finished and the children will be going through sugar withdrawal. It will be time to say goodbye and go home. In honoured Dutch tradition each child will receive a goodie bag from the hosts with a small toy and a selection of more sugary sweets (which the parents will sometimes start eating the moment they are out of view).
If everyone survives the party they will get to do it again next year and the year after. Eventually the Children’s Circle Party will evolve into a standard Circle Party. The sugary snacks will slowly be replaced with ‘kaas & worst’, more elderly family members will be invited and the availability of alcohol will slowly decline (after the teenage years of course). The circle party cycle will be complete.
During the summer months (or at least the part of summer that has good weather) the highways of Holland become filled with caravans as Dutch people make their way to camp sites all over the country (and nearby countries if they have enough patience and petrol). The Dutch love to go camping but it is not camping as most of us might know it.
For the Dutch, camping does not mean roughing it in the woods, fighting against nature, scavenging for bugs and trying to start a fire by rubbing two sticks together. No, when the Dutch go camping they go camping on their own terms. Being away from home does not mean that you have to miss any of the luxuries of home. Gas cookers, refrigerators, washing machines, televisions and DVD players are just a few of the things considered essential camping equipment by the Dutch.
Likewise, having a caravan, which by its very nature is mobile, does not mean that you actually have to be able to travel anywhere with it. Dutch campsite spots can be rented for as long as you like. Once they have found a camping site they like the Dutch will settle down and start the process of turning their caravan into a permanent, non-moving summer home/bungalow, complete with a conservatory (front tent), heating, indoor plumbing, outdoor kitchen station and a garden (which in itself will include a garden shed, garden furniture and several garden ornaments).
However, there are a few things that are out of the Dutch’s control.
Most camp sites only have one spot where the mobile network and/or wi-fi is any good. This spot will often be out in the middle of a random field somewhere next to a cow. That’s why most phone calls usually involves a five minutes hike first.
The weather rarely acts as expected (or desired) either. Beautiful sunny weather will often be interrupted by a sudden hurricane or rain storm. When this happens everyone seems to enter a strange state of denial. During the most extreme weather there will still be someone swimming in the outdoor swimming pool, someone will still be attempting to have a barbeque and someone will be chasing a runaway sun umbrella across the campsite because they didn’t think it was ‘that’ windy.
If you have children things will be extra busy as you either try to keep them entertained or keep them out of trouble (or both). People often underestimate how much work this is. That is why you will often find a group of exhausted and stressed parents who mistakenly thought it was a good idea to hold a children’s birthday party on the campsite.
Despite the few things that are out of their control the Dutch still love camping and once everything is set up, the weather is good and the children have settled down (or gone off exploring) it is time to relax…… after you’ve mowed the lawn, washed the caravan/tent windows and done all the other little maintenance and upgrade tasks that you suddenly realized needed doing.
I know all of this because I have a caravan… A caravan with heating, indoor plumbing, an outdoor kitchen station, a garden and many other things.
As a stereotypical Englishman I have a particular (and some would say unhealthy) interest in queuing. Most English people do. It is a natural instinct for us to wait in lines. We might complain about the amount of time it takes to reach the front of the line once we are in it but this is just all part of the tradition. We like the queue. We don’t like the waiting. We like the sense of order, of rules, the idea that even if we have to wait an annoyingly long time at least there is a system.
This is why (as an Englishman) queuing in Holland has taken some time to get used to (putting it mildly). In Holland queuing is an extreme sport. There are no rules, only survivors. The most extreme cases of this can be observed when attempting to board a busy train in Holland. This is something that I have to do daily so I have had a lot of time to analyse it scientifically and take notes. There are several steps to what can be loosely termed ‘queuing for the train’ in Holland.
Step 1: The Cluster
Preparations begin the moment the train is spotted in the distance. The Dutch start moving towards the edge of the platform, trying to predict the best place to stand in the hope that they will end up near a door once the train has stopped. This causes small clusters of people to form around the predicted door locations. However, since they never get it right these small clusters end up shuffling along the platform with the slowing train as they try to keep up with their chosen door. This often causes them to walk backwards into other people, swallowing them up into their group.
Step 2: The Gap
Once the train has come to a full stopped the cluster of people (that have gathered around each entrance) will reform slightly to create a narrow gap leading away from the door. This gap is for the people exiting the train, however it is more of a gesture than a practical exit route. It is kept as narrow as possible just in case anyone at the back of the cluster tries to use it to gain ground.
Step 3: Hold The Line
As passengers exit the train the people on the outer edges of the cluster already start to get restless. They shuffle and move around, trying to see how much longer they have to wait and if there is any weakness in the group that they can exploit. Always be on your guard.
Step 4: The Collapse
As the last person exits the train the cluster of eager Dutch people will immediately collapse in on itself as everyone tries to rush forward through the doors at once. Arms, elbows, bags, large suitcases, hot cups of tea or coffee and body mass are all legitimate strategies to keep people back and gain ground on others. A battle cry is optional.
If a passenger is too slow getting off the train before this happens they are doomed. They will be swept back up onto the train by the unstoppable current of oncoming passengers and find themselves at the next station before they realize what has happened.
If you survive and are able to board the train you are one of the lucky ones. Many people have not been so lucky. Dutch queues take no prisoners and should not be taken likely… Of course, if you have made it on to the train there is still one challenge that awaits you; The race to find a seat.
If you’ve ever been shopping anywhere in The Netherlands you have probably been asked the question, “Is het een kadootje?” It’s a common question, especially during the months leading up to Sinterklaas and Christmas. In fact, I hear it so often that I sometimes expect the checkout girl to ask me it as I do my weekly food shopping.
“Is deze melk een kadootje?”
“Ya, als kadootje alsjeblieft.”
If I were to translate “Is het een kadootje,” word for word it basically means, “Is it a gift?”. However, I have learned that it is a mistake to take this question at face value or to even assume that it is the question that is really being asked. It is not a question asked out of idle curiosity about your gift shopping habits. It has a double meaning, a silent question that is never asked but always understood (by the Dutch at least). “Is het een kadootje?” really means, “Would you like this wrapped?”
Once you are aware of this double meaning it probably sounds pretty easy to deal with the situation. However, the difference between the question that is asked and the question that is meant creates some problems.
Is het een kadootje voor uzelf?
Imagine that you are buying something for yourself and when you approach the counter to pay for it you are asked the question, “is het een kadootje?” You now have two options:
1) You can say no and admit that the My Little Pony action figure that you just bought is actually for yourself and it does not need wrapping or…
2) You let them wrap it anyway and have your own private gift unwrapping moment at home later.
Is het een kadootje voor iemand anders?
It does not get any easier when you are buying a gift for someone else either, especially if you want to wrap it in your own fancy wrapping paper (that compliments the Christmas tree decorations so well). This time when they ask, “is het een kadootje?” you now have three options:
1) You could keep it simple, lie a little and say no just so that they will leave it unwrapped, thus making it easier for you to wrap it later. However, this will now lead to them believing that the ‘Little Princess Tea Party Play Set’ you just bought is for yourself.
2) Alternatively, you could be honest, tell them it is a gift but that you would like them to leave it unwrapped so that can wrap it yourself later. However, this response first leads to a moment of confusion as they automatically reach for the wrapping paper upon hearing the word, “yes,” and then hurt feelings by what they believe is an insult to their gift wrapping skills.
3) Finally, it might just be easier to let them wrap it so that you can unwrap and re-wrap it later. However, while doing this you might discover that their gift wrapping skills were in fact better than yours all along and never be able to look them in the eye again.
It is a dilemma that never gets any easier.
Is het een kadootje van ons winkle?
Sometimes when picking the last option you might be lucky and discover that the wrapping paper the shop is using is actually quite nice. Maybe you don’t have to worry about re-wrapping it after all. Unfortunately they then place a great big sticker on the freshly wrapped gift, clearly advertising the shop’s name and showing everyone that you obviously did not bother to wrap the gift yourself.
If you are anything like me you might try to carefully peel the sticker off as soon as you exit the shop. This is probably why they make sure they press it on so hard. It’s impossible to get it off without ripping the paper.
If you’re quick enough you might just be able to stop them stamping it on but be prepared for some annoyed looks. Refusing the sticker is akin to refusing to acknowledge the selfless free gift wrapping service the shop provides (and that you just took advantage of). A better solution might be to put a bigger sticker of your own over their sticker.
Is het een kadootje?
Either way, answering the question, “is het een kadootje?” is not as easy as it might first seem. It’s possible that there is no correct answer. The best option is whatever you are most comfortable with doing… or shopping online. That way you avoid the question all together.