“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.
“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.
As an English expat it is impossible to win any argument with the Dutch about which country drives on the correct side of the road. It simply can’t be done. It’s not because as a country that drives on the left the English are outnumbered by those that don’t. It’s simply because the Dutch have a very unfair advantage; The dictionary definition and usage of the word ‘right’ as both a directional indication (the opposite to left) and a suggestion that something is correct (the opposite of wrong). In any such conversation our own language is used against us.
Dutchman: “The English drive on the wrong side of the road but we drive on the right side.”
Englishman: “No you don’t.”
Dutchman: “Yes we do. We drive on the right and you drive on the left.”
Englishman: “Well, ok. If you put it like that; you drive on the right side…”
Dutchman: “Thank you.”
Englishman: “…BUT the English drive on the correct side! ”
Dutchman: “No you don’t. You drive on the left side. We drive on the right side.”
Englishman: “Fine! But only in a directional sense.”
Englishman: “Thank you.”
Dutchman: “We drive in the right direction. You drive in the wrong direction.”
It’s enough to make you want to commit road rage.
Once you’ve admitted defeat the conversation inevitably continues with the question, “Do you find it easy to drive on the right hand side of the road?”
This is a very valid question. Learning to drive on the other side of the road can be tricky. It involves having to break your old driving habits. Everything changes. You have to use your mirrors differently. You have to drive the other way around roundabouts. Even the gear stick is on the wrong side. I was quite lucky though. I found learning to drive on the right (directional) side of the road to be quite easy. In fact, I discovered rather quickly that accidentally pulling out toward oncoming traffic once is all it takes to learn which side of the road you should be on and stay.
“Is it different driving here then it is in England?” When this question is asked I’m always tempted to start making stuff up to get revenge for the start of the conversation.
“Yes.” I sometimes imagine saying. “We all drive Victorian automobiles that only go five miles an hour and we still use our arms to indicate. Of course it’s the same!”
In reality it’s not though. There is a difference. The English have hills and there is a very real danger of rolling backwards during traffic jams. The biggest slope the Dutch ever have to deal with on the roads is a speed bump. Plus Dutch roads are straighter despite it being the English who were invaded by the Romans.
Then comes the question that you realize the whole conversation has been leading up to. “Who are the better drivers? The English or The Dutch?”
Answering this question always fills my heart with sadness because I simply have to say, “The Dutch”. I know this will have some of my fellow English expats shouting betrayal and calling the Queen to tell her what I have said but you all know it is true. Sure, neither country seems to know what an indicator is and they both like to drive so close to each other that they can hold a conversation through the back window but at least the Dutch don’t hog the fast lane like they might never find it again if they leave it.
Anyone who has lived in Holland long enough has been invited to the dreaded ‘Dutch Circle Party’. But what about the people who have hosted one themselves? Sometimes they are unaware that they are throwing a Dutch circle party or maybe they actively trying to avoid their party turning into one. Either way, here are some of the warning signs to look out for.
1) Are there chairs?
This should be your first warning sign. Even if you have not arranged the chairs in to a circle yourself your Dutch guests will slowly re-arrange them into the ‘optimal party seating arrangement’ as they arrive (it is part of their natural instinct).
A simple solution for this problem is to hide all available seating. However, be warned, Dutch guests have been known to re-arrange any furniture they can find which can be sat on and/or lean on in order to form their own circle.
2) Are there drinks?
Tea does not count. If guests start turning down tea because they have reached their limit your party most likely turned into a circle party sometime ago (between the 2nd and 3rd cup). If you have been serving slices of cake with the tea the problem is even more serious.
Don’t be fooled by a small presents of alcohol at your party. Two guys using the opportunity to drink beer responsibly while their wives are distracted by someone else’s baby does not a wild party make.
Spiking everyone’s tea will soon liven up your party.
3) Is there music?
At a circle party there is often a lack of music so guests can hear each other ‘talk’. If there is music it is often very quiet or worse… Dutch.
Turn on some loud music to drown out the sound of guests talking about their mortgages.
4) Is everyone congratulating each other?
If guests start congratulating each other for your achievement (as if they are saying, “Well done for putting up with him for another year”) then your party could be a circle party (or simply very Dutch).
The best solution for this problem is to be as attention grabbing as possible and remind everyone that it is your day and it is you and only you they should be congratulating (However, this may lead to a real feeling of “Do we have to put up with him for another year?”). Plan a suitable entrance and party attire.
5) Are their guests from three generations?
Still not sure? Then why not print out this handy flow chart?
If someone’s grandmother is chatting with someone’s two year old second cousin something went wrong with the party invites. It’s too late to do anything about it unless you hire a bouncer.
Dutch houses (particularly those found in Amsterdam) are extremely dangerous and under no circumstances should they be bought, rented, lived in, squatted, visited or stepped foot there in. When looking for accommodation in Holland it is advised to consider the much safer alternative of living on the streets. Anyone who has spent any amount of time in a Dutch abode (and has lived to tell the tale) will be able to tell you about their many strange quarks and dangers. An Englishman’s home might be his castle but a Dutchman’s home is a deathtrap.
Possibly the greatest health hazard that exists in a Dutch house are Dutch stairs. Dutch stairs are widely regarded as the most dangerous type of stairs in the world for one simple reason; they are insanely steep. So steep in fact that they are better thought of as ladders and in the case of spiral stair cases; twisty ladders.
Descending Dutch stairs is extra dangerous. Even people who have been living in Dutch homes for a very long time can still fall victim to them because (as well as being very steep) Dutch stairs are very patient.
All it takes is one sleepy morning when you forget that you are wearing your pair of extra slippery socks and one quick unexpected vertical trip later you will have a bruise the size of Belgium on your ass (possibly with a neighboring country on the other cheek). And god forbid that there is a window at the bottom of those stairs because if there is you might find yourself suddenly propelled across the street into a nearby canal (as I once nearly was).
As a rule, if your Dutch living-abode includes an upstairs area it is simply safer to forget that it exists at all and sleep in the living room, kitchen or hallway. This has the added benefit of giving the mice their own area of the house because as we all know every Dutch house comes with mice as standard (and can be very territorial).
If fear of falling down the stairs is not enough to made you feel uncertain about your balance then the fact that almost every Dutch house leans will not help matters. One of the side effects of building houses on areas that used to be swamp or a part of the sea before they got filled in is that the ground is very soft and houses tend to develop a ‘slight’ tilt over time. The combination of Dutch stairs and tilting floors often gives the feeling of living in a fun ground fun house.
As well as interfering with your sense of balance this presents a very real danger that one day your whole house might slide off into the adjacent canal. This is particularly alarming if it is only discover upon waking up in your bed as it floats alongside a canal tour boat. For this reason it is strongly advised to have a hard hat and some sort of floatation device nearby at all times.
It is not all bad though. The one thing you don’t have to worry about in a Dutch house is the wiring. With everything else that can go wrong you would be forgiven for thinking that the fuses would need changing every time you so much as point at an electrical outlet. However, as luck would have it Dutch fuses are extremely strong and will survive the greatest of electrical fires. Even if every single lighting fixture and electrical appliance is flickering like an evil spirit is trying to manifest itself you do not have to worry about the electricity failing (and that it is most likely those mice chewing threw the cables again since they have finished your favorite box of cereal).
It is a comforting thought to know that when your house has burnt down to the ground and all your worldly possessions are gone you will still be able to salvage the fuses from the wreckage for use in your next Dutch house (if you choose to take the risk again).