As my visit to the provinces of North and South Holland comes to an end, I embark on a three hour train ride to the northeast city of Groningen. It is here that I will be meeting up with some good friends of mine who I first met during my graduate school days. Having visited this cozy low key city two years ago, it feels good returning to such a familiar destination. I have even arranged to stay at the same hotel due to its friendly staff and five minute walk to the city center. Feeling fatigued as I drop my backpack on the floor of my hotel room, I decide to go to bed early in order to recharge my batteries. While eating breakfast the next morning, I notice that several people are dressed in orange colored t-shirts. Perhaps the Dutch football team has an important match today. After breakfast, however, I also notice that there are an unusually large number of people meandering around the city streets.
Confused, I head back to my hotel room to do some research online to find out what exactly is going on. It turns out that today is King’s Day, or as the Dutch call it, Koningsdag. This national holiday celebrates the birthday of the current King of the Netherlands. One of the interesting traditions of this holiday involves people sitting on the sidewalk selling random objects to people passing by. Every imaginable item that one could find at a weekend yard sale in the US can be found today on the sidewalks of Groningen. Even on a holiday, these industrious Dutch citizens still find a way to work a couple hours. The other early morning activity I keep witnessing involves public performances of young school kids and their musical instruments. With their proud parents standing nearby, it’s nice to see these youngsters gaining the valuable experience of performing in front of a crowd.
As morning turns to afternoon, a definite shift takes place in the tone of this holiday’s festivities. I notice that there is more and more alcohol being consumed as well as more and more greasy street foods being eaten. This carnival like atmosphere, however, never for one moment feels like it’s going to get out of control. If I were in Boston, New York or London right now, there would be a good chance of me witnessing a few fist fights and arrests during the course of the day. The Dutch to their credit, however, seem incapable of ruining a good time. For example, a man standing ten feet from me just dropped a beer bottle onto the ground. As the shards of glass go all over the place, another man immediately runs over and softly kicks the pieces of glass out of the busy walk way. Startled by this responsible behavior, I wonder to myself why the Dutch are so good at keeping order in inherently disorderly situations. Perhaps part of the explanation resides in this country’s relaxed attitudes towards alcohol and soft drugs. Perhaps this liberal approach has inoculated this country’s citizens from going crazy when confronted with a party-like atmosphere. With the current wave of cannabis legalization that is occurring in various US states, it will interesting to see if this level-headed Dutch mindset begins to spread to that side of the Atlantic.