I arrived in a country full of singing drunk people dressed in orange.
Travel long enough and you learn two things: 1) countries that still have kings — even symbolic ones — love their kings, and 2) the king’s birthday is the most rowdy, craziest day of the year.
I stepped into Holland on King’s Day, the birthday of their king, the most recent in a short line of a rather artificially installed monarchy.
The fact that Holland celebrates this day is mildly ironic, as the country was one of Europe’s earliest republics. Their kingdom is relatively new, being installed in the early 19th century by Napoleon as a post for his brother. However, this doesn’t mean that this holiday isn’t celebrated to the extreme.
I wonder what I would have thought of King’s Day if a local university professor that I was arranging to interview didn’t give me due warning. I would have walked into a country for the first time that was full of tens of thousands of people dressed in orange — orange hats and orange wigs and all — jumping up and down, getting blasted drunk, and singing in the streets and would not of immediately had any clue what was going on. What would I have made of such a place?
But alas, this shock did not happen. I boarded a ferry to go to a part of the city on the other side and watched a DJ squad pump out music for dancing commuters on the boat. As we all prepared to disembark, one of the dancers grabbed the mic and yelled, “This is your last chance to dance!”
For some reason I doubted this.
I checked into my hostel and made to start working. I had overloaded that week with projects, and couldn’t spare any time. But the receptionist stopped me short:
“You need to go see it. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Alright. Where do I go?
“Just go out and follow the sea of orange people.”
Sounded easy enough.
“Why orange?” I then asked. I figured the quicker I received an explanation of the obvious the better.
“Because the king’s name roughly translates to orange. So orange is our national color. Our soccer team is orange.”
“The great thing is that nobody looks good in orange,” he continued.
That, too, was true.
“I will book you into your room fast so you can go join the festivities. You have to go,” he said again.