Is that a rocket in your ear?
The Dutch seem to lose control on New Year's Eve, recalls expat Susannah Gray.
Don't bother with Las Vegas and its $500,000 organised display of colourful explosives - and don't make the trip to London for its spectacular midnight shows.
You can watch one of the most unbelievable New Year events right here in the Netherlands - for free.
With NLG 90 million spent on fireworks for the occasion, it might seem that there would be several organised displays across the country for people to "ooh" and "aah" at while standing 50 meters away behind a safety fence.
However, the Dutch prefer to show off their unique pyrotechnic skills by finding the biggest crowd they can (usually at the busiest "plein" in the city) and collectively setting off their gunpowder-filled goodies into the herd in a wild and random manner without a flicker of caution.
Usually a sensible and safety-conscious bunch, the Dutch seem to lose all control during the week leading up to 31 December. Men all over the country disappear into sheds and garages and under-the-stair cupboards to show off their new year-stashes to their friends. Stealthy missions across the border to Belgium are arranged and hoards of bigger, better and more dangerous fireworks are bought back into the country. Small boys wait anxiously for their older brothers to buy them some fire crackers, rockets and Chinese rolls so they too can join in the "fun".
It all begins about three days before New Year's Eve, when it becomes "legal" to buy fireworks. This seems to be an open invitation for the local youths to blow up anything that is left on the street for longer than five minutes - bikes, litter bins, phone boxes. Nothing is safe! Random explosions will send your cat diving for cover under the bed and will have your dog barking wildly and chasing its tail for several days. The closer it gets to the 31st, the louder and the more frequent the explosions become.
As the country gets ready to Countdown-to-Midnight the major cities are covered in a blue haze of choking sulphurous smoke. This obscures the view of anyone that is not yet sick to death of fireworks and actually wants to see what is happening in the sky.
Tourists under fire
Throwing fire crackers at the feet of bewildered tourists is one of the main activities of the evening. Astounded foreigners watch in awe, wondering why no one ever told Dutch children that fireworks are dangerous. Dodging misfiring rockets and red-hot sparks from Roman candles come like second nature to the Nederlanders. On the stroke of midnight the country erupts as everyone sets off their biggest, deadliest and loudest explosive.
The next day, the country eagerly awaits "Het Nieuws" to see how many fatalities there were, how many people got their hands and feet blown off and how many people are recovering from losing their sight by receiving a stray rocket in the eye.
The older generation scold the youth-of-today for using fireworks in an unsafe manner while parents silently thank the powers "above'" for sparing them and their children from the carnage. Special teams of new-year-cleaners patrol the streets to clean up the war-like debris left by the previous night's revellers. Teenagers, not content with one evening of mass bombing, pour back out onto the streets to search for unexploded fireworks to resuscitate.
As it is only legal to set off fireworks at New Year without a special permit, the Dutch do not hesitate in exploiting their "right-to-explode".
To the unwary expat or the unsuspecting tourist, New Year in Holland can be a scary and dangerous experience but, with these few tips, the enlightened can have as much fun as the natives.
There are three things one can do to see in the New Year:
- Buy a large supply of cotton wool to stuff your ears and the ears of your pets, close the curtains, turn up the volume on the TV and spend the evening watching gardening programmes on the BBC.
- Venture out into the city and find a nice, safe bar and sit as far away from the windows as possible in case of shattering glass.
- Join in! Purchase a variety pack of fireworks, find the biggest crowd and proceed to throw your fire crackers at anyone who passes. Be sure to hold onto your rockets tightly while lighting them so that your hand provides a mobile launch-pad and laugh wildly at anyone who has the misfortune to have his or her clothes set on fire. When all the fun is over you can spend the rest of the evening breathing a sigh of relief at the fact that you still have all your fingers and both eyeballs intact.
Happy New Year!
Briton Susannah Gray has lived in Amsterdam for 18 months. She works for a major bank.
Subject: New Year's Eve fireworks