A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
Today at work the receptionists were wearing fluorescent orange leis. Promotional orange sports shirts lined the entrance hall, and, at lunch, my colleague won a prize-draw and received a shining new orange football, with ‘Holland’ emblazoned across it. As I rode the bus home, I passed cars with scarves and flags streaming from their windows, and orange wing-mirror covers. One sartorially adventurous chap strolled up the Breestraat, replete in his orange suit, white shirt, orange tie and blue, white and red shoes. Stepping off the bus and turning into my street, I heard the frantic fluttering of the bunting that links almost all the houses bar ours. It’s everywhere. And, unsurprisingly, it’s orange.
This oranje-madness has been going on for about two weeks now. Of course, it’s a direct effect of the football tournament of the summer, the European Championships (or here, the E-K). The whole country has gone nuts. Every enterprising businessman has nailed his national colours to the mast, ekeing out commercial advantage in any form possible, from the ‘squeaky-irritating-rubber-birds’ (Geluksvogeltjes, my translation is probably inaccurate) offering of C1000, to the much more useful, and, in Holland, actually fashionable, ‘Rugnummers‘ football shirts from Heineken.
Adverts on TV link products as diverse as health insurance, deodorant, spring water, Japanese cars, and wireless internet to the football, and a number of promotional (and fanatical) songs dominate the advertising slots on Spotify and YouTube. The Geluksvogeltjes even have their own song, an inspirational variation on the Birdie Song. (Warning, clicking this link can result in severe mental anguish…)
Having been exposed to this for a fortnight, I thought nothing of the orange-ness that awaited me in Amsterdam this weekend gone. An old friend was visiting, and we’d made plans to explore the watery city. Neither of us being consumers of either of the products found to the east of the Damrak, we headed towards the museum quarter, but, fooled by inconsistent summer opening times, found ourselves strolling back up towards the station and the hotel early Saturday evening. And everything was remarkably still. very quiet. Until, that is, we entered Rembrandtplein.
The statue of the artist was surrounded by a seething crowd of orange-clad humanity. Every head was tilted one way or another, pointed at one of the many screens that covered the walls of the square, showing the first game of the tournament for the national team. Waitresses (some in the tasteful ‘Bavaria Beer Dress’) wove their ways through the masses, somehow remembering the orders as they were shouted in by the happily sozzled Dutch fans.
The atmosphere was buzzing – a combination of rowdy cheering when the Oranje attacked and jovial taunting of the few Danes who had braved the city to watch the game (it was Netherlands v Denmark). Then, as my friend and I decided that hunger had priority over football, and as we started to edge our way out of the square, there was a sharp collective intake of breath, a few stifled painful cries of anger, and then, from the ensuing silence, the tentative first sounds of celebration, coming from the dozen or so people not wearing orange, but rather sporting the red and white of Denmark. The underdogs had scored, and silenced a country.
Later that evening, the shock of defeat was still palpable. Teary Amsterdamers sat slumped over their biertjes, facepaint streaked down their rosy cheeks. Our (non-Dutch) waiter in the Argentine steak-house where we ate was unconvincingly attempting an expression of glum resignation, to avoid winding up his saddened customers. The Germans winning that same evening hardly improved the mood. The result meant that the Netherlands would need to get a result in their next match. And that was against their footballing-nemesis, the Germans themselves. Failure would mean elimination, humiliation, and, as I like to look on the bright side, a possible end to irritating-orange-birdie-song ad campaigns.
So here we are. It’s Wednesday evening. The vital game is 45 minutes away. I’ve been commanded by Dutch friends and colleagues to switch my support away from Ireland and towards Holland for the evening. We have the pizzas in. We have the Heineken waiting. I even have my Rugnummers shirt on, much to the horror of my housemate, who will be rooting for Deutschland. And if it all goes badly wrong for the Oranje, I promise that I’ll try to wear a suitably sombre expression tomorrow.