Every now and then I’m reminded of a cultural aspect of the Netherlands that is so very different from the US that it practically screams ‘this is SO different!’
This morning it was my journey to Schiphol airport to pick up Husband from his latest trip.
Now first let me say that I love Schiphol airport. It’s large and bright and easy to get around.
I’ve figured out various go-to places as meeting places for visitors.
I always make a point to duck into the Albert Heijn (yes, they have a small store of my beloved grocery chain), Hema or Body Shop to get a little shopping done while I wait.
I even learned the secret of Dutch parking garages there: take your ticket to the payment machine before you get into your car and try to exit. It helps avoid the highly embarrassing sight of having to pantomime to the driver behind you that you need to back up in order to go pay.
Yep. Been there, done that, got the rude stares and hand gestures to prove it.
The cultural difference I’m referring to is the Dutch practice of going to meet their friends and family members en masse.
And when I say en masse, I mean in groups of six or ten or more.
The US version? Usually one, maybe two people at most, arrange to pick up their loved ones. Why? Two reasons.
First, you want to have enough room in the car to fit the arriving passengers and their luggage.
Two, anyone else who wishes to welcome home the newly arrived choose to do so in a much nicer place than the airport. Like in a home.
The Dutch? Not so much.
When they send a welcoming party, it’s just that.
They love loading up two or three carloads of folks to go welcome Tante Karin visiting from Canada or Broer Koos back from his vakantie in Thailand.
Children, too. The Dutch treat a trip to the airport as more fun than a field trip to Disneyland, and bring the kids along.
Not only do they show up in large numbers, but a bouquet of flowers is de rigeur.
And balloons. At least one, but often two or three large helium ones.
And occasionally you’ll see a handmade sign with Welkom Thuis.
This practice is so widespread that there is even a popular television commercial where a couple return to their house from a trip and clearly are disappointed that no one was there to greet them at the airport; the scene shifts to the group of fifteen or twenty waiting patiently at the arrival gate (with flowers, balloons and a sign, natuurlijk) when one guy checks the arrival board and realizes sheepishly that the couple’s plane arrived hours earlier.
My Dutchies were seriously Out. of. Control.
I was little Miss Party of One in a sea of revelers.
Not only were there groups from two to twenty two, the requisite balloons and flowers, and kids running around like it was a carnival.
The signs were HUGE.
The people next to me had a handmade cardboard sign trimmed in art tape to help keep its shape. It measured two feet by eight feet. They had six people whose designated job was simply to hold the sign.
The older man in their group was responsible for crouching behind the sliding doors passengers were arriving from, camera in hand, to capture the arrival in photographs.
Another group of about twenty people had made a sign on a bed sheet held up by two poles seven feet tall.
A bed sheet. It wasn’t even folded.
But today there was EVEN MORE. Two different parties had given the children kazoos which they were blowing with all their lungpower.
And a third group had noisemakers like those handed out on New Year’s Eve to celebrate the clock striking twelve midnight.
One guy was wrapped up in an Aussie flag, ready to unfurl it at the right time.
I thought I’d stumbled upon a summer music festival in the arrival lounge of Schiphol airport, and almost started looking around for the keg of beer. Who knew it’s the must-have ticket of the season?!
It was sheer, unadulterated bedlam. I even had to plug my opposite ear in order to hear Husband’s words when he called to say he’d made it to the luggage belt.
I’d thought I’d seen everything, but I would be wrong. There was still one more surprise in store.
As my eyes scanned the faces of the passengers coming through the sliding doors, I saw one Dutchie walking out wearing a huge grin and a big red round clown nose.
Hamming it up for the kleinkinderen in the group waiting to pick him up.
Welcome home indeed.
You can only imagine what they do when dropping off someone for a flight departure…
[Image credit: Stuart Myles, portfolio 2664 FreeDigitalPhotos.net]