Call me old fashioned, but I’m not into drugs and prostitution. Every now and then, I must make that distinction.
Just as Frequent Failer makes its mission to teach people that Americans are sometimes quiet and sometimes polite, it should also be established that not all of the 11 million tourists who visit the Netherlands each year are there for exotic marijuana and to see naked women on display like zoo animals. I usually just nodded and smiled when people smirked, raised their eyebrows and said “Oh, Amsterdam…lucky you.” More often than not, my co-workers were saying this. Yes, lucky me, but first, I have some questions. Do I look like I do drugs?
My car does look like I live in it. Then I remembered not long ago, my neighbor asked me what happened to my eyes and why they looked so pallid. My explanation that I am a diagnosed insomniac only half-satisfied her. Maybe she thought I moonlit as a coke-addict prostitute.
For those reasons, I, along with my two travel compadres Deirdre and Molly, hated telling people we were going to the Netherlands. People seem to ignore the tulips, the constant chime of bike bells over the canals and our classic pals Vince V.G. and Rembrandt. We really weren’t even going to Amsterdam anyway–we were visiting my friend Lotte in the eastern part of the country. Google Maps the town and this is what comes up in street view. My grand plan was to go to a little town called Giethorn, the Pintrest-perfect fairy tale Dutch version of Venice. It would look great on our Instas.
But I love stereotypes. They are easy, convenient and amusing, and I am about to promote some here. And after all, despite my righteous culture rant, I did manage to wake up in an attic bedroom reeking of smoke and beer, partially wearing my clothes from the day before. Whatever.
Our time in the Netherlands was going to be a bit of a victory lap for me. Deirdre and Molly and I had already partied with D-level celebrities in Dublin and Prague (you should put partied and celebrities in quotes), and Holland was our last stop. As long as no one flew back to the States in a body cast, I could safely call the Eurotrip a success.
Besides, with my best Dutch pal as our host, I didn’t have to worry about a thing. We arrived on a Friday morning and Holland was playing its first World Cup match that night, so we already had built-in, foolproof fun. Deirdre, Molly and I are all sports fans, so were all down for heading to a bar and watching a game, even if we barely could name a player on either team.
As Americans, our World Cup narrative goes something like this: bitch that we are in the Group of Death, lose a few games that we should have won against a European powerhouse of your choice, win one thrilling upset, after which the media tirelessly crowns it as a “new dawn of American soccer.” Upon getting knocked out, resume talking about the NFL until four years go by.
As soon as we pulled into Lotte’s neighborhood for the first time, it became evident that we would have to drastically up our game. Kickoff was 12 hours away and the town was already painted orange. People riding their bikes to errands and appointments had already donned their outrageously bright shirts and jerseys. It’s not like orange is a flattering color that matches anything. Flags proudly waved in the wind and orange streamers, strewn over the road from one house to another, crisscrossed every street (impressive coordination with neighbors if you ask me). No one, however, was more excited than the washing machines.
Mind you, this is for round one, game one. They weren’t in the finals, and worse, Oranje was squaring off with the defending champions, Spain. Holland had a front row seat to Spain’s 2010 title celebration after losing to them in the finals. Revenge would be sweet but unlikely.
“Now, I know this all seems really exciting,” Lotte warned we wide-eyed Americans, “but we’re probably going to get killed. So it won’t be a late night, but I’m sure we’ll still have a fun time.”
Again, aside from wanting Lotte to be happy and the dreams of an entire nation to be realized, Deirdre Molly and I weren’t too stressed out about it. On the contrary, as much as Lotte tried to play it cool, she and her friends seemed nervous, especially her boyfriend Martin. They may have been in a packed bar dressed in goofy outfits, but none could mask the unease that comes with facing Goliath.
After a b.s. call and a penalty kick, Spain scored early, cuing the Dutch equivalent of “here we go again” groans.
“This is going to be a long night,” Lotte lamented. Someone ordered another round to delay the collective sink into national depression. I told Lotte not to worry and that we were still having fun. Molly and I after all, are Cubs fans. We are familiar with the self-inflicted pain that comes with loyalty to your team (Had they been aware of the Justin Bieber Curse that was on, perhaps we would have been more optimistic after being down a goal).
Halftime in Holland is no 7th-inning stretch, however. After the first 45 minutes it was tied 1-1, but the worry had evaporated into the summer air. Rallied by a young man in command of a very loud whistle, a random collection of Dutch drummers paraded their way through the streets to the main square. The bars emptied and what seemed like the entire town danced in celebration. Of what exactly, I didn’t know. It was halftime. I didn’t have the heart to point out that a) Holland was not winning and b) the game was not even close to being over. No one could hear me over the thundering drums anyway.
Had the game ended right there in a draw, Deirdre, Molly and I would have gone home happy. This was best exemplified by Deirdre, who, after taking a video of the orange masses dancing to the drums in the streets, made the ultimate betch move. “F it, I’m turning on my data,” she said, and put her video on Facebook. It was too urgent to wait for Wifi. I didn’t stop her from tagging me.
There is no need to give you the play-by-play of the rest of the game. I’ll leave that to Jack van Gelder’s ridiculously amazing epic call of Holland’s 5 goals. There is no need to translate; pure joy knows no language barrier.
In the bar, every goal was met with just as much frenzy and disbelief as the first superhuman effort from Robin Van Persie. Some people watch videos of cute puppies or babies singing on a rainy day, I watch Robin Van Persie.
We celebrated like crazy, because, as incredible as RVP’s first header was, we didn’t think another goal was coming. We were proven wrong four more times. Each was met with excessive jubilation and of course, rounds of Heineken. Deirdre, Molly and I struggled to formulate a cohesive round-buying strategy. Our Dutch pals were all buying rounds because they were in a good mood and trying to show their hospitality, but the three of us kept being like wait, we’re the guests, we need to repay you guys for all the fun we’re having. This tested our double and triple fisting abilities. They called us their good luck charms. That’s a phrase you will rarely read on Frequent Failer.
By the time Arjen Robben scored the last goal in the 80th minute to make it 5-1, we already knew we’d won. But I most enjoyed that goal because amid the cheers I looked over at Molly and heard her exclaim “This is amaaaaaaaazing!” to no one in particular. We went on to snap some ridiculous pics, I might have cried a little and we danced our way home. That improbable victory was one of the defining moments of the 2014 World Cup. In America, we love seeing the little guy win on buzzer-beaters and hail marys, but every now and then, it’s nice to see an upset in the form of an unapologetic Smackdown.
There is no U.S. sporting equivalent to national party that Holland threw us that day. 90 percent of Super Bowl viewers don’t care who wins it, and even in the Olympics, there is not one event that consistently commands our country’s attention the way the World Cup does in Holland. Until our appliance stores vending washing machines get as festive as the Dutch ones, I’m not taking your suggestions. If I never know true love, at least I will have experienced how much this country half the size of South Carolina loves its soccer team.
That night, I slept in my Holland outfit that smelled like the delightfully seductive combination of smoke, beer and sweat. Maybe I’m lazy, maybe I was unable to change, maybe I’m just that big of a fan. The exact reason escapes me. Molly was sleeping on an air mattress, which we failed to blow up properly when we got back from the bar. When we woke up, she had sunken so low inside it that we could barely see her.
All along our plan had been to visit Giethorn, the fairytale village, the next day. We never made it.