Monday, July 8, 2013

America...Dutch Style

USA Day, Voorburg

Psst...your Stars and Stripes are showing...
Every culture has stereotypes it is known for. Some are things they are proud of, some are things they would rather ignore. Some make for a good party (I'm looking at you, St. Patrick's Day). Seeing your culture from the outside can give you a new perspective when the mundane back home becomes exotic somewhere else.

Cadillacs on parade.
While the 4th of July passed without fireworks in the Netherlands, some Dutch still got into the spirit of the holiday over the weekend. Specifically, Voorburg, one of the oldest cities in the Netherlands, celebrated it's 20 year connection with sister city Temecula, CA, with its USA Day Festival. While southern California and the Netherlands are drastically different places, the two cities seem to take maintaining their connection seriously. They regularly host an exchange of high school students (not permanently, the students are just loaned for a short time), and Voorburg gifted a statue to it's sister in tribute to strength and courage after the 9/11 attacks.

The Oude Centrum features many boutiques and cafes.

The festival enjoyed the long awaited arrival of summer with sunshine and warm temperatures, bringing out a sizeable crowd eager to enjoy both the event and the weather. Red, white, and blue decorated the historic district, with both stars and stripes and Dutch flags criss-crossing over the narrow main street lined with 1600s era brick buildings. Attendees got into the spirit with Hawaii shirts, toddlers in star covered outfits, and even Uncle Sam was spotted, though he looked like he wished he had left his blue coattails at home after some time in the sun.

Mayor Hans van der Sluijs and U.S. Embassy Representative Michael Gallagher ride in back.
A marching band led a parade of classic American cars to the bandstand in the middle of town, where the mayor and a representative from the US Embassy climbed out of what appeared to be a WWII era military vehicle. A short speech was made in Dutch, which was of no interest to a little girl who was curiously squeezing popcorn kernels offered as a representation of popular American food, along with hamburgers and hot-dogs. For those who needed a break from all the Americana, a block further a vendor was selling Poffertjes, which are small pancake balls covered in butter and powdered sugar. Think of them as the Dutch version of donut holes.

Eastend Sixteen Swing band.
After the speech, visitors could ride a mechanical bull, look at a display of quilts, listen to a swing band, attend a talk on America's National Parks, throw horseshoes, or watch a baseball game. With many of the problems in the news, I am not always sure what to expect when the topic of the United States comes up. I have been drawn into debates about the second amendment, the healthcare system, and other hot topics on many occasions. That was not the case this day as the American stereotypes that were featured were taken in a spirit of fun enjoyment by a light hearted and welcoming community, including a two year old girl who came up to me to show off her pink painted toe-nails and her father who chatted about relatives in California.

Seeing though a different lens.

At the end of the day, I didn't miss the fireworks. The celebration of friendship and understanding between two cities so far apart is one of the best tributes to Independence Day I have witnessed.

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