An American Couple in Delft
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St. Who?

Last week was that All-American holiday, St. Patrick’s Day. You laugh but I hear that it’s more festive in the U.S. than in Ireland. In the U.S. it’s celebrated mainly by the Irish, by those who wish they were Irish, by those who pretend to be Irish, and by those who know or heard of someone who is Irish. It isn’t necessarily that way everywhere, though.

The previous Saturday, Lynn and I went to a St. Patrick’s Day parade in Utrecht that we discovered by going to an expatriate website. There was a list of a whole day full of activities. Pat was supposed to arrive by boat on a canal at Stadhuisbrug, the State House Bridge (the Dutch love to combine words to give a much longer word). We got there at the appointed hour and weren’t sure if it was the right place because there was not a lot of activity. Then we saw some people gathered on the steps of the Stadhuis and others came around passing out more literature. Eventually, the boat with St. Patrick came down the canal in an armada of about three vessels. Pat waved and the people cheered. He disembarked, climbed up the stairs from the canal to the street and so began the parade.

It was not exactly the parade in Philadelphia or New York. The parade route was about 100 yards. There had to be tens of people there. Maybe as many as eight or nine tens of people. There was a speech by the Irish ambassador to the Netherlands, and by the assistant mayor of Utrecht. Pat himself also spoke. I’ve read that St. Patrick was actually British but he had a very pronounced Dutch accent. They announced on the website that there would be authentic Irish goods for sale. Nothing that said "Ireland" in big print and "made in China" in small print. They used a small church and had units of booths with Irish goods for sale. Maybe as many as eight or nine units.

While we were outside watching the parade, a woman on a bike stopped and asked what was going on. We told her. "I thought St. Patrick’s Day was in November," she said. I was amazed. Then on the following Monday, Lynn told a reasonably worldly young Dutch woman (who earlier this month had been to Philadelphia and New York and has talked about other trips to Hong Kong and the far east) about what we did, and this woman had never heard of St. Patrick’s Day at all.

On Wednesday, Lynn left for a few days for a management development seminar in the eastern part of the country. While she was away, I went to a restaurant alone one night. We had been to this place when we were here in April last year while considering making the move to Delft, but we had not been back since. The restaurant is called The Dirty Nelly - an Irish Grillhouse , where all the wait staff are authentically Dutch. I was three quarters through my dinner when I realized that this was the actual St. Patrick’s Day and there was not one sign of anything special going on in that Irish pub. This makes me think that St. Patrick’s Day may be more of an event in the U.S. (or perhaps the English speaking world) than anywhere. There are more Irish emigrants to other countries than any other nationality because so many left during the potato famine and propagated elsewhere. (I read an article in an Irish newspaper last fall that said without the famine, the population of Ireland today would be about 16 million instead of four million, and that John Kennedy might still be sitting in a rocking chair on the family farm in Wexford.) My theory is that when they left, they went far, to North and South America, Australia and New Zealand. Europe was too close to home.

The next authentically Dutch holiday is Queen’s Day on April 30. I can’t wait to see this one. The Netherlands is supposed to become one giant partyland for a day.


2008 Rick Wexler   last updated February 21, 2008