Playing host – the Dutch way

 (my 8 guests trying to fit in our small living room)

One year in the Netherlands has taught me how to play the perfect host for the members of the family. A boiling water should be set in the kitchen for the tea, the espresso and the grains must be taken out of the cabinet and the tea boxes should be at hand. And you don’t forget the baked goodies (although I don’t usually serve them as we are not big on pies) especially is Oma is coming. When there are children, there should be at least apple or orange juice. Milk is a staple in the fridge. Sometimes the men prefers beers so have them chilling in the fridge or red wine so make sure your rack is not empty.

You asked them what they want to drink and eat, serve it and then sit down and listen to their conversation about the work, the weather, the mortgage and vacation plans. You contribute with your little Dutch and gets frustrated and embarrassed that you cannot get your message across with your limited vocabulary. Especially when you are talking with people from the provinces, who were carrying their distinctive accent in each and every word, Limburg, Zeeland, Groningen, Friesland. But week by week of practicing this routine, increases the enjoyment of talking in local language and slowly deepen the bond with the in-laws and make friends.

In this country, gradual and (most of the time) formal meetings are the way of acceptance and integration to the Dutch life.

But what do you do when you have 8 of your hubby’s colleagues, all between 23-30 years old raiding your 50 square meters house  and you only have four cans of beers in the fridge? And their visit is totally unannounced, no appointment was made unlike the usual Dutch way.

When hubby announced last Friday that he is bringing 8 of his workmate at home, I panicked. Our small house only has four dining chairs and a couch that can sit 3 people the most. The living room, the kitchen and the bed is a total mess, with clothes lying all over the place. I only have 30 minutes to clean up when hubby announced that they are on their way.

One thing you must know about the Dutch is when it’s a first time visit, the owner tours the group to each and every corner of the house and I mean each and every corner. So you can imagine my worry that mine hasn’t been thoroughly clean after two weeks. (We did spring cleaning two weeks ago).

Most of all, I don’t really know how to entertain 8 young people, which most of them I will be meeting for the first time. I thought of the difficult hours ahead, of speaking Dutch all the time and trying not to feel out of place with probably office talks. I was prepared to stay locked in the bedroom.

Turns out that I do not have much to worry about.

When they came, you can hear their voices from across the hall, laughing and talking loudly. They were ringing my door bell non-stop and when I came out to meet them, I was towered by 8 young carefree people. You do the usual three kisses to everyone. Those I know, tight hugs but then when it got to the last three people, I’ve had enough of kissing.

The best thing is that, they brought their own beers, all 200 bottles (or more I think) spread through their bags. I didn’t have to ask what they want to drink as it is obvious that these young people are typical Dutch. I myself has half a bottle of Chardonnay and three small bottles of whiskey which Ive been keeping in my cabinet. The night went well. In a way, I was able to communicate well with my broken Dutch. Too bad the group has to leave early to catch the train. One colleague though stayed for the night and even had breakfast with us. I learned that, that Saturday afternoon, he has a date with a Filipina.

In the Philippines, people bond with food. You can drop by in a friend’s (and by friends I also meant acquaintances) house anytime and the first thing s/he will get is a bottle of Coa-Cola, some bread, barbecue, and pancit canton (stir-fried noodles) A visit cannot be pictured without these staples. When friends and families are gathering for occasions (birthdays, Christmas, graduation, baptismal, funeral, etc) you will expect to find three of more different dishes in the table plus desserts and cold drinks.Our gatherings are always lovely, noisy and delicious, a reminiscent of Spanish and Latinos celebrations. We stuff ourselves to death, drink until we are too hammered to lift a glass and laugh to our heart’s content. The topics are varied and conversations can go on forever.

And oh you don’t forget to bring out the photo albums (which I mistakenly did with my Dutch visitors. They didnt pay attention to it). We Filipinos are such cam-whores, we love photos, taking it, being on it and of course showing it around.

No matter where you are in the world, the secret to entertaining visitors is not to hold back. Do not get intimated and just have fun. Because your guest will mostly remember the good times, the laughter and the conversations, not the food or the drinks that you served.