When you move to the Netherlands you are advised to prepare for bicycles having priority, giving way to traffic coming from your right and Dutch frankness. No-one warns you about midday on the first Monday of the month!
The first Monday of the month after I moved here I was happily unpacking when suddenly a cacophony of noise erupted outside! I’m not sure who leaped the highest, the cats or me, but they had the most sensible reaction… to hide under the nearest piece of furniture. I was completely panicked by these sirens screaming their warning and seriously considered joining the cats in an attempt to avoid, what I could only imagine, imminent destruction. What was happening? Should I run for cover, stand in doorways, start pumping up my inflatable boat or don a life vest and climb on to the roof? As I stood there with my life vest on and my emergency whistle in my hand, I noticed an old lady steadily cycling along the ‘dijk’, completely unconcerned. Ok, I thought, the locals aren’t panicking so it can’t be anything too serious. Or, maybe, she was deaf and couldn’t hear it!
Later, after the cats had dared to re-emerge and I had shed my life vest, I had the chance to question my neighbour. He assured me that the inflatable dinghy under my stairs and hard hat was unnecessary and told me that the odd looking flag pole behind my garden was in fact the siren, hence the ear-piercing loudness of the noise. "It’s just the siren test, the waarschuwingsstelsel" he told me, "every first Monday of the month at midday they test approximately 4,000 sirens in the Netherlands, at the same time." "What do I do if I hear them on a different day?" I wondered aloud. "Oh," he told me, "just check on the local radio for information."
Great! I don’t speak the language well and I am supposed to get instructions, in Dutch, in a life threatening situation whilst putting on my life vest and hard hat and dragging the cats out from under the sofa!
As of 2017 the sirens may be silenced since the Dutch government plans on using mobile phones and social media to alert us of impending doom. I am guessing many will miss the melodic sounds blasting out of the speakers as they have been in place since WW2, but my cats will be celebrating.
Of course meanwhile, everyone asks what we will do if a real invasion/disaster occurs on the first Monday of the month at midday? It’s certainly a window of opportunity but I will be fine, as I will have my inflatable dinghy pumped up, my hard hat ready, have practiced "duck and cover" and have ready access to the shared space under the table.