The Most Annoying Man in Holland?

I have a problem.

Every Saturday, I’m woken up by a man screaming. About fish.


I don’t know his name but we’ve taken to calling him “Herring Man.” He operates a popular stand once a week at the market near our apartment in the center of Leiden. Tourists, locals and every seagull within ten square miles all love him and his salty wares. Then again, they don’t have to live near him.  When he’s not answering questions or dishing out fish, he’s yelling at the top of his lungs.

This guy has the steel vocal cords of an opera singer. He can and will scream all Saturday morning and well into the afternoon. His throat never tires. His booming siren’s call carries through half the market and down our street like the bulls in Pamplona. Our TV, the stereo….they’re no match for the awesome might of Herring Man’s endless sales pitch.

Granted, he has the right to yell all day, every day but here’s the thing: Herring Man doesn’t need to and none of the other vendors scream. Patrons come from miles around to visit his stand. It’s the most popular spot at the market. Every Saturday, at any given minute, you’ll find a half-dozen tourists taking photos of one another trying to down a herring without gagging.

Now the Dutch looooooove herring, here in Leiden more than, perhaps, any other place in the Netherlands. During the Eighty Years War in the 16th century, the Spanish tried and failed to capture the city. The unsinkable rebels of Leiden managed to fight them off while holed up in a stone fort. They held out for months with little food. The tale is, indeed, epic. To reward the rebels for their efforts, Prince William of Orange rewarded Leiden with a ton of bread and, you guessed it, herring, in addition to its very own university. Every October, the city celebrates the victory with a giant carnival. On the 3rd, thousands of Leiden citizens get up at the crack of dawn to gather in the center of town to chow down on herring. No, really.

So who am  I stand to stand between Herring Man and a matter of deeply-held civic pride (and a brilliant business scheme) — me, an expat new to this country? Even if I have to flee my apartment every Saturday and despite the fact that the entire block reeks of fish for a few days following Herring Man’s weekly scream-a-thon?

As we speak, I’m sitting at a coffeeshop on the edge of the market, my head filled with visions of filing complaints at City Hall or paying off a gang of seagulls to trash the herring stand. Maybe I need to lighten up and roll with it. Or maybe I need to set up my own operation next door that sells the only thing the Dutch love more than these fish- dance music. I could drown out Herring Man’s yelling with thunderous electronica and British breakbeats. Or, perhaps, I could set up my own herring stand outside his house every Sunday….

Hmmmmm…..a plan is forming….

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4 Responses to The Most Annoying Man in Holland?

  1. AKDH says:

    Eh, he was there before you, and so was this worldwide tradition. Doesn’t make him the most annoying man in Holland. Once a week (or is it bi-weekly…your post is confusing) and you complain? Try megaphones every day anytime like Japan and then complain.

    • Perhaps you missed the bit where I noted that none of the other vendors in the market feel the need to scream. And the bit where I noted that he does it ALL DAY, EVERY SATURDAY.

      I know about the megaphones in Japan. At least they don’t set up shop 30 feet from your living room and scream for hours on end. They’re more like ice cream trucks. They come, they go.

  2. AKDH says:

    No I didn’t miss that bit, it just conflicted with what you wrote. Oh, but I forgot…I’m illiterate! Isn’t nice to know that you graduated from Uni. with and completed internships with someone on the same literacy level as yourself? Oh but wait, you went back and edited what you wrote because it conflicted with what you were saying.

    A megaphone truck parked outside an apartment is less than 10 feet. Sometimes it is less than 5 feet. They do set up shop in front of people’s living rooms for hours on end any and every day of the week and at any time. They are AMPLIFIED. You have it easy and are just whining about nothing as usual. Why don’t you just go post more annoying “Things I overheard in a coffee shop” crap.

    BTW, You REALLY went to far. I’m happy to know I’ll never have to read “Here in Leiden…” at the beginning, end, or middle of a sentence ever again. BYE!

  3. Sigh. Here, I think we both need this…

    Anyway, thank you SO MUCH for this comment. I may frame it and hang it over my desk! It’s been a long time since I’ve received a vicious troll comment on a blog.

    Anyway, 95% of the internet consists of “whining about nothing.” Speaking of which, aren’t you the author of a blog devoted to mocking random strangers on subway trains? “Look at this 65 old guy who looks like he just finished a double shift! He’s completely exhausted and asleep! I’m going to take a picture of him and post it on the internet BECAUSE HE WON’T WAKE UP AND GIVE ME HIS SEAT! HRUMPH!”

    You stay classy!

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