No. 49: Infiltrating English

Nothing-says-I-love-you-like-a-dutch-oven-Horrible-HousewifeDutch people should be proud. Very proud. For such a tiny little country, they’ve managed to successfully penetrate the English language.

Have you ever noticed how often the Dutch are referenced in English expressions? No? Well, below is a little list to get you started!

Dutch bargain: a bargain made when you are too drunk to know better (first recorded in 1654)
Dutch defence: a legal  tactic whereby you rat someone out in order to get off free (first recorded in 1749)
Dutch courage: booze-induced bravery  (first recorded in 1826)
Dutch gold: a cheap gold-like alloy
Going Dutch/Dutch treat: where everyone pays for their own meal (so essentially no “treat” at all ;)
Dutch widow: prostitute

As you can see, the majority of English expressions using the word “Dutch” aren’t too positive. Most of them, in fact, pack quite the punch and seem to foster more than a little animosity.

Why so? The Dutch had quite a prolific history of sea-faring, trade and war. The Anglo-Dutch wars of the 17th and 18th centuries resulted in the Brits not feeling too much love towards the Dutchies. These phrases thus reflect the opinion of the time that the Dutch were a slightly boozy, slightly cheap folk that were not to be trusted.

Of course, I will be the first to admit that some of these phrases still do make perfect sense. Take “Dutch Uncle” for instance.

Dutch uncle: “a term for a person who issues frank, harsh, and severe comments and criticism to educate, encourage, or admonish someone. Thus, a “Dutch uncle” is a person who is rather the reverse of what is normally thought of as avuncular or uncle-like (which would be indulgent and permissive).” (Source: good ol’ wikipedia)

It is safe to say, that sometime’s the entire country feels like its populated by Dutch Uncles!  I would recommend, however, that you go take a swig of Dutch courage before you pull a Dutch oven on your sweet-heart tonight (and no, we ain’t talking about a cooking pot)!

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No. 5: Battling it out with water


“It’s a good thing we are so tall!”

Many think of the Dutch as a passive peaceful country but let it be known that Dutch people have a mortal enemy; an adversary with whom they have battled for centuries.  Whether it originated from sheer determination, ingenuity, necessity or foolishness, no other nation has waged war on water -and won- quite like the Dutch.

The war on water has been a tough one and not without causalities:  the great flood of 1953 killed over 1,800 people and wiped out 2 entire villages. Dutch people however have amassed many a victory along the way: they hold the title for reclaiming the largest piece of land in the world – the “Flevopolder” (the word “polder” refers to low lying land reclaimed using a system of drainage dikes) and the largest artificial island.

Who does one of the richest countries in the world call when they want to make some fancy islands in the middle of the Persian Gulf? The Dutch of course! The Palm Islands project in Dubai was headed by the Dutch company Van Oord who, not surprisingly, specializes in land reclamation and has been in business since the early 1800s.

"We may not have won this battle!"

“We may not have won this battle!”

Astoundingly, 1/6th of the Netherlands (7000km2) is actually reclaimed land. Stranger yet, 60% of Dutch people now live beneath sea level -it turns out that even their enormous height doesn’t help in this case!

If evolution worked like sci-fi films would have you believe, modern-day Dutch would be born with fish-like gills and webbed feet. How handy!

"Who's afraid of a little water?!"

“Who’s afraid of a little water?!”

Instilled in the very DNA of a Dutch person is the primal desire to battle the elements.

With a 2,000 history in reclaiming land from the sea, one can only agree that “God created the world, but the Dutch created Holland”.

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No. 9: Tulips

Ahhh….the tulip. An iconic symbol of Holland -only to be topped by the windmill or the clog. You certainly can’t get more Dutch than the tulip. Or can you? ;)

"I can bring down a nation!"

“I can bring down a nation!”

I will let you in on a little secret. The precious symbol of the Netherlands is not really Dutch at all!

The colourful presence of the tulip is owed to the Ottoman empire (by way of trade) and a flemish (oh my!) botanist who discovered that the hardy flowers thrived in the harsh climate of the lowlands.

Although not their own, the Dutch took to the tulip, and the flower trade in general, like bees to honey. Dutch flower exports now make up a 5 billion euro industry and chances are the tulips you gave your sweetheart last week in New York to make up for being such a grouchy bore were in fact born and bred on Dutch soil!

Tulipmania anyone?

Tulipmania anyone?

Tulips and the Dutch have an illustrious and chequered past. A love-hate relationship of sorts and one good enough for the history books.

Although incomprehensible, at the height of their Golden-Age-popularity, one measly bulb could fetch 10 times the annual salary of a skilled worker (or as much as a trecherously-staired canal house).

The Dutchies were simply mad for those little bulbs! So mad in fact, that  in 1637 their over-the-top enthusiasm for the flowers triggered a massive speculative frenzy and the tulip market took a spectacular dive. Many a Dutchie lost their entire fortune (and apparently their minds) in tulipmania!

One can only wonder… can the irrationality of tulipmania explain the other frightful obsessions of the Dutch? 

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No. 46: Nasty spreads (broodbeleg)

If you’ve ever worked in a Dutch workplace, you’ve probably been tricked convinced at least once to chip in a few euros and share a communal lunch.  Yes, the peer pressure was probably hard to resist, and yes, some colleague made a snarky remark about you being “not Dutch enough” which made you begrudgingly throw your 2 euros into the pot…BUT you should have been wiser. You should have know that the words “Dutch” and “lunch” always lead to disappointment.

ummmm....lekker, right??

ummmm….lekker, right??

The communal lunch you “enjoyed” most likely involved eating bread smeared with some indiscernible lumpy matter that people kept confusingly referring to as “salade” or “filet“.

There is no way around it: Dutch lunch is a sad sorry affair. It involves a lot of dairy, a lot of bread, and a lot of smearing. For a country lacking in culinary creativity, the Dutch are actually incredibly creative in the “spread department”. They have turned all sorts of perfectly edible food into lumpy,  blended goo. Of course, you have your standard egg salad or tuna salad but the Dutch have kicked it up a notch and made all sorts of new gooey concoctions. Why not try some “kip sate salade” (pureed chicken and peanut sauce -pictured above), “garnalen knoflook salade” (blended shrimp and garlic) or some “farmersalade” (blended farmer??). All of these treats involve copious amounts of mayonnaise just to make sure you are actually consuming 99% fat and 1% goodness.

If these salades are not your cup of tea, well you’ve always got your trusty selection of smeerkaas to fall back on. (Any female native English-speaker will tell you that the word ‘smear’ should only be reserved for the dreaded annual doctor’s appointment…and certainly not in the context of cheese!)


Seriously, is this for human consumption??

Oh, smearcheese isn’t your thing either? Well, have no fear my dear friend, I’ve saved the best for last: Filet Americain!!! Filet americain is the quintessential nasty Dutch spread. Hungry? Just take a juicy handful of raw beef or horse meat, throw it into a blender, add some seasoning, maybe a bit of onions and blend away until it’s a smooth raw pink paste and then happily smear it on your bread.

Yes, sometimes fact is stranger than fiction: the Dutch do indeed like love this stuff! Eat up! Anyone in the mood for parasites, with a side of E.Coli and Salmonella?

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No. 44: White leggings

Spring has finally sprung in the Netherlands; the birds are chirping, the sun is shining and the skies are an unfamiliar blue colour. People on the streets are actually smiling at each other in passing and less elbows are being thrown on the metro and at the Albert Hein. All in all, the people of the lowlands are in a good place, a happy place, a place where they feel comfortable enough to wake up in the morning, look into their closets and zestfully throw on their favourite spring outfits.

Here I am!

Here I am!

But with the arrival of spring smiles and sunshine, one particularly nasty national fashion faux-pas has again reared its ugly head (or should I say “legs”). We’ve spoken at length about the Dutch male’s fascination with the orange and red pant and their love of the goop but Dutch women are not so innocent themselves. It’s high time to meet the red pant’s ugly stepsister: the white legging!

The sisterhood of the pants

Sisterhood of the fugly pants

The white legging is miraculously fashionable in the lowlands. Its presence is disturbingly ubiquitous. I tried my best to overlook it while strolling the sunny streets yesterday, but it just wouldn’t leave me alone. There it was, all over the place, mockingly parading itself with pride; most often coupled with an ill-fitting short denim skirt and giving me the stink eye at every turn. The worst offenders managed to top off the look with brown boots, some sort of Desigual mess and that signature red-from-the-box short choppy mullet-like haircut (yes, you know the one)!

I couldn’t decide if it was the white legging that was so offensive in itself or the sheer volume of the pale-legged clones roaming the streets. So many questions, so little time: Why was the white legging so popular amongst the Dutch? Was it based on its convenience for biking? Why then the poor colour choice? (Black would do the trick). Didn’t Dutch women know that skin-tight white is never flattering? As a rule, white pants and leggings should be reserved for those working in the health and/or dental sector. They have no place trotting on the streets.

A deadly duo

A deadly duo

Of course, things could be worse. While in Canada I noticed the disturbing trend of leggings-worn-without-a-dress-or-skirt-which-makes-me-think-I-am-looking-at-your-bare-bum. I gasped as I saw hoards of girls and grown women (!) who apparently forgot to finish dressing before they left the house. Let us collectively pray that this trend doesn’t cross the ocean blue…as we know the white legging will take this trend to an even scarier place.

If so, I’ll have to join forces with the Dutch lad who started the Facebook page: Stop de Witte Driekwart Legging (Translation: Stop the white ¾ length legging). Yes, while googling for some lovely images I found his page and at 13,000 fans strong, it appears the white legging has not only offended my taste. ;)

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No.9: Queen’s Day (Koninginnedag)

Have seen my friend?

Have seen my friend?

For a nation which often insists on “normal” behaviour and the following of rules, Queen’s Day is truly nothing of the sort. It’s one day of the year where the Dutch break all their self-imposed rules and let loose in a way that puts all other nations to shame. To say that Queen’s Day is the world’s greatest party is nothing short of an understatement. Put concisely as possible: Queen’s Day is epic.

If you haven’t experience the pure joviality and joy of a city flooded in Orange, I dare say you haven’t truly lived. Trying to explain Queen’s Day to someone who hasn’t experienced it is like trying to explain where babies are from to a 4-year-old. Bells sound, bands play, children perform, deals are made, bargains are found, drinks are consumed, and above all, love, laughter and smiles abound.

For a nation often divided, Queen’s Day is the great equalizer. Unlike other countries’ national day’s, April 30th is not about in-your-face patriotism or royal worshipping, it’s about oneness. Everyone can participate, everyone can partake, everyone can carve out their own way to celebrate, and everyone can do so with the simple act of throwing on an orange t-shirt and joining the gezellig crowds.

Long live the Queen!

Long live the Queen!

This year, the party will kick it up a notch as over 1 million visitors will join the 1 million residents to celebrate and mark the end of Queen Beatrix’s 33 year reign and the investiture of the new King Willem-Alexander. For ever more “Queen’s Day” will be a thing of the past and Koningsdag or King’s Day will be celebrated henceforth on the 27th of April (Willem’s birthday).

Is it just me that thinks it is suspiciously convenient that the King’s birthday happens to fall only 3 days away from the beloved April 30th? I don’t want to invoke a national “birther” incident here, but has someone done the research? ;) The only logical explanation is that having a birthday at the end of April must have been a key requirement for King-dom. What would have happened if poor Willy had been a dreamy Pisces born in the gloom and doom of a cold Dutch February? Would we have been forever resigned to celebrate while shivering in the streets?

What a drag!

Luckily for us, April 26th will do the trick, however the transfer from Queen’s to King’s Day does lay ground for 3 pressing points which simply cannot be ignored:

1) How on earth are the drag queen’s going to celebrate King’s Day!? It must be said that dressing up as King Willem just won’t be as fun! (Unless he decides to get into big hats in a big way!) The spectacle on the streets will never be the same.

2) Koningsdags doesn’t quite roll off the tongue as nicely as Koninginnedag does. Those extra sneaky vowels make all the difference! How else can we foreigners impress you Dutchies with our skillful pronunciations? I suppose its back to Scheveningen as the shibboleth of choice.

3. The new song for the King is, well, a total farce! It’s just so hard to choose the best part of the song. The Disney-ish melody? The random mention of stamppot?? Or perhaps the various rap interludes?


Does it pain me that I will not be in town to celebrate this year’s festivities? Immensely! After celebrating seven successive Queen’s Days in my adoptive country I can tell you that on the 30th of April my blood runs as Orange as the next Dutchie’s does. But the beauty of Queen’s Day is that it as cliché as it sounds, it is a day you never forget. This Tuesday I promise to raise a bubbly orange Fanta to you my oranjegekte friends and toast to all the QD’s of the past and our KD’s of the future!

Queen's Day: often a blur

Queen’s Day: often a blur. Can you spot me? ;)

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No.15: Natural birth

There is no denying that Dutch people like to do things the natural way, the “real way” and the “normal” way. In fact, I would say the majority of them are downright obsessed with making sure their behavior (oh and the behavior of others) follows some unwritten rules of normalcy and realness. So it should come as no surprise that this preoccupation with “keeping it real” extends to all acts – birth being no exception!


“Welcome to the world!”

Now readers, I can see you scratching your heads and asking aloud how am I qualified to make such remarks about birth in the lowlands? Well, you may have noticed my absence the last few months and I am proud to say that although I haven’t been busy writing, I have been busy making and birthing a beautiful being – which I might add is no small feat ;). Yes, for you readers who affectionately refer to me as “dude” or “that funny guy from SDPL” I hate to disappoint, but I suspect my intimate knowledge of birthing will finally convince you of my femininity. ;)

The good news is that I am back and my 3-month bundle of joy (milk, spit, gas and poop included) is only slightly annoyed that I am ignoring her “Where are you momma?” grunts and squeals as I type this. 2013 is going to be a very, very exciting year for SDPL – we have some BIG exciting plans, and I must say I’ve never been more excited to rag on about the Dutch. But, back to the subject at hand, natural births…

8 years ago I looked across a plate of bitterballen in a smokey Dutch brown cafe and I told my then-boyfriend that “Yes, I’d be happy to live here” but that “No, I would never EVER (repeat EVER EVER) give birth in this country”. I suppose the expression “never, say never” has its merits.

"Should we keep her?"

“Should we keep her?”

I just couldn’t get by head around the Dutch you-must-birth- in-your-bathtub-at-home-while-burning-sage attitude. My first huisarts (GP) seems to be obsessed with the notion; babbling on about her upcoming delivery and how she would be in her own home, with candles, and her favourite music and just couldn’t wait to be able to be all drug-free, naked and gezellig. My early-twenty-slightly-judgmental-north-american-self could only muster the thought “Oh Christ, is she part of some Dutch hippy commune?! Time for a new doctor!

After moving neighbourhoods (and doctors) I realized that she was (most likely) not part of a commune but just shared the average Dutch opinion, and that of my new doctor, that birth “was not a medical condition” and as such, did not require medical interventions (or facilities).

Dutchies are pioneers of the modern-day home birth. Although numbers have decreased over time (and continue to) a hefty 25% of all births in the Netherlands are done at home (with another sizable percentage attempting to do so). Compare this to the less than 2% in France, Belgium, Germany and the UK and you can see why this is indeed a very Dutch thing.

injection 668

“Don’t do drugs”

Of course doing so in the comforts (hah!) of home also implies doing so sans body-numbing and mind-altering substances. Is that a gasp I hear from my American readers? ;) Yes sir – Dutch woman, and their child-bearing hips are notorious for drug-free births. Even in hospital, only 6% of Dutch women have an epidural. Across the Atlantic things seem to be precisely the opposite – a recent study in the journal Anesthesiology, states that only 6 percent of women in large hospitals in the US opted for drug-free births.

While pregnant I had a lot of time to ponder the “why” of this situation: Were Dutch women genetically superior? Did they just not feel the pain like the rest of of us? Had all that bread and cheese and drop gone to their heads? Were they seriously just tougher? Was it all their free time to prepare? And what precisely were they trying to prove anyways? After speaking to a fair many, I realized the truth was they just weren’t all that scared or bothered by it (the pain that is), and rationally accepted it to be a natural part of the package. The very direct Dutch folder given to me by my midwife summed up the attitude best “Giving birth hurts. Pain is a normal part of birth, so expect it”.

Flash forward 8 years and you will find me (equipped with a fabulous doula, super competent midwives, and a supportive hubby) sitting in a hypno-birthing class in the middle of Amsterdam determined to have a natural, drug-free birth à la Dutch (but also realizing that sheer determination sometimes isn’t enough). Of course, even for the sake of this blog post, I couldn’t quite follow through all the way and give birth at home (sorry folks, I suppose I’ll never be that Dutch). But I did follow through on the natural part and I will say it was one of my proudest moments and biggest accomplishments*, and one I don’t think I would have come by if it weren’t for YOU…the Dutchies and your obsession with the normal.

*(Pregnancy and birth in any shape, size or form is a kick-ass accomplishment – no matter how or where you birth!)

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No.51: Borrels

The “brown cafe”, a borrel’s best friend

Dutch people love a good borrel. Or should I rephrase: they love a good excuse for having a borrel. Borrels are quintessentially gezellig; and gezelligheid is, of course, quintessentially Dutch.

Confused? Well there’s more: what exactly is an appropriate translation or definition for the Dutch word borrel? Its much more than “drinks” and not as formal as a “function” or “reception”. According to our good ol’ friend Mr. Wikipedia, a borrel is:

1. an informal designation for a small glass of spirits
2. an informal social gathering of a select (invited) group, often with a theme

The second definition is a concise summary, but an exact English translation (or word in this case) is no where to be found. Which is why you will hear many an  English-speaker living in the Netherlands using the Dutch word borrel, intermittently in their English; there just isn’t a better word to use in its place.


Deep fried nuts: need I say more?

There are some important things to note; for instance, Dutch people consume borrel hapjes at borrels. Borrel hapjes consist of a limited selection of deep deeply fried snacks. Now of course, we all know that Dutch people love to slap a “tje” on to the end of words in a fond, lovingly sort of way. So a smallish borrel mixed with the right amout of gezelligheid will soon become a borreltje. In the same vain, a Dutch person can be seen to also consume borrelnootjes at at this borreltje. Borrelnootjes aren’t just any kind of nut: they are deep fried nuts, especially for the occasion (yes, you read that correctly, deep. fried. nuts.).

So to summarize: soon many a Dutch person will go to their work’s kerstborrel and eat borrelnootjes and borrelhapjes while sitting at a borreltafel . They may even engage in a little borrelpraat while sipping their borrel from a borrelglas.

It is safe to say that on any given evening, there are literally hundreds (perhaps thousands) of borrels happening across the country. Haven’t been to an official borrel yet? Well, it’s high time to crawl out from under that rock of yours. Get borrel-ing!

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No.43: Speaking in expressions

I used to have this colleague who almost exclusively spoke to me in Dutch expressions. Now of course, some would see this as charming, perhaps even educational, or a nice throw back to the times when our grandmothers spoke of the importance of stitches in time and referred to elusive characters such as the Queen of Sheba and Riley (what was so bad about leading Riley’s life anyways?!). The problem was that my colleague spoke in Dutch expressions haphazardly translated into his own unique English versions.

oh oh, here comes the monkey!

The result was a trail of bizarrely strung together words that senselessly hung in the air and required my constant nod and smile of approval/understanding. Many a mornings were spent hearing about cows being pulled out of ditches, tall tulips getting their heads chopped off and monkeys (yes, monkeys!).

After relentless exposure to such Dunglish phrases I began to notice a pattern: all Dutch expressions can be grouped together in 3 main categories:

1) expressions relating to farm life (i.e: involving beloved Dutch cows, farmers, fields, windmills, etc.). Oh how cliché!

2) expressions relating to the endearing Dutch weather (i.e: involving wind, rain, sun or sea).

3) expressions that make no sense at all (i.e.: examples to follow)

Of course if you knew me, you’d know that the latter is indeed my favourite. Once you’ve heard yet another Dutch expression about the weather, you’ve heard them all (Voor niets gaat de zon op, Na regen komt zonneschijn, and so on…)!!

The ones that tickle my fancy are the truly bizarre:

- Als de hemel valt, krijgen we allemaal een blauwe pet
(Translation: If the sky/heaven should fall, we will all be wearing blue caps/hats). Huh?? Say what?? Can you clarify, as I’m not sure that would indeed be the case… ;)

or how about stating the obvious:

- Als het regent in september, valt kerstmis in december
(Translation: If it rains in September, Christmas will be in December). Well now, you Dutch seem to be a pretty smart folk! Gosh darn it, I didn’t realize that was why Christmas seemed to be in December, e-v-e-r-y year!

or how about the always useful:

- Helaas, pindakaas
(Translation: Oh well, peanut butter). No explanation needed, right? Right?!

Some I  still can’t wrap my head around and I will admit I certainly can’t hold back a giggle when a well-meaning Dutch person casually translates one of the below in English and carries on speaking as if it was the most normal thing in the world.

Now, don’t put that on your head!

I’ve been in many a meeting when someone has announced “Well now the monkey comes out of the sleeve” or “You can’t make chocolate from it!” I used to ask for an explanation, but I’ve since learned that often one doesn’t exist. You, well, just can’t make chocolate from it…

I’ll leave you with some very wise words of Dutch wisdom, one which I always try to follow: He who has butter on his head, should stay out of the sun! Got it?!? Good! Now carry on!

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No. 12: Lekker

If you’ve lived, toured, visited, or really spent any amount of time in the lowlands and you haven’t heard this word…well, then I’d suggest you get your ears checked – and quick! This seemingly innocent word is ubiquitous in the Netherlands. Park yourself down in any Dutch café or restaurant and do a little good ol’ fashion eavesdropping (if you weren’t already) and you are sure to hear multitudes of the “L” word.

An innocent question…

Lekker in its original form refers to food and can be roughly translated as tasty or yummy. The Germans and Belgians still use lekker in this form, however, over time Dutch people have taken incredible liberties with the word and now essentially use it to describe, well, just about everything! A warm meal on a cold fall day can of course be lekker, but so can a feeling, an experience, a place and even a person! Word of warning: don’t go around calling your boss lekker as the original translation of yummy or tasty still does apply! (Of course, the tall Dutch boy down that hall in his red pants and curly gelled hair may indeed be lekker to some! ;)

As you see, lekker is a highly versatile little fellow and can be used in endless instances. You will see that the original translation does not always hold true:

- lekkere broodjes (tasty sandwiches) – an easy one
- lekker rustig (yummy calm, pleasant calm)
- lekker weer (tasty weather, great weather)
- niet lekker (not yummy, not nice, not well)
- slaap lekker (sleep tasty, sleep well, sleep tight)
- lekker ruim (tasty space, lots of space/room)
- … and the list can go on!

There are truly endless uses for the word!

Ask a Dutchie, in a work setting, how they are doing and you are sure to hear the reply of “lekker druk“! I do find this one a tad amusing, as the last time I checked the Dutch weren’t that lekker druk at all!  Of course, there are many things in the Netherlands that are “lekker belangrijk“: such as observing meal times (dinner is served at 18:00 precisely), scheduling appointments and generally acting normal. However, watch the tone of this one, as your opinion is most likely being dissed and dismissed as “lekker belangrijk” in a sarcastic/”what-EVER” type of way.

Just to make things a even more fun, the Dutch have decided to get a little tricky and pair one difficult-to-translate-word with yet another even-more-difficult-to-translate-word. The combination? The beautifully descriptive: lekker gezelligTrust me, it does come in handy but I’ll let you bicker amongst yourselves over the exact translation! ;)

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