Dutch people like love to say certain phrases over and over again. If you arrive in the lowlands speaking very little Dutch, you are sure to quickly pick up on a few essential Dutch sentences. One of Dutch people’s favourite little phrases is “Dat kan niet“, essentially translating to “That can’t be done“. Another equally annoying version is “Dat mag niet” (“that may not be done”).  Uses for both phrases are endless, and are often said as a conversation end-er. “I need my internet fixed today” -“Dat kan niet“. “I would like to have no mayo on my sandwich please” – “Dat kan niet”. “Can I pay with credit card?” “Dat mag niet”. You get the idea.

The beauty with the phrase is, you really can’t quite argue with it.  The ever-stubborn “Dat kan niet” always seems to win, which is why it is cleverly used by many a Dutch customer-service un-service staff.

How many times a day are Dutch people simultaneously uttering those 3 highly irritating words?!? Any guesses? I’ll take a shot – 16 million – an average of one “Dat kan niet” per person, per day! (That should make up for the KPN guy saying it to me 12 times today!)  Closely in the running for most used Dutch phrases is “Het is niet mogelijk” – which just another way of telling you that you certainly aren’t going to get want you. Het is niet mogelijk (it is not possible) will similarly pop-up at the most inopportune times. Just when you thought you were getting somewhere Het is niet mogelijk is sure to rear its ugly head.


The other day I heard two Dutch 3-year-olds playing in the park. One was yelling “Dat kan niet!” and the other was yelling back “Dat kan wel!”. Their exchange went back and forth for quite some time, only to get louder and louder: DAT KAN NIET. DAT KAN WEL. DAT KAN NIET!! DAT KAN WEL!!” I stopped and joined in the fun, and boy it felt grand!  As I walked away I had to wonder: If 3 year-olds are already busy feverishly practicing and perfecting their favourite phrases, what hope do we have?!?