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? It’s 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.

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!


65 Responses

  1. margaux

    actually, it’s borrelnootjes (with two oo’s). Anyhow, I prefer bitterballen at a borrel instead of nootjes, hate them..

    • Peter

      Forget the nuts. but a borrelkroketje, bitterballetje, een hapje kaas or stukje leverworst (all with mustard) are always welcome.
      By the way, I don’t see a real borrel (jenever) in the pics. Only Belgian biertjes.

  2. Gyurka Jansen

    the best Borrel of all is of course de “vrijdagmiddagborrel” or ” vrijmibo”, the friday-afternoon borrel with your colleagues! (Well, if you’re at a nice company that is.)

  3. [email protected]

    Of course the word ‘borrel’, is just a Dutch socially approved manner of referring to ‘let’s get plastered’… :))

    The word ‘borrel’ itself can in essence be compared with ‘shot’, as in ‘a shot of whiskey’. Referring to the amount of liquor and the glass used to contain it. ‘Borrel’ originally has to do with such, but then in reference to the consumption of ‘Jenever’.

    Nowadays, however the word also means a gathering at which alcohol (accompanied by snacks, like peanuts and such) is consumed. It’s just a socializing event.

    With a cryptic name…

  4. Anna

    Haha this post cracked me up especially the “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” hahahahaa it is so funny because it is so true!!!

    But I do wonder why is there no mention of bitterballen in this post?! No borrel is complete without bitterballen! 😉
    I find it rather striking that just as the word (and perhaps also the act) borrel has no proper equivalent in other languages (/countries), this also goes for the quintessentially borrely-things such as bitterballen and gezelligheid! Maybe those three things make up the essence of Dutchness 😉

  5. Hanneke ten Hulscher

    I work with an ENT resident who spend a year in Tanzania, and would go to this Dutch restaurant when ever they were in the city nearby. (Imagine that, a Dutch restaurant in Tanzania) When I say the word bitterballen he literally almost will start drooling…. He knows about the ‘borrel’ and thinks bitterballen are the ultimate bar food ever… So maybe a post about bitterballen would be in order here;-)

  6. Rolf

    Love the site, I’m enjoying a Thursday midday borrel while reading all your revelations. But did you write this post after coming home from a borrel? 🙂
    gezzligheid – gezelligheid
    its much more – it’s
    borrel hapjes – borrelhapjes (the dutch usually don’t use spaces here, that would be like writing “Thurs day”)
    about – amount
    at at – at
    Sorry for the correcting; my dutch bluntness is making me do it!

    Borrelen is also sometimes used as a verb. Not only for having a borrel, but it’s like pruttelen, simmering (“De erwtensoep staat al een uur te borrelen”), but in that context has nothing to do with the social happening that is a borrel.

    • Peter

      Too much borrelen leads to “overborrelen”. Like “Did you see John last Friday? He “borrelde” so much that he “overborrelde” over the “borrelhapjes”.

  7. Bart Craenmehr

    “deep deeply fried snacks” – the writer must be talikng about “fish and chips”? I was wondereing why to call a paprika a pepper, and pepper is pepper, and of wat is paprika powder made?

    • Sijmen

      We don’t really do fish and chips, certainly not at these occasions. A borrel is a specific kind of – what British people would call – a get-together, comparable to going for drinks with colleagues.

      Amongst the kind of fried snack we do serve at borrels are bitterballen, small kroketten and sometimes frikandellen. Generally there’s also cheese blocks, ham, and slices of sausage. Search the web for ‘borrelhapes’ and you’ll get some good examples.

  8. Chris

    Borrelnootjes are not deep fried btw; they are roastrd. Other than that a good, enjoyable piece.

  9. Casper

    Agree with Chris here, borrelnootjes are definitely not deep fried. They are in fact roasted peanuts with a crunchy layer.

  10. Jurriën

    Maybe it’s me but you already got a number 32: Names that sound ridiculous in English….

  11. Bjorn & Ingrid

    We had tears in our eyes after reading this post. Very funny, great writing! BTW, you do need a post on the bitterbal, kroket and frikandel – it is incomplete otherwise 🙂

  12. Eryn Wurtz

    For my learn reasons, I at all times used to download the video lectures from YouTube, since it is easy to fan-out from there.

  13. ablabius

    Don`t trust wikipedia. ‘Een borrel’ is always at least slightly formal, although they rarely have a dresscode. The least formal being the vrijdagmiddagborrel, which is management prescribed socializing with colleagues, and possibly the most formal being the oranjeborrel, at which the Dutch gather to drink oranjebitter with oranjekoek and – if they are in the military – cheer three times for the monarch.

  14. helen kim

    Hi, I came to Duke of York but couldn’t find you guys.

  15. Gino

    First of all, I love your blog dude. I’m a not-so-proud Dutchie and I have really enjoyed reading your entries. I’m considering making it a mandatory time killing device for my co-workers, seeing how we like not working. 😉

    I just wanted to add, you forgot the most important ‘borreltje’ – the elusive “Vrij-mi-bo” (Vrijdag middag borrel – translated to Friday Afternoon Drink) at the office.
    Every friday at 16:45, the crates of beer get pulled out of the fridge, and we all work the last fifteen minutes with a beer on our desk. And after 5 o clock, we all drink just enough to be able to be friendly with all your dull-brained co workers! Ordering Pizza or ‘een broodje oude kaas’ and staying in until 8, drinking on the bosses charge really fits in with our cheapness don’t you think? 😉

    Keep doing this man, I have a lot of hours to kill at work and this is quite a fun way to do so!

  16. Lini

    Borrels are extremely amusing for me, because I don’t drink alcohol. So I stand there with a cola while co workers get pissed and dos stupid stuff in front of the boss, while I just watch with popcorn as the night gets uglier and uglier hahahaha

  17. Angela

    I always felt the American English translation for Borrels would certainly be called a cocktail party. This is pretty much the same thing, at least where I come from. And like the Borrel meaning shot, but no you do not just drink shots… nor do the Americans just drink cocktails.
    A cocktail party can be formal or not.
    The most famous being on SuperBowl day…

    • Peter

      You drink a borrel out of a bowl? A SuperBowl? Just kidding!

  18. sammy

    I think the term Borrel actually comes from the verb Borrelen which is what we dutch people call a small underground stream of water bubbling(borrelen) to the surface. And in the same way that english apply bubbling or bubbles to Champagne, I think the dutch decided to use it as a word for an alcoholic beverage.
    After that the dutch just went crazy with it, just like with lekker (tasty).

  19. Bises de Paris

    Nice post! I have another theory why Dutch people love borrels: they’re cheap. A little borrel after work doesn’t cost as much as dinner, or inviting people for a borrel is much easier than actually cooking food for them. Simplicity, practicality and gezelligheid go together in Dutch society 😉

    • Peter

      Also spouses are NOT invited. You know, less people = less expensive.

  20. James

    Gosh Lini, you sound like a fun person to hang out with…. :-0

  21. Arnold

    Try the schelvis pekel and you never make it home

  22. Remy

    Borreltje is another word for a borrel (we like to add -tje to words, remember) it is a drink not a small gathering of people having drinks, gezellig or not. You cannot attend a borreltje.
    Nice blog though, well nice enough considering the staggering amount of blatently wrong assumptions you have been making. Lots of spelling errors as well. I hope you do/did better with the book.
    The number one problem foreigners run into in The Netherlands is that they never really know what we mean with the words we use and the way in which we use them.
    I used to have a professor at my university who was English but was so good at Dutch grammar that he taught translation. English to Dutch, the man even attempted to make up Dutch sayings- we never really got them- one of them was: een natte broek droogt altijd te krap. Wet pants always end up to small when dry?
    My point is that he spoke perfect Dutch, barely an accent to be found and he was fluent.
    The first time he showed up at a faculty borrel and we, the Dutch, had more than a few drinks in our system he no longer understood what was happening.
    He could understand everything we said, but he had no idea what we were on about, he became afraid because he thought that we were going to start a fight.
    No such thing was happening, we were having fun insulting each and everyone around us and with the harsch and guttural sounds we tend to make (even more when we are drunk) it probably was too unfamiliar to him to cope with.
    He never attended a borrel after that night.
    Years later he said to me: A foreigner can learn your language but he can never learn to be Dutch.


    • H.A. van den Boogaard

      I am sure you meant to write too small instead of to small and harsh instead of harsch(especially in a post mentioning spelling errors).

      • Remy

        I did, and had I taken the time to check the text I would have…
        When in a hurry one tends to make mistakes, as we all do, right?
        I am sure you meant to place a space between harsch and (especially in a post mentioning spelling errors).
        Especially in a post that is ONLY about mentioning spelling errors.


  23. Ivo Janssen

    I would say that the closest concept to the Dutch “borrel” is the American “happy hour”.

  24. remi

    You should do one about a Cantus!!! I’ve never see anything like it….where its acceptable to throw beer!

  25. agathe

    Borrel is such an obligation in Amsterdam. I don’t like to drink although I can handle it. I want to socialize and keep the “gezelligheid” without lots of drinks. How is this possible?

  26. Pete

    A borrel is really a shot glass of “Jenever”. Order “Jong” or “Oud”. Now, don’t let the Americans know this but a shot of jenever is much, much better than a Jaegermeister, which is a medicine. Try getting Underberg. That’s a gross drink. You pour it into your jenever.
    May I also recommend Frisian Beerenburg to those Americans wanting to get really plastered and get a REAL, barfing bad hangover?
    Cautrion: have some freezing beers at hand the next morning.

  27. Luke

    You were right the first time: deep fried snacks 🙂

  28. Yogi Beer

    It’s the civilized “Doe normaal” dutch answer to the “Happy Hour”. 😉

  29. Henk

    ‘Borrelnootjes’ aren’t deep fried peanuts, they’re roasted coated peanuts. Not that strange; you can get them here in the UK in all supermarkets…?

    I miss the word ‘bittergarnituur’ here! That’s the word for a selection of snacks you might order in a pub to accompany your drinks. This could consist of bitterballen, vlammetjes, kaassoufflé’s, mini frikandellen, gehaktballetjes, bamihapjes, etc.

    Not sure why the word ‘bitter’ is being used here, as this doesn’t reflect the taste of these snacks in any way.

    You can say what you want, but even though these are basically deep fried processed foods, I’ve never met a Dutch or non-Dutch person who doesn’t enjoy them! 🙂

    • Carolineoxfordshire

      Henk you are correct. Why “bitter” for bitterballen? Maybe they were first thought of to accompany bitters, will have to look that up sometime. I miss bitterballen and kroketten here in England 🙁
      Another point to buitenlanders: Borrel(tje) is really only the drink – we gaan een borreltje drinken- but I supect the drink and the occasion are so intertwined now, it has become one and the same.
      I love these exchanges!

    • Ferdi

      A ‘bitter(tje)’ is originally a drink consisting of jenever with added (bitter) herb extracts. The time when you drink these is called the ‘bitteruur’ (bitterhour). How or when this turned into ‘borrel’ I’m not sure, but the ‘bitteruur’ and ‘borreluur’ are essentially the same. Note, a ‘borrel’ is usually had before dinner, say between 5 and 6pm (hence, bitteruur). A snack accompanying this event is prefixed with ‘bitter’: bittergarnituur, bitterbal. It could just as well have been called a ‘borrelbal’. If you search google for bitteruur you’ll still find old prints using this word.

  30. Peter

    Don’t forget the Saucijzenbroodjes en Blinde Vinkjes!


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