Fun Fact Friday: all the trivial tidbits you never wanted to know - but will now use to impress your friends and family - about the Netherlands.
Past Fun Facts (in alphabetical order)
Abbreviations - Keeping it short:
As a foreigner trying to get to grips with the Dutch language, it sometimes seems like the locals are conspiring against you by sprinkling their sentences with random clumps of letters.
Occasionally these cryptic additions seem like they might be words – miv, muv, tov. Sometimes they defy any attempt at pronunciation – zgn, vnl, ipv. And some just look like a cry for help – aub, eea.
Never fear! Dutch aren’t messing with your mind on purpose. They just love their abbreviations. So, miv,muv and tov aren’t Donald Duck’s Jewish nephews but a quick way of saying “starting at”, “except for” and “in relation to”. (met ingang van; met uitzondering van; ten opzichte van)
Whoever typed zgn, vnl and ipv wasn’t having a keyboard meltdown but was actually using much-loved abbreviations for “so-called”, “mainly” and “instead of”. (zogenaamd; voornamelijk; in plaats van)
It may look a bit blunt, but aub is actually a polite - if concise - way of saying “please”, while eea is an abbreviated catchall phrase referring back to anything that has been mentioned previously. (alstublieft; een en ander)
Keeping it short is a tendency that runs through all aspects of Dutch society. Even Dutch celebrities are cut down to size and become BN-ers, short for Bekende Nederlander or “well-known Dutch person”!
Gin was invented in the Netherlands. It was – and still is – called “jenever” (pronounced yeh-NAY-ver) and was originally used for medicinal purposes in the 16th century. The juniper berry, which is used to mask the flavour, comes from the juniper bush, a protected plant.
From an early age Dutch children are brought up with the saying: "Op 1 april verloor Alva zijn bril". Literally translated it means: On 1 April Alba lost his glasses. But in actual fact it refers to the Spanish Duke of Alba losing the town of Den Briel to the Dutch in 1572. It was an important historical battle in the Dutch War of Independence (1568-1648).
The average Dutch person bikes 2.5 km per day and 900km per year! At that rate it would take our Amsterdam colleagues 12 days to cycle into Hilversum. More here.
Bicycle = fiets:
The Dutch word for bicycle is fiets (pronounced "feets")... and nobody really knows why. In most languages, the etymology is obvious - the English bicycle, meaning "two wheels", the French vélocipède, meaning "fast feet", the German fahrrad, meaning "ride wheel".
This was originally the case in Dutch as well - the bicycle was officialy known as a rijwiel or "ride wheel". This term can still be found in combination with other words such as rijwielhandelaar or "bicycle store"
Some people say the word fiets came from E. C. Viets, a bicycle-maker in the 1880s, but it appears that the term was in use ten years earlier. Others suggest it is a corruption of the French word for speed,vitesse or even the French word for bicycle vélocipède. Still others say that it's an onomatopoeic word that simply sounds like a fast-moving bicycle: ffts. It has also been suggested that the word fiets is derived from vietsen, meaning "to move quickly" in Dutch dialect.
In any case, bicycles are a part of Dutch daily life and the word fiets has made its way into many common expressions. Here are a few typical examples:
Op díe fiets. Literally: On that bicycle. Figuratively: Oh, that's what you mean!
Wat heb ik nou aan mijn fiets hangen? Literally: What's hanging on my bike? Figuratively: What's going on? What's happening? (Said by someone who is *really* surprised.)
Geef mijn fiets terug. Literally: Give me my bike back. Figuratively: It's a joke referring to WWII when the Germans confiscated many Dutch bicycles; it's used to make fun of Germans.
Snel door heen fietsen. Literally: To cycle quickly on. Figuratively: To go through something quickly, as in an agenda item on a meeting.
Op een oude fiets moet je het leren. Literally: You have to learn on an old bicycle. Figuratively: Young people should learn about sex with an older (trusted) lover.
Amsterdam has 1,281 bridges. This means that crossing one bridge a day, it would take you 3.5 years to go across each one of them just once. Luckily there is no one-bridge-a-day-limit... More here.
Cake for breakfast:
Like most cultures, the Dutch have many different options for breakfast, including cereal or bread with cold cuts, cheese, or sweet toppings (such as jam, chocolate spread or hagelslag - see below). But the Dutch also often eat ontbijtkoek (breakfast cake), also known as peperkoek (pepper cake) or kruidkoek (spice cake).
This "cake" is more like a dense, sticky bread. The taste is sweet but strong, and the cake includes spices such as cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg. A local northern variation is flavoured with aniseed and curiously called "oudewijvenkoek" (old hag's cake).
Ontbijtkoek is a traditional home remedy for tummy troubles and is reported to have laxative properties... so best beware.
While breakfast cake can be eaten as-is, it's often served slathered in butter... or sandwiched between two slices of bread! Yes, really, a cake sandwich.
Orange carrots appeared in the Netherlands in the 17th century. It has been said that they were bred for the House of Orange who led the Dutch revolt against Spain and later became the Dutch royal family. Orange is still the official colour of the Netherlands (just check out the sea of orange on this Google image search for the Dutch national football team).
City or village?
Did you know that The Hague – the third largest city in the Netherlands – is officially not a city, but a village? This dates back to the Middle Ages, when ruling monarchs could grant a settlement he owned special privileges, or city rights (stadsrechten). A settlement with stadsrechten is called a stad (city or town), a settlement without these privileges is a dorp (village).
City rights included all kind of privileges, such as the right to build city walls, to hold a market, to mint coins, to levy taxes and to make laws. City rights also gave citizens a relative degree of freedom. Hence the old Dutch saying Stadslucht maakt vrij (City air makes free).
But do these medieval city rights still matter today? Yes, apparently they do. When I lived in The Hague, my Amsterdam colleagues used to refer to the place - in a derogatory manner - as a village. But when I had moved to Hilversum, a town with a population of 85,000 and plenty amenities, I was criticised for saying I was going into town. “Hilversum is not a town, but a village.”
Being a city or not is clearly a sensitive matter in the Netherlands, one that has little to do with the number of inhabitants. This means there are some really small cities. With only 40 inhabitants, Staverden in the province of Gelderland is the smallest city in the Netherlands.
After the Scandinavians, the Dutch are the world's biggest coffee drinkers. The Dutch were the first to import coffee to Europe on a large scale back in the 1600s and 1700s and were the first to add coffee into the fair-trade movement in 1988 with the Max Havelaar brand. More here.
Johan Cruyff is not only famous for his football, but also for his idiosyncratic one-liners that are a combination of brilliant insight and stating the obvious. Even the most ardent football hater (such as me!) is familiar with at least some of Cruyff’s sayings, which are now known as Cruyff-isms.
His best known one-liner, De bal is rond (The ball is round), means that the outcome of something is unpredictable. Other much-quoted one-liners are:
- Every advantage has its disadvantage.
- Without the ball you can’t win.
- Always make sure you score one more goal than the opposition.
- Look, you have to at least get the ball between the posts.
Curtains for a Dutch tradition?
Why do so many Dutch people leave their curtains open? Don't they mind the prying eyes of passers-by? Is it exhibitionism, to show off their new ultra flat Philips TV or Bruynzeel design kitchen? Is it the old Calvinist attitude, to show that there's nothing to hide? Or is it just to let in the light, to brighten up that dark and dull Dutch domestic life?
The Dutch love their diminutives. Where we might call a cute dog a "doggy", or a cute cat a "kitty", the Dutch add the diminutive "je" ending to every other noun. For example, a dog - hond - or cat - kat - becomes a hondje or a katje. But it doesn't stop a cute things. Even a table - tafel - or a glass of beer -bier - could be a tafeltje or a biertje.
It goes so far that some words can no longer be separated from their diminutive. For example, nobody would ever say een goed woord doen - to put in a good word - instead of een goed woordje doen.
Some diminutives have even developed a separate - or totally different - meaning from their root word such as brood and broodje - a loaf of bread and a bread roll - or stuk and stukje - a beautiful woman and a piece of something.
There are some words, usually collective or uncountable nouns, that would never been diminutive-ized, for example, the government - regering - would never be called the regerinkje and electricity - electriciteit - would never be called electriciteitje. Serious functions are also never referred to in the diminutive - for example a birth, marriage or funeral would never be a geboortetje, huwelijkje or begrafenisje.
Occasionally, the diminutive can be used in a dismissive - literally belittling - way such as agentje - for a self-important policeman who gave you a ticket you didn't like.
Watch a video of the famous Dutch performer Wim Sonneveld stringing a whole lot of diminutives together for - if you understand Dutch - comic effect. For the non-Dutch-speakers, just listen for the "je" - sounds like "chuh" - throughout!
The full expression is "Doe maar gewoon, dan doe je al gek genoeg", which translates as something like “Just be normal, that’s already crazy enough”. You see, beneath the surface of easy-to-score marijuana, cozy cafés, clogs, cheese and whores in windows, doe maar gewoon is living proof that Mr Calvin still has part of Dutch society in his clutches.
RNW's Jacqueline Nolan shares her doe maar gewoon experience:
"At my 11-year-old son’s football game last week, another cheering parent asked me what type of secondary school my son is going to next September. (Dutch secondary schools streamline their pupils at entrance level). When I said we’re going to look at some higher-level schools, the parent said: 'Oh, my daughter started that, but I knew it wouldn’t work. I told her at the time and then, after two years, she had to change to a lower level, so it was a bigger blow. Doe maar gewoon, that’s what I say.'”
Doe maar gewoon is the Dutch way of telling you not to have ideas above your station, a kind of we’ll-put-you-in-your-place. It's similar to the Dutch expression niet met je kop boven het maaiveld uitsteken (don't raise your head above the corn field) and both mean you shouldn't try to stand out. So, even if you excel at something, rein it in a bit. Or if you’re a multi-multi-millionaire, no ostentatious displays, please, hide that designer Swiss watch, and, for goodness sake, keep quiet about your holiday home in the Alps.
The Dutch love their drop - that's Dutch for licorice. To give you an idea of how much they like this salty-sweet candy, the Dutch eat an average of two kilograms of drop per person per year - that's a lot! Though there are over 80 "typical" kinds of licorice in the Netherlands, and most grocery stores devote almost as much space to licorice as to chocolate and other candy combined, there are some basics that any licorice lover should know:
Typical drop flavours:
- Engelse drop - in English these are called allsorts - they are mixed shapes and most have a coconut or sugar candy layer
- Zoute drop - "salty licorice" - these are made with salmiak (ammonium chloride) to give a salty flavour
- Dubbelzoute drop - "double salty licorice" - this is just extra, extra salty - an acquired taste!
- Zoete drop - sweet licorice
- Laurierdrop - bay leaf licorice
- Salmiakdrop - salmiak licorice - slightly different from zoute drop, these are usually hard candies with the salty salmiak flavour from ammonium chloride
- Honingdrop - honey licorice - usually taken as a cough candy
- Mintdropjes - mint drop - usually with a mint candy coating
Typical drop shapes:
- Boerderijdrop - shaped like a boerderij - farmhouse
- Muntdrop - shaped like munt - coins
- Katjesdrop - shaped like katten - kittens
- Dropveters - shaped like veters - laces
- Griotten - soft, light brown cubes, the size of small sugar cubes and coated in sugar
- Kokindjes - similar but black and not coated in sugar
The Netherlands is not known for its earthquakes. In fact, when last night's (8 September, 2011) 4.5-magnitude tremor shook the southeast of the country, many people assumed it was just a heavy truck! But, actually, Holland experiences many small earthquakes each year - there was a tremor just last week on the coast of Groningen registering 2.6 on the Richter scale.
In fact, on this Google map from the Koninklijk Nederlands Meteorologisch Instituut (Royal Dutch Meteorological Institute), you can see the epicentra of the last 30 earthquakes in and around the Netherlands, and the oldest one dates back only a couple months to 18 June!
The worst earthquake in Dutch history - and the strongest in Western Europe since 1756 - occurred on 13 April, 1992 near the city of Roermond in the south of the Netherlands. The so-called Roermond Earthquake had a magnitude of 5.4. The damage was limited by the depth of the quake (17km) and was estimated at 275 million guilders (124 million euros).
To put these numbers in perspective, an earthquake of magnitude 2.0-2.9 is considered "very minor" -most people won't even notice and there are about a thousand per day around the world. A 4.0-4.9 quake is considered "light" - objects in houses are disturbed but nothing is damaged and they occur about 6,200 times a year. The recent earthquake in Japan was an 8.9. This is considered "great" - there will be massive damage, huge cracks in the ground, and toppled buildings. These happen roughly once every 20 years.
If you live in the Netherlands and experince an earthquake, you can notify the KNMI through their online form (link in Dutch).
Eindhoven, City of Light:
The Dutch city of Eindhoven is also known as the City of Light – because the electronics giant Philips started there... and some of its first products were light bulbs. Philips is well-represented throughout the city – in fact, the “PSV” in the football team PSV Eindhoven actually refers to the Philips Sport Club (Vereniging). Interestingly, on Dutch TV – which was non-commercial at the time – they never referred to the company name, instead calling Philips a “light bulb manufacturer in the south of the country”.
Evening four-day marches:
Thousands of Dutch school children and their parents spend four evenings in a row during May and June trudging through streets and along footpaths in huge processions, walking five or ten kilometres at a time. It’s called the avondvierdaagse, or ‘evening four-day marches’.
It’s not a protest march or usually even a sponsored walk. It’s just for the satisfaction of saying you’ve done it. And supposedly for the exercise. But more importantly, for the famous Dutch gezelligheidof joining in and doing it all together.
Traditional refreshment on the way is a half a lemon with a peppermint laid on the cut side, wrapped in muslin. The children slurp on their minty lemons, slowly reducing them to slobbery pulp. They also carry improbably vast supplies of sweets on strings around their necks.
The whole parade is accompanied by lots of singing to pass the time. The best known marching song is Potje met vet, the endlessly repeating lyrics of which explain ‘I’ve put a little jar of fat on the table and this is the 37th verse’.
At the end of the final evening, the weary kids are greeted by bands, balloons and bunches of flowers. And they win a medal, inscribed with the number of years they’ve successfully completed the walk.
In the grown-up version, the Four Day Marches, the participants walk all day long. The tradition dates back to 1909.
Bottenheft (Blunt handle), Geelhoed (Yellow hat), Mooibroek (Smart pants). Believe it or not, these are all names of colleagues who work for RNW. The Dutch are known for their funny family names and there is a lovely myth explaining where they come from.
The story goes that when Napoleon occupied the Netherlands in 1810, everybody was forced to take on a family name for taxation purposes. The Dutch thought it was only going to be a temporary measure, so they made up comical or offensive sounding names, such as Naaktgeboren (Born naked) and Poepjes (Little pooh), as a practical joke on their French occupiers.
I was taught this at a Dutch school and I’ve only just found out the story is actually not true. Apparently most Dutch people already had family names at the beginning of the 19th century – including the allegedly rebellious names Naaktgeboren and Poepjes.
FEBO is an institution in the world of Dutch snack bars. Not surprisingly, FEBO sells typical fast food such as hamburgers and french fries. But it's known for its wall of vending machines, used to sell all sorts of typical Dutch hot snacks such as kroketten (croquettes) and frikandel (a kind of deep-fried sausage).
The FEBO phenomenon began in 1941 as a bakery in Amsterdam. Over time, "Maison Febo" became FEBO and the company now counts 65 outlets across the Netherlands.
Watch a video about FEBO to get the full experience (I can almost smell the deep fat fryer now...)
In the not-so-distant past, an individual hanging a Dutch flag outside their house would have been considered a bit of an 'overzealous nationalist'. But flag-flying is becoming less of a taboo and, this week (mid June), many Dutch will hang a flag along with a backpack - a sign that somebody in the household has passed their final (secondary school) exams.
Of course, these are not official flag-flying situations.
On official government buildings, flag-flying follows certain rules, including the standard decrees that it must not touch the ground and must not be raised after dark unless appropriately lit. Officially, an orange pennant may be hung along with the flag on Queen's Day and on the birthdays of members of the royal family. However, while a flag must be flown for the Queen's birthday and that of her first son Crown Prince Willem-Alexander, it does not have to be flown for his brothers' birthdays. Similarly, Willem-Alexander's first-born Amalia gets a flag raised on her birthday, but her sisters Alexia and Ariane do not.
By-the-way, the current red, white, and blue flag colours were officially declared by Queen Wilhelmina on 19 februari 1937; previously some people supported an orange, white and blue version.
Fried potatoes (AKA chips AKA french fries):
One of the most popular snacks in the Netherlands is chips (or, as they're known in North America, french fries). But, instead of eating them with salt and vinegar like the Brits, or ketchup like the Americans, the Dutch often shock people by dipping their fries in mayonnaise (see the famous Royale with Cheese scene in the movie Pulp Fiction). But that's only one of the many, many sauce options here in Holland. Here are a few of the more popular ways to eat fries:
Friet met ("Chips with") - This is how the Dutch order chips with mayonnaise. These days, the "mayonnaise" is actually usually fritessaus "chip sauce" - similar to mayo but it's a bit cheaper, it keeps its form better on the hot chips, and it's a little lower in fat. Real mayonnaise must be ordered specifically.
Friet speciaal / Patat speciaal (Special chips) - Fries with mayonnaise, chopped onion, and either ketchup or curry ketchup
Friet met satésaus (Chips with peanut or saté sauce) - This is also known as friet saté (Saté chips) or patatje pinda (peanut fries).
Patatje oorlog (War fries) - This term varies from region to region but usually includes peanut sauce, mayonnaise, and chopped onions. Sometimes it also includes curry sauce. The name comes from the fact that it looks like a bloody battle field. In politically correct circles, this is sometimes also known as patatje feest (party fries).
Patatje vrede (Peace fries) - This was originally fries with garlic sauce and chili sauce but has also come to be a politically correct term for patatje oorlog.
Patat Chillimayo - Fries with vlammensaus (flame sauce) - a combination of mayonnaise and chili sauce.
Patat Samurai - A spicy version of chillimayo; instead of chili sauce this is made with mayonnaise and sambal.
Other saucy possibilities include: tartar sauce, andalouse sauce (a sort of spiced tomato-mayo), piccalilly sauce, cocktail sauce, Joppiesaus (a sort of curry-mayo), ketchup (curry or tomato) en stoofvleessaus(stewed meat sauce, especially popular in Belgium).
Because the Netherlands is relatively small and very densely populated, not to mention the fact that much of it lies below sea level, grave space is in short supply. So burial plots are not purchased, but leased, and can be dug one-, two- or even three-deep! Between "tenants", the Dutch schudden the graves (literally "shake" the graves, meaning to dig them up and empty them out) for reuse.
But don't worry, the dead are given a little peace before they're chucked out of their not-so-final resting place; there's a 10-year minimum grafrusttermijn "grave resting period". Though plots in some parts of the country are still given in perpetuity, most have set periods of 10, 15 or 20 years.
During that time, the family - or, more likely, the burial insurance of the deceased - must pay an annual fee. Naturally, grandma or grandpa's dearly beloved descendents can renew the lease, providing they're not dead broke.
Children around the world would be jealous to know that the Dutch – children and adults alike – regularly eat chocolate sprinkles, called hagelslag for breakfast (or lunch or snack!). Literally, hagelslag means 'hailstorm', presumably because that's what hail would look like if water were replaced by chocolate.
Originally made of chocolate, the tiny bits were invented in 1936 by the Dutch chocolate company Venz and are traditionally served on buttered bread or toast (to help them stick). Nowadays it's also possible to get vruchtenhagel (fruit-flavoured candy sprinkles) and chocoladevlokken (chocolate flakes).
By the way, in order to be called 'chocolate', hagelslag must contain at least 35 percent cacao. Otherwise it's called cacaofantasie or 'cacao fantasy'.
If you don't live in the Netherlands, the best place to look for hagelslag is, surprisingly, in Asian supermarkets – because of the Dutch influence in Indonesia.
Every Dutchman, rich or poor, has bought something at a HEMA store.
Big department stores are nothing unique. Nor are five-and-ten-cent stores. But some are different. The Netherlands has its own version, and it developed into more than a commercial success, ending up in the country's DNA. It's an institution in its own right: the HEMA. From humble beginnings as the Dutch Standard Prices Co (Hollandsche Eenheidsprijzen Maatschappij Amsterdam, which abbreviates as HEMA), it developed into a store where every Dutch person has bought stuff. There's an outlet in most towns.
OK, it's cheap. Ask any Dutch person for the HEMA commercial jingle, and they'll burst out singing "Do more, do more, do more, with fewer coins at the HEMA". But the Dutch are not easily fobbed off, and apparently they get value for money at the store. The shops have shed their cheap "smoked sausage and washing powder" image - or should I say smell - and have taken on the mission to make Dutch design affordable. Their trick is buying an expensive design and make it low-priced by selling lots of copies.
The department store has branches in many Dutch cities, and it's even a sort of benchmark. Are you thinking of moving to Dronten? One of things you ask is, has it got a HEMA?
The chain is aware of its impact on Dutch society. When a group of artists set up a fake Arabic HEMA called El-Hema in 2007, the company, after some hesitation, endorsed the initiative. In doing so, it underscored its appeal to the population as a whole, regardless of background, class or income.
Interjections and fillers:
Learning Dutch is a rocky road for many foreigners, and not only because of the mile-long words or the throat-clearing pronunciations. The Dutch also love their tussenwerpsels – literally “things thrown in”, or interjections – and stopwoorden – literally “stop words”, or what we call “filler words” in English. Here are a few of the most common to help you sound like a native (or near-er native) speaker!
No, it doesn’t have anything to do with hookers. And, despite the literal translation, hoor doesn’t mean “hear” or “listen up”. This little word comes at the end of a sentence and emphasizes the tone / content - not the difference an exclamation mark can make! For example:
"Ik weet het niet / Ik weet het niet, hoor! / Ik weet het niet, hoor" translates as "I don't know / I don't know and don't care / I dunno, don't ask me." Or: "Nee, hoor! / Nee, hoor" becomes "No way! / Nah or no thanks" while "Ja, hoor!" can be both an enthusiastic yes or an irritated yes.
Weet ik veel
"Weet ik veel" is the Dutch version of “who knows” and is usually used to introduce an improbable example. So this sentence: “Misschien gaan we, weet ik veel, commerciele radioprogrammas maken” would translate as “Who knows, maybe we’ll make commercial radio shows!”
However, the phrase can also be used on its own in which case it simply means “I haven't a clue.”
Though it looks similar to weet ik veel, weet je is used a bit like the English “you know” or “you know what” to introduce a confidence. For example: “Ik heb hier al 16 jaar gewerkt, maar weet je, het is lang genoeg” translates as “I’ve worked here for 16 years and you know what? It’s long enough.” You could also say “Het is al lang genoeg, weet je” – “It’s long enough, you know”.
Weet je can also be used as a request for confirmation from the listener as in the English “ya know?”
For example, if the speaker says “Het is al lang genoeg, weet je?” (It’s long enough, huh?), he’s likely hoping for the listener to say “Ja, het is lang genoeg” – “Ya, that is long enough.”
Toch is often used in a similar way to weet je, but, as with many of these words, context is everything. So if the sentence ends with a period, toch emphasizes the point, whereas if it ends with a question mark, it’s requesting confirmation. For example:
“Het is toch zeker dat hij komt.” would mean “he's definitely coming”, whereas “Het is zeker dat hij komt, toch?” would translate as “He IS coming, right?”
Toch can also be used in the sense of "yet" or "still" as in these sentences: “Het is koud vandaag. Toch vraag ik me af of het nog winter wordt.” "It’s cold today but still I ask myself if winter will ever come."
Now, if you lump the above words / phrases together, you’ve got a perfectly Dutch colloquial conversation.
“Mooi, toch, weet je? Goed, hoor… Ach, weet ik veel!” (Translation: Good huh, ya know? Nice one. Ah, what the heck do I know?)
The microscope, the telescope, pendulum clock and the mercury thermometer are all 16th or 17th-century Dutch inventions. This inventive tradition continues right into the 21st century. But are all Dutch inventions that great? It’s hard to imagine the traffic enforcement camera enhancing anyone’s life...
The stories have been translated into many languages - including English, where the children go by the names Mick and Mandy. Or Bob and Jilly. Or, more recently, just plain Jip and Janneke (though surely mispronounced).
In fact, it seems that the names are different in every country they visit: Polish: Julek i Julka, German:Heiner und Hanni and Julia und Alexander, Spanish: Mila y Yaco, Russian: Sasja i Masja -Саша и Маша, Hebrew: Yip we-Yaneqe, Indonesian: Tono dan Tini, Estonian: Jip ja Janneke, and Latin: Jippus et Jannica.
Even the Dutch dialect Twents has it's own slightly different version: Jipke en Jannöaken.
Although Annie Schmidt committed assisted suicide on 21 May, 1995 (the day after she turned 84), today would have been her 100th birthday. More about Annie Schmidt here.
The Dutch kermis is a travelling carnival with rides, games, and food. But, if it's kermis in de hel (a carnival in Hell) or duiveltjeskermis (devil's carnival), it means it's raining and sunny at the same time!
Here are a few more expressions that have spun off this much-loved summer tradition:
Van een koude kermis thuiskomen: Literal: To come home from a cold carnival. Figurative: To be disappointed.
Als je de stilte uit Kerstmis weghaalt, houd je een kermis over: - Literal & figurative: If you take the quiet out of Christmas, there's a carnival left over.
Het is daar kermis: Literal: It's a carnival over there. Figurative: there's a lot of fighting over there.
Het is niet overal kermis waar het vaantje uitsteekt: Literal: It's not carnival just because the pennant is flying. Figurative: Everything is not always as it seems.
Zij verstaan als twee dieven op de kermis: Literal: They were like two thieves at the carnival. Figurative: They really didn't get along with each other.
Een bonte kermis: Literal: A colourful carnival. Figurative: A crazy, fun, hilarious situation / event.
There are also a few carnival expressions specific to Limburg, which has its own dialect:
Aachterum is kermes: Literal: The carnival is at the back. Figurative: Come to the back door, the front door is locked.
Zien keuntje haj kermes!: Literal: His bum got a carnival. Figurative: He got a good spanking.
Al ston d'r kräöm, 't is nie aldaag kermes: Literal: Even if you're hunched over, it's not always carnival. Figurative: Moderation in everything, even in times of plenty.
Kermeskaost: Literal: Carnival food. Figurative: Good food! Traditional carnival fare often included potatoes with green and white beans (called witte keuntjes ien 't gras "little white bums in the grass") along with a good portion of baked ham. For dessert: Rice pudding with black plums.
Kermesbed: Literal: carnival bed. Figurative: a spare bed, used in the past for carnival visitors.
Read more about the history of the carnival in Holland here (link in Dutch).
Komkommertijd (cucumber time):
In English it's usually known as "silly season", though sometimes, like the Dutch version, it is also referred to as cucumber time: the few summer months when news slows down and is filled out with silly stories. Apparently the term originated with tailors who didn't have enough work in the slow summer period and went to find work elsewhere - presumably in cucumber fields?!
Here are a few different language versions of "cucumber time":
Czech: Okurková sezóna
Polish: Sezon ogórkowy
Hebrew: עונת המלפפונים (Onat Ha'melafefonim)
German: Sauregurkenzeit ("pickled cucumber season"). It is also known as sommerloch ("summer [news]hole")
French: la morte-saison ("the dead season" or "the dull season")
Swedish: has nyhetstorka ("news drought")
Dutch is also spoken in Belgium, part of northern France, Suriname, the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba. This means over 22 million people speak Dutch as a native language and over 5 million as a second language! More here.
The Netherlands is renowned for the fact that it is flat and almost a quarter of its land is at, or below, sea level. But not all is as flat as it seems – though it would take a Dutchman to notice ...
In the Province of Limburg, where Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands meet, lies the Vaalserberg. With its impressive 322.7 metres, it is a well-known tourist attraction. The name translates as ‘Mount Vaals’ which gives some indication of how proud the Dutch are of their modest ... ahem ... hill.
Until 10 October 2010, the Vaalserberg was the highest point in the Netherlands. But now that the Netherlands Antilles has been dissolved and the Caribbean island of Saba is officially part of the Netherlands, that honour goes to Mount Scenery, which towers above the pride of Limburg at a height of 877 metres.
New Year celebrations:
Apart from eating lots of oliebollen (Dutch doughnuts), there are a few other things that have become a firm part of the New Year celebrations in the Netherlands – some good, some not so good.
A lot of people clean their houses before New Year arrives, as doing so is considered to be a part of the purification process. For this, people collect Juniper and water after sunset. There is a tradition of carrying Juniper branches home, which are later burned with a belief that doing so sways all prowling germs and diseases out of the place.
Public transport comes to a complete standstill for a few hours. Dutch Railways (NS) warns passengers in the days leading up to New Year that there will be no trains between around 8 p.m. on New Year’s Eve and 1 a.m. on New Year’s Day, when the night trains start running again.
Posting a letter can be disrupted for up to a week at New Year, as the Dutch post office (post.nl) removes many public post boxes to prevent vandals from destroying them, and their contents, by inserting a firework. Sadly, this tradition is based on past experience.
For many foreigners, a lot of Dutch words look totally unpronounceable. This is partly because they're so long (mostly because they're often made up of many smaller words that, in English, we would keep separate) but also because there are often long strings of consonants or vowels.
The Dutch word with the most consonants in a row (8) is angstschreeuw. Literally, a scream of fear: angst = fear, schreeuw = scream. It's pronounced: UNGST-schray-oo (where the "sch" is the typical Dutch gutteral "g" sound - a bit like you're gargling). The word with the most vowels used to be koeieuier - cow udder - but the official spelling has since changed to include an "n", becoming koeienuier.
Every year, the Dutch celebrate Queen's Day - marking the late Queen Juliana's birthday - on 30 April. But it's also celebrated around the world - this year the UK celebrated two weeks early! On 16 April, 50,000 orange-clad people crowded into Trafalgar square.
Singing for Sinterklaas:
December fifth is, for many Dutch children, the highlight of the year: it's the day that Sinterklaas (a Dutch Saint Nicholas) comes on his horse Amerigo with his helpers the Zwarte Pieten (Black Petes) to deliver gifts to all the good little boys and girls.
But the anticipation begins a few weeks earlier when the saint arrives in the Netherlands on a steamboat from Spain. From that point until 5 December, Dutch children have a new nightly routine: they sing a sinterklaasliedje (Sinterklaas song) and put their shoes out, in the hope that the Sint will fill them with small treats or presents.
The sinterklaasliedjes are a folk tradition that date back as far as the seventeenth century. One of the best-known songs is Sinterklaas Kapoentje. Sing along with the lyrics and a video below!
Sinterklaas kapoentje, (Sinterklaas, you rascal)
Gooi wat in mijn schoentje, (Throw something in my shoe)
Breng wat in mijn laarsje, (Put something in my boot)
Dank u Sinterklaasje. (Thank you Sinterklaas)
The Dutch love skating on natural ice, but the vagaries of the Netherlands' weather cannot guarantee a perfect ice floor every year. So in 1961 the practical Dutch were the third nation on earth to open an ice rink with a 400-metre lane and an icehockey stadium. Even when it's not freezing, the icefloor is kept below freezing temperature by a system of cooling tubes underneath the surface.
Named after famous 19th-century skater Jaap Eden, the open-air rink in Amsterdam rapidly became the venue for major speed skating contests, as well as the favorite spot of recreational skaters.
In winter, skating rinks pop up all over the country. Amsterdam alone boasts four, in attractive city locations like Rembrandt Square or Museum Square. Make sure you bring your skates when you're here in winter!
Every year the reopening of the Jaap Eden rink for the winter season is a major event. Watch this 1969 cinema newsreel for instance, with children skating in the autumn sunshine.
So happy 50th birthday, Jaap Eden rink! To celebrate the jubilee, there are many special events, such as the opportunity for amateur skaters to pit their skating skills against those of legendary athletes like Ard Schenk or Kees Verkerk.
The dutch use the same word - slak, pronounced sluhk - for a slug or a snail. Either way, if you're Dutch, you can be zo traag als een slak (as slow as a snail/slug) or you can be the type of person who op alle slakken zout legt (literally: puts salt on every snail/slug, figuratively: is nitpicky).
There are a lot of things to love about Holland’s holiday season and one is definitely speculaas. These shortbread biscuits are traditionally available in the lead-up to Saint Nicholas Day festivities in early December. The thin, crunchy cookies are baked with a variety of spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cardamom and pepper.
Typically, speculaas has an image or figure stamped on one side, usually relating to Saint Nicholas. Popular belief is that the name speculaas comes from these designs (the Latin speculum means mirror, a reminder that St. Nick sees all!) Today, speculaas can be found outside of the Netherlands, and abroad you can easily see where they got their name – they’re called Dutch windmill cookies.
Swearing in Dutch:
As in many languages, swearing in Dutch is an education in sex and religion. But the Dutch also use a lot of illnesses. And, in fact, these are some of the strongest curse words. Some "popular" illnesses arekanker (cancer), tyfus (typhoid), kolere (cholera), and tering (tuberculosis). These can be used on their own as an expletive - so you shout tering! when you slam your finger in the door - or with the noun lijer(sufferer) - so you shout kankerlijer! at the jerk who cut you off.
Here is an incredibly exhaustive alphabetical list of Dutch swear words. Read at your own risk!
In some ways, the Dutch language is very simple (for example, there are only five commonly used verb tenses). But not when it comes to telling time. Here's a little primer.
10:00 - tien uur - ten o'clock
10:10 - tien over tien - ten "over" (past) ten
10:15 - kwart over tien - quarter past ten
10:20 - tien voor half elf - ten before half (before) eleven (Note: "half" is not used here in the sense of half past but rather in the sense of half an hour before)
10:30 - half elf - half eleven (you can see how expat men might dine in solitary outrage when their Dutch dates never arrive, while the Dutch ladies are already home in tears thinking they've been stood up!)
10:40 - tien over half elf - ten past half eleven
10:45 - kwart voor elf - quarter to eleven
10:50 - tien voor elf - ten to eleven
Note: When writing, the Dutch often use the 24-hour system, though rarely when speaking. If they do use the 24-hour system out loud (for example on the announcements at the train station), they don't use the conventions above, but rather say both numbers - so 13:40 is read out as dertien-veertig or thirteen-forty.
The VrijMiBo - pronounced fry-MEE-bo - is actually a collection of three words that are shortened and made into one: Vrijdag (Friday), middag (midday), borrel (drinks). It refers to the simple, but enjoyable Dutch tradition of drinks and snacks (borrelhapjes) with colleagues at the end of the work week - to get to know each other a bit better in a relaxed, gezellig ("cozy") atmosphere.
Though it has dropped off somwhat with the economic crisis (presumably due to smaller beverage budgets), the tradition goes back many years. VrijMiBo is also sometimes spelled VrijMiBeau.
Wednesday "mince day":
In the Netherlands, as in many countries with a Catholic history, Friday is fish day (Vrijdag visdag). Monday is also commonly known as washing day (Maandag wasdag). But the Dutch add a rather unusual day to the weekly to-do list: Woensdag gehaktdag - Wednesday mince day (for the North Americans, that's ground meat day).
The name comes from the fact that, until well into the 20th century, meat was a luxury reserved for Sundays. So, when butchers had a mid-week sale on gehakt halfom (half beef, half pork), that wasWoensdag gehaktdag.
Woensdag gehaktdag is also a nickname for verantwoordingsdag (responsibility day) - when Dutch parliament reviews the government's financial performance (annually on the third Wednesday in May) - and the title of a novel by the notorious murderer Richard Klinkhamer where he describes how he killed his wife and put her body through a meat grinder.
The Dutch national anthem - Wilhelmus van Nassouwe, usually known just as Het Wilhelmus - is the oldest national anthem in the world, even though it was not officially recognised until 1932. It was first written down in 1574, making it over 437 years old.
Many people are confused by the opening lyrics especially at the mention of "German blood" and "honouring the King of Spain" (read all 15 stanzas here - in old and modernised Dutch as well as literal and rhyming English versions).
Wilhelmus van Nassouwe -- William of Nassau
Ben ick van Duytschen bloet, -- am I, of German blood.
Den Vaderlant getrouwe -- Loyal to the fatherland
Blyf ick tot in den doet: -- I will remain until I die.
Een Prince van Oraengien -- A prince of Orange
Ben ick vrij onverveert, -- am I, free and fearless.
Den Coninck van Hispaengien -- The King of Spain
Heb ick altijt gheeert. -- I have always honoured.
The song is a first person story of William of Orange, the main leader of the Dutch revolt against Spain in the Eighty Years' War (1568 - 1648). Surprisingly to many, his parents were not Dutch but German and he (and other leaders of the Dutch Revolt) originally supported the King of Spain.
Interestingly, the Wilhelmus is only played once at any event and should always be played last. It may only be played for a visiting head of state if a member of the Dutch Royal House is present - unusual because most countries play their own anthem and then that of the visitor. At sporting events, only one or two stanzas are played (either just the first or the first and sixth together) to avoid having 15 minutes of music!
See the Dutch attempt to sing their own anthem here...!
There are approximately 1,170 windmills in the Netherlands (link in Dutch). Even though the windmill is considered a symbol of Holland, the first windmills were actually built in northern France or the UK, most likely before the 11th century. The first windmill in the low countries was built in Belgium in 1040; the first Dutch windmill didn't appear until 1180 in Limburg. You can read more about Dutch windmills here.
Interestingly, the windmill is also a breakdancing move where your legs rotate above you - like a windmill. Learn how to do it with this video - if you dare!