Expatica countries
editor's choice

NS fears empty trains

Insights into Dutch sexulality

Dutch unemployment up sharply

Listing of international schools in the Netherlands

Guide to public transport in the Netherlands

Index Last Var.(%)
BEL 20 3083.51 0.32
DAX 9605.08 0.17
IBEX 30 10058.5 -1.04
CAC 40 4387.61 -0.20
FTSE 100 6806.86 -0.05
AEX 397.5 -0.20
DJIA 16272.65 0.46
Nasdaq 4318.933 0.63
FTSE MIB 20298.33 -0.11
TSX Composite 14214.35 0.18
ASX 5415.4 -0.10
Hang seng 22836.96 0.04
Straits Times 3110.78 0.45
ISEQ 20 836.3 0.23
EUR / USD 1.37976 0.67
EUR / GBP 0.82571 0.59
USD / GBP 0.598544 -0.10
Gold 1329.6 -0.13
Oil 108.9 -0.76
Silver 21.28 0.08
You are here: Home Moving to Country Facts Fun facts about the Dutch - part 3
Enlarge font Decrease font Text size

13/02/2012Fun facts about the Dutch - part 3

Fun facts about the Dutch - part 3 Some fun facts about the Dutch to impress your family and friends: From hagelslag, through swearing in Dutch to windmills.

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Originally made of chocolate, the tiny bits were invented in 1936 by the Dutch chocolate company Venz and are traditionally served on buttered bread or toast (to help them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.

Read more here and here (check out the delicious recipe and bizarre video at the end) and here and how to eat them here (it's a popular topic!). 

HEMA stores:
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. 

Le Lapin water kettle in the Fun Fact Friday kitchen

Le Lapin water kettle in the Fun Fact Friday kitchen Photo: Rob Kievit Best-known among these projects is Le Lapin (the Rabbit), a water kettle with an unlosable steam whistle on a hinged flap resembling a rabbit's ear. Designed by Nicolaï Carels it found its way into many a Dutch household which it would never have reached, hadn't the HEMA snapped it up.

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. 

(By the way, being Radio Netherlands Worldwide, we have to be unbiased, and I gladly oblige by mentioning a few other general department stores such as V&D - good, but somewhat less distinct in its tastes; de Bijenkorf - classy, but with just a few branches in the big cities. Other popular chain stores like Gamma or C&A focus on single sectors like clothing or DIY.)   Inventions:
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...
Jip and Janneke:

Jip and Janneke (pronounced YIP (rhymes with "tip") and YUNN-uh-kuh) are the main characters in the well-known Dutch children's series by Annie M. G. Schmidt

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).

Read more about the history of another Dutch carnival, carnival in Maastricht  here ,

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":

Dutch: komkommertijd
Danish: agurketid
Norwegian: agurktid
Czech: Okurková sezóna
Polish: Sezon ogórkowy
Hungarian: uborkaszezon
Hebrew: עונת המלפפונים (Onat Ha'melafefonim)
Estonian: hapukurgihooaeg
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.  

Liberation Day: While the Netherlands celebrates the end of WWII on 5 May, the war didn't end for another three months in the then-Dutch colony in Indonesia. And it wasn't until 1999 that the Dutch government officially acknowledged that the war didn't actually end for the Netherlands until 15 August 1945. More here.  

Mount Vaals:
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.


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.

Queen's Day:
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.

If you want to celebrate Queen's Day wherever you are, just dig out your best orange duds and check this page for some local party places. If you're in the Netherlands, there's an app for that!

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).

Skating rinks
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

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. (Here's an easy recipe to follow.)

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!

Telling time:
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.

Het Wilhelmus:
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!


Radio Netherlands worldwide/ Expatica


3 reactions to this article

Jos Knippenberg posted: 2012-02-13 23:15:23

This is one of the most informative(and useful) segments of your publication I have so far encountered. Thoroughly enjoyed it!

Maartje (dutch name) posted: 2013-05-22 15:24:38

im dutch and you better don't use the word cancer to swear, a lot of people get angry of that. Also me. Last time some one used the word cancer to swear i've punched him in the face.

Vincent Rogiest posted: 2014-09-12 09:37:11

Crazy old dutch colonial inventions :

VOC mentaliteit

Sinterklaas and zwarte piet



negroide man

3 reactions to this article

Jos Knippenberg posted: 2012-02-13 23:15:23

This is one of the most informative(and useful) segments of your publication I have so far encountered. Thoroughly enjoyed it!

Maartje (dutch name) posted: 2013-05-22 15:24:38

im dutch and you better don't use the word cancer to swear, a lot of people get angry of that. Also me. Last time some one used the word cancer to swear i've punched him in the face.

Vincent Rogiest posted: 2014-09-12 09:37:11

Crazy old dutch colonial inventions :

VOC mentaliteit

Sinterklaas and zwarte piet



negroide man

Looking for a job?

Browse all jobs

Search for a home?

Browse all houses
ask your question
Discussion Forums

Relocating to the Netherlands

Child & Parent Coaching - based in Amsterdam

Family life in the Netherlands

Child & Parent Coaching - based in Amsterdam

Student Forum The Netherlands

Child & Parent Coaching - based in Amsterdam

Community Noticeboard The Netherlands

Child & Parent Coaching - based in Amsterdam

Business and Finance in the Netherlands

Monday's Currency Update

participate in the forums

Inside Expatica
Setting up home in the Netherlands

Setting up home in the Netherlands

A guide to telephone, internet and television along with utility services water, electricity and gas in the Netherlands.

Dutch immigration and residency regulations

Dutch immigration and residency regulations

Lost in the Dutch immigration system? Look no further than this guide compiled for our Survival Guide 2012.

A brief introduction to the Netherlands

A brief introduction to the Netherlands

Expatica offers a whistle-stop tour of life in the modern Netherlands.

Giving birth in the Netherlands

Giving birth in the Netherlands

The challenges and benefits of the maternity system in the Netherlands and how it differs to other countries.

0essentials_moving_to 1country_facts 2Fun-facts-about-the-Dutch--part-3_17749