Fun facts about the Dutch - part 2

Fun facts about the Dutch - part 2

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Some fun facts about the Dutch to impress your family and friends: From earthquakes, through Dutch family names to Dutch snack bar FEBO.

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". In 2011, Eindhoven was dubbed the smartest city in the world by the Intelligent Community Forum ICF in New York. Read more about Eindhoven and where to live in this 'smart' Dutch city here.

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.

Dutch Family names:
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, 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.

Read more about the Dutch flag here and read the official Ministry of the Interior flag instructions here (in Dutch).

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).

Grave digging:
For many people, the idea of reusing a grave would be like asking their ancestors to haunt them to their dying day. But the Dutch do it all the time. 

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.



Radio Netherlands worldwide/ Expatica

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