Fun facts about the Dutch - part 3

Fun facts about the Dutch - part 3

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Originally made of chocolate, the tiny bits were invented in 1936 by the Dutch chocolate company Venz and are traditionally served on buttered bread or toast (to help them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


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: עו

Radio Netherlands worldwide/ Expatica


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3 Comments To This Article

  • Jos Knippenberg posted:

    on 13th February 2012, 23:15:23 - Reply

    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:

    on 22nd May 2013, 15:24:38 - Reply

    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:

    on 12th September 2014, 09:37:11 - Reply

    Crazy old dutch colonial inventions :

    VOC mentaliteit

    Sinterklaas and zwarte piet



    negroide man