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You are here: Home Leisure Arts & Culture Dutch proverbs
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22/05/2006Dutch proverbs

Dutch proverbs Expatica blogger Dutched Pinay comes to grips with a selection of common, though sometimes baffling Dutch expressions.


The more I fine tune myself into the niceties of the Dutch language, the more I became aware of how locals use axioms and figures of speeches as ordinary ways of expressing a point in normal daily life conversations.

Here is a collection of some of the interesting pieces I have encountered in the few years I have lived here:

At the Dutch language school I went to, our sympathetic teacher was sensibly explaining to us the meaning of the saying, "De kat uit de boom kijken."

Literal translation: the cat watching from the tree.
Translation: a cautious person, someone who prefers to observe people first before initiating a conversation.

Teacher then asked us, one by one, if we fit this type of personality. My response was - it depends on my mood.

During a visit with the in-laws, Dutchman had to settle some money-related matters with the Dutch father. I overheard Dutch father-in-law saying to him, "Boter bij de vis." He later explained to me what it meant.

Literal translation: butter with the fish.
Translation: paying right away in cash.

Money affairs are of course typically Dutch.

I was goofing around one afternoon with a colleague. Let's just say that he didn't expect me to bite and pull his leg in return. He complained, "Heb je vandaag een klap van de molen gekregen?"

Huh, what do you mean?

Literal translation: were you struck by a windmill today?
Translation: a person is not being himself or herself today.

And, during a nice weekend afternoon tea at home while telling Dutch mother-in-law how cheaply I bought my flattering denim skirt that I was wearing, she said, "Ja, voor een appel en een ei, heh."

Literal translation: for an apple and an egg.
Translation: it's cheap, it doesn't cost much.

Ah well, the Dutch are a principled lot when it comes to stretching the value of their hard-earned money. If they can have an item or service for free, they jump on it quickly, without hesitation!

A friend of ours called to report some not-so-interesting new developments at his work, "Ik lach als een boer die kiespijn heeft."

Literal translation: laughing like a farmer with a toothache.
Translation: being forced to accept (or laugh at) an unwanted circumstance.

My sympathies...

"Soms moet je water bij de wijn doe," my ex-boss used to say to me during our meetings every two weeks.

Literal translation: mix water and wine
Translation: make a compromise

He was one of the few resolute auxiliaries who insisted I become fluent in the Dutch language; all efforts must begin at home, thus, no more speaking English with the Dutchman. Punt.

The father-in-law has finer tastes in fashion; he's got a good feeling for it. So when I am around he always checks out what I am wearing. When he sees me wearing my high-heels, he grins and says, "Wie mooi wil zijn, moet pijn lijden."

Literal translation: who wants to be beautiful must go through pain.
Translation: beauty has its costs.

Well, very true indeed. It's not always easy wearing high-heels in cobble stone Europe!

And here is my favorite saying of the country, "God schiep de aarde, de Hollanders schiepen Holland."

Literal translation: God made the earth, the Dutch made Holland.
Translation: the Dutch are known for its pioneering technology in water defense and land reclamation.

Here's an apt story about this...

When I was a kid, I read about the legend of the brave little Dutch boy called Hans Brinker. He allegedly saved his whole town from the devastating flood waters by inserting his finger into the small hole of the dike to stop the waters gushing through.

Since it's a typical Dutch story, I assumed my in-laws knew Hans Brinker. Upon giving my enthusiastic review of the tale, I was met with blank stares instead of hearing the familiar nods and "oh yes" from them. On a positive note, they welcomed the story with great interest.

I realized later that the brave little Dutch boy was just a figment of a creative imagination by a non-Dutch fiction writer. The story actually never existed in the Netherlands.

Click here to write to Expatica or go to Dutched Pinay's full blog.

22 May 2006

[Copyright Expatica 2006]

Subject: Dutched Pinay, Summer in Holland, Life in Holland

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