How Dutch are you really? Here are nine things foreigners should learn about the Netherlands – from a Dutch perspective.
Foreigners from outside the Netherlands who want to live here are sometimes required to take a so-called ‘Inburgeringscursus‘ (a state exam in which you learn about Dutch culture and habits). It teaches you (rubbish) things such as how to open a bank account, dealing with situations where both parents are unable to care for their child or how to respond to a coffee invitation from your new neighbours (does that ever happen?). It also teaches some useful things, such as basic Dutch, but most foreigners after taking the Inburgeringscursus still know nothing about popular comics, bedtime stories we grew up with, or typical Dutch life hacks. We’re here to change that.
1. Spike and Suzy, the most popular foreign comic
Nowhere outside its original country Belgium are Spike and Suzy more popular than in the Netherlands. The comic series is so popular that Willy Vandersteen, the original drawer of the comics, changed several things to make them suitable for the Dutch market. For example, the characters Spike and Suzy originally spoke Antwerp dialect, which was changed into standard Dutch, and the Dutch name for Muffin – Schanulleke – was originally Schalulleke, which was considered inappropriate for the Netherlands as ‘lul’ is considered vulgar by Dutch speakers here (but apparently not in Belgium). Spike and Suzy albums are widely available in Dutch (as ‘Suske en Wiske‘) but also in Frisian and English.
2. Avoid Dutch TV if you get offended by ‘the F-word’
The Dutch love to swear, in both Dutch and English, not only on the streets but for almost any occasion – and even on television, which is perfectly legal at any time of the day. Though you won’t come across any strong language in children’s programmes, your child only needs to flip to any other channel and they might learn some new Dutch or English words that the Pope would never use. Even English-spoken programmes on Salto or ThreeNL are, for that matter, clearly Dutch programmes, which would never be allowed on American television unless with some annoying beep every now and then.
3. Complaining like the Dutch
We Dutch people love to complain – about everything. The weather, the government, everything. And we love to show empathy to those who complain. Do it, it will be appreciated.
“It’s raining again.” “Yes, our climate is the worst.”
“This traffic here, it’s always stuck at this point!” “Yes, they should really fix that!”
“Peanut butter sandwiches again. I hate peanut butter sandwiches.” “Well, you should ask your wife to put something else on it.” “I don’t have a wife, I always prepare my sandwiches myself.”
You’d have to be a bit more creative in thinking of a supportive answer for that last one. Although you could try complaining about his stupidity, and he still might show empathy to you.
If you’re looking for some more examples of complaints, the Facebook pages of NS and PostNL are some good places to go. Scroll through the responses from the audience; you’ll stumble upon English complaints quick enough. They’re also very good to practise your own complaining.
4. Jip and Janneke, the bedtime story for all Dutch children
There’s a 99.9 percent chance that if you’re Dutch you know Jip and Janneke. Two little black kids from an unknown village near Amsterdam have their own little adventures, such as meeting a goat in the field, riding a big rice-pudding dog, and looking for Easter eggs in the garden. They were written by the late Annie MG Schmidt as bedtime stories for toddlers, but they became so popular that even Hema is still selling Jip and Janneke merchandise, more than 50 years after the first stories were published! You really have to listen to a story yourself:
5. Basic Frisian and basic Papiamento
The inburgeringscursus teaches you basic Dutch but that can be useless in certain areas. After all, for example on St. Eustatius and Saba, the main spoken language is English. But naturally they are not going to teach that in the inburgeringscursus. However, for Friesland and Bonaire, Frisian and Papiamento would be most convenient. Let’s have a run through the very basic things:
|How are you?||Hoe giet it mei dyn?||Conta bai cu ‘bo?|
|I like you||Ik fynsto aardich||Ami gusta ‘bo|
|Get lost!||Let my mei rêst!||Bai fe djaki!|
6. Dutch festivals
We try to help foreigners by placing upcoming large festivals on our tourism page, but it wouldn’t cause harm if newcomers learned about Pinkpop, Lowlands, Oerol and Parkpop. These festivals attract tens of thousands of people each year. Music lovers can camp at the festival Pinkpop or head to the free, one-day festival Parkpop, while Lowlands (officially ‘A Campingflight to Lowlands Paradise’) offers far more than music alone with four stages, a cinema, a theatre and an open stage for jam sessions. Oerol is of a completely different nature, focusing on (visual) arts, poetry and theatre. If you like it on a smaller scale? Virtually every city has its own festivals, mostly free.
7. English will be spoken more to you than Dutch
Most foreigners generally discover on day one in the Netherlands that English is widely spoken all over the country. Many expats in the Netherlands, however, complain that English is spoken too often so that even when they speak Dutch, they get replies in English. This of course makes it difficult for them to learn Dutch, and ultimately leads them to think we do it just to tease them.
Now naturally, that’s not true. First of all, English is an official regional language. But even outside these regions, English has been widely spoken in the Netherlands for centuries. It’s part of the Dutch culture. Even for those Dutch whose English is far from perfect, it comes more or less natural to speak English to foreigners. One might even consider that speaking Dutch to foreigners creates an uncomfortable feeling among the Dutch. One word of advice: never say, “Let’s speak Dutch, because my Dutch is better than your English.” That would be rude. Rather, say that you appreciate the effort but you prefer to speak Dutch – or just accept that the person you’re talking with prefers to speak English.
8. Internet is an absolute necessity
This might sound strange to point out to a Dutch person because it’s just so normal to us – but this isn’t the case in many other countries. The Netherlands is in the world’s top 10 for having the highest internet coverage; in 2013, almost 95 percent of the Dutch population had internet access, which was higher than neighbouring countries (UK 90 percent, Germany 84 percent and Belgium 82 percent) and higher than some countries one would expect to be top of the list, such as the US (84 percent). But many foreigners who come to the Netherlands come from countries with rather low internet density, such as Morocco (56 percent) and Turkey (46 percent).
It can come as a surprise that for many situations – such as opening a bank account, applying for welfare or buying a train subscription – here in the Netherlands we don’t have to visit some service desk but can apply for it online – and in some cases, online can be the only option. Many internet service providers even require you to sign up for their services using a form on their website. Without internet access, you’re lost in the Netherlands.
9. Exaggeration is key
This is actually only for Holland (assuming that the inburgeringscursus at least taught you the difference between Holland and the Netherlands). Hollanders love to exaggerate. It’s the Holland humour. The tram isn’t just late, you had to wait forever (which is anything greater than three minutes). That wasn’t just a car crash, it was the most spectacular crash you have ever seen (and remarkable enough, there was just a tiny scratch on the bumper). And don’t forget the usage of the word ‘literally’. Not only did I cut myself shaving badly, I literally bled to death. (Which is why this blog post suddenly ends here.)
Thumbnail credit: Ann Marie Michaels (herring).