Home About the Netherlands Culture & History Xenophobe’s® Guides: Dutch sense of humour
Last update on March 08, 2019
Written by Xenophobe's® Guides

The Dutch delight in mishap and mayhem – feel free to join in!

Xenophobe’s® Guides: A book series that highlights the unique character and behaviour of different nations with insight and humour. 

Humour in the Netherlands

The Dutch sense of humour relishes mishap and mayhem, rather than verbal acrobatics. Someone falling through his chair on to the floor will get a bigger laugh than the bravest pun. Uncle Theo disappearing and coming back in Aunt Miep’s frock goes down a great deal better than attempts at witty banter around the dinner table. Running through all this knockabout jollity is a tough, cruel streak. A good dollop of suffering and humiliation will have a Dutch audience on its knees with mirth. Despite their disdain for most things German, the Dutch revel in Schadenfreude.

 

Xenophobe's® Guides: Sense of humour
A whiff of naughtiness and the violation of the odd taboo are also common ingredients for a good laugh. If they weren’t so wary of being politically incorrect, the Dutch would adore Benny Hill. Many secretly do.

Topsy turvy social values

The more refined brands of Dutch humour are dry, and delight in absurdity and in turning social values topsy turvy. At times this becomes a gentle national whimsy, of the sort that results in city councils havingtrams covered in cartoons and bright designs, but there are strains of this humour that can leave the foreigner nonplussed: ‘Good God!’ cries a nouveau riche, eyeing his hostess’s cocktail frock and bringing party conversation to a halt: ‘What a fine fabric. It would make a wonderful dress!’

Dutch people are too frank to dabble in irony. They will take what you say at face value and interpret your carefully honed ironies as error, insult or sarcasm. But they do share with the English an ability to laugh at themselves – ‘How was copper wire invented?’ ‘By two Dutchmen fighting over a stuiver [a copper 5c piece]’.

 

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