I lived in the Netherlands for a couple of years, and had a Dutch boyfriend for almost 4 years, so I know quite a bit about this quirky country and its unusual inhabitants (and I mean that in a good way). I’m going to share some pearls of wisdom about the Dutch and their country that I gleaned during my stay, and limit it to 10 because I could easily write 100 and bore you to death. Hope you enjoy.
1. Holland and the Netherlands are not synonymous. Holland is just one section of the Netherlands, largely the western coastal region, including Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Haarlem, Leiden and the Hague. However, other famous Dutch cities like Utrecht, Groningen, Maastricht, Den Bosch and Leeuwarden are *not* in Holland.
2. The Dutch love sprinkles on toast. I’m talking the sprinkles kids put on ice cream, but Dutch adults put it on bread. For breakfast. It’s called “hagelslag”, and De Ruijter makes the best kinds. Another variant, “muisjes” – little mice – are candied anise seeds; also delicious on buttered toast. You can get either pink, female, or blue, male, varieties. I’m not joking.
3. The Dutch will only eat one hot meal a day. If you arrive at a Dutch friend’s house around dinnertime, they might ask, “Heb je al warm gegeten?” which means “Have you eaten something hot already?” If you had a hot lunch, your friend will prepare a (cold) sandwich for you for dinner. You can not eat 2 hot meals per day.
4. Dutch “g” “ch” and “r” are all pronounced more or less the same (although the Dutch insist they’re different) – a harsh, guttural “kh” sound (like you’re clearing phlegm from your throat). So the word “gracht” (canal) combines all three “kh” sounds in one word…that sounds really, really awful: “khkhakht.” This is why “Grolsch” (the beer) sounds like “Khkhols”, not “grolsh”.
5. The Dutch love speaking English. See #4. Seriously, they all speak perfect, although heavily-accented, English. They will pronounce “idea” eye-DEE, and they will resist pronouncing it with 3 syllables in English, no matter how many times you correct them. On a related note, “I have no idea” is “geen idee”, which sounds a little like “rainy day” when pronounced correctly.
6. The Dutch loathe the Germans. Some pretend they don’t, some are openly proud of it, but they all look down on them. An example: I was walking along a beach (Schevengingen) with a Dutch guy, and we saw a guy furiously digging a hole in the sand. My Dutch friend sneered. I asked him why the guy was digging a hole. He said, “Because he’s a dumb German.” I pressed, but what for? Is he building a castle or something? “No, he’s just a stupid German! He can’t help it! The morons just love digging holes for no reason!”
Another story. A Norwegian friend flew down to Germany, rented a car there and drove to Rotterdam. He had parked on the street, and a cop approached him while he was in his car, and told him, in German, that he wasn’t allowed to park there and began writing him a ticket. When he looked at his driver’s license and saw he was Norwegian, he tore up the ticket, said, “Park wherever you want” and “Welcome to Holland!”, all in English.
7. The country is drenched with rain year round, but the Dutch never use umbrellas. They use raincoats and rain “suits”, but they never use umbrellas (too hard to ride your bicycle with one; plus, it’s *really* windy all the time). The Dutch will happily put up with wet faces and heads. The “wet look” is permanently “in” there.
Another oddity is no matter how much it rains and floods temporarily, all the water’s gone in about 20 minutes. I think it’s because the ground is mostly sand; the water just drains away. The cement blocks used as a road surface are taken out every few years, the sandy ground is pounded flat with this sand-pounding-machine (seriously) and then they replace the cement blocks.
8. The Dutch have strange snacking habits. They eat fries (what they’re famous for) but they’re often drenched in mayonnaise or pindasaus (basically spicy peanut butter). They also love frikandel (all the scary remnant parts of animals they can’t sell elsewhere, pressed into a vaguely hotdog shape, and then deep-fried until dark brown; yes, it looks like a piece of shit), kroketten (deep-fried lumps of dough wrapped around meat, that look like dried-up old turds), and cheese souffles, which are greasy but I have to admit, pretty damn tasty. The most famous purveyor of this junk is a chain called Febo; you buy everything out of an automat. They’re everywhere, especially inside train stations, and open late when you’re coming out of the clubs at 3am.
9. You heard about the Dutch using free bicycles provided by the government? Nope – that’s the Danish. The Dutch love using bicycles (called ‘fietsen’, pronounced FEETS-un), but in every city, theft is rife and you have to use 2-3 locks to prevent even a piece of shit bike from being stolen. This is why the average Dutch person doesn’t spend more than $50 for a bike – it’ll eventually get stolen. Junkies in the Amsterdam red light district will sell you a bike for 10 euros (25 guilders before the euro changeover), but be careful; if you buy one and a cop sees you, you go to jail.
There are specially-designated “fietspaden” (bike paths) all over the country, and pedestrians can not walk on them. If you hear a bell ringing–that’s how the Dutch tell people to get out of the way–then pay attention! You’re about to get mowed over.
10. The Dutch are not big potheads. Despite it being legal there (along with “magic mushrooms”), you almost never see a Dutch person getting high. You see TONS of foreigners – Brits, Americans, Germans, etc – smoking out in Dutch “coffee shops” (“coffee shop” means marijuana; “cafe” means coffee, so pay attention to what the establishment calls itself), but it’s pretty rare to see a Dutch person there. The legalization is tied to a very Dutch concept called “gedoogbeleid” which is difficult to translate but means permissiveness-because-there-are-bigger-fish-to-fry. The Dutch live below sea level, so they have plenty of dams & dikes keeping the water out. To relieve pressure on this system, a little water always trickles through – that’s okay as long as they can keep the floods out. This is often why the Dutch are said to not care about trivial drugs like marijuana and magic mushrooms – so they can focus on hard drugs like cocaine and meth (which are very much illegal).
There’s my list. Let me add something that I found in a tourist brochure given out at the Schiphol (SKHIP-hull, not Shiffol!) airport, which I think totally captures the Dutch attitude (I’m paraphrasing because I don’t have it here):
- Please keep in mind that not all of the women you see in the windows in the Red Light District are really women.
- If something bad happens to you, please find a policeman/policewoman and explain the situation to us. Please do not be embarrassed – we have really seen it all before. You couldn’t possibly shock us.