Skip to content


June 8, 2009
tags: ,

Living in a foreign country within our little ex-pat bubble can be very frustrating sometimes but, by the same token, it also has its funny moments. These can sometimes involve amusing episodes of mis-translations from the host country’s language which can quite inadvertently cause great hilarity. Dutch is a funny old language with lots of hawking and spitting and strange clearing-of-the-throat type action. If you are familiar with it, you’ll know this already but a first introduction to the language can be quite strange. I remember being surprised when I first came here that I was able to understand quite a lot of a review I started reading in a TV magazine. Husband looked at me in a startled hamster kind of way asking how on earth I knew what it said, wild imaginings of a secret past flitting through his mind no doubt but it all boiled down to the fact that I had studied German to A-Level and when written, there are lots of similarities between the two languages, not least of all the strange act of banishing the verb of a subordinate clause to the end of the sentence. Dutch does that too.

To the unaccustomed ear, however, the void between written and spoken Dutch is a veritable chasm. How could those jumbled letters possibly sound like that? And to guess at the pronunciation of words like graag gedaan (you’re welcome) or Kijkduin(beach resort) when you know that to pronounce the letter ‘g’ correctly you have to hawk a huge loogie and get tangled up with lots of phlegm can be daunting in the extreme. It puts a whole new spin on Flemish, which is actually the same language as Dutch, spoken less aggressively over the border by our Belgian neighbours.

Husband had come over to Holland a week before Thirteen (then Two) and me and we had followed once a place for us to live had been chosen. During my first week, he had taken us out for our first foray into ‘Royal The Hague’ as they like to call it here as (and there’s a big clue in the name) this is where the Royal Family is based. I remember being shocked to the core when I saw a sign in the window of a shop on this first outing that said ‘ U kunt hier pinnen en chippen.’ (You can pay by pin or chip here). Actually, the somewhat shocking nature of THAT word is a bit of a running theme in this post. U kunt means ‘ you can’ but, of course, it is only amusing when seen written down as it is pronounced ‘Oo koont.’ I suppose you could convince yourself it sounds a bit like a tipsy northerner arguing with his girlfriend. On the other hand, hysterically funny for its pronunciation rather than its spelling is the word for lace. A recently arrived Australian friend who was trying very hard to learn the lingo wanted to buy a cardigan with lace edging she had seen in a shop the previous week. She returned to same shop and asked in English for said article. ‘How do you say lace in Dutch?’ she innocently asked the assistant. ‘C*nt,’ came the reply. Stunned silence for a few seconds whilst friend computes that she has not in fact just been sworn at. The word is actually spelt ‘kant’ but pronounced the other way, unlike ‘kunt’ which phonetically is spelt the same but pronounced differently. Confused yet? Even funnier and heart-stoppingly shocking is the Dutch word for cot, which tops the word for lace. It’s written ‘ledikant’ but I was reeling on another occasion when same Ozzie friend took her newborn out of my arms and said it was time for her to go back in the lady c*nt.. Honestly, I kid you not, that is how it is pronounced.  I had to ask her Dutch husband to say it for me just to make sure.

After we had been here around 6 months we moved to a house a short distance from our first flat. Almost the entire street was owned by the same landlord, Henk, who was an affable scoundrel with an extremely hard-working and reliable ‘handyman’ as they like to call them here (pronounced ‘hendymen’), called Sunny. I don’t know how he spelt his name, but that’s how it was pronounced. One day, I had left the house to go out on an errand. Two was strapped into her car seat in the back and I had just clicked my own seat belt in place when there was a tapping on my window. It was Sunny in an obvious state of agitation. I wound the window down and waited for him to speak. ‘Have you got any panties?’ was his startling question. ‘ Umm.. well, I’m not sure. I… um…what for?’ ‘Have you got any panties you could give me? I need them for in my van,’ came the unexpected reply. In a somewhat confused and bemused state, I said I was sorry I could not help and drove away. What on earth did he want a pair of my knickers for? And more to the point, what did he want with them in the back of his van? He had always seemed like such a decent bloke – how could he so brazenly ask me for my undies out on the street?. I wondered whether Henk was in on the action and what it was all about and then I got distracted and forgot about it until later, when I retold the story to Husband, tears of laughter pouring down my face as I was suddenly struck by the farcical situation. It transpired later, of course, that panties is the word used in Dutch for tights and poor Sunny wanted nothing more than to fix his van with an impromptu fan belt. Silly me. I should have known!

A characteristic of the Dutch accent when speaking English is their pronunciation of the letter ‘s’. You may have noticed (and Paul Whitehouse & Harry Enfield definitely have, as their accents in the Fast Show Amsterdam Police sketches demonstrate) they do go a bit slushy-shushy. The Dutch use the English word ‘Success’ to wish each other luck, only they pronounce it ‘Shookshesh’. A great example of this loose-dentured business with the letter S was with one of my former yoga teachers, the lovely Pieter, who was forever hitching up his dinky little shorts in order to give a physical demonstration (and a quick flash of toned buttock) whilst instructing us to ‘Shit on your shitting bonesh and do it nishely.’

Hmm…. come to mention it, I’m not too sure I’d really want to do that, even if I did know how!

9 Comments leave one →
  1. June 8, 2009 5:36 pm

    I’m shitting here laughing myself shick.
    ladyc*nt? I don’t believe you! NEver heard anything like it on any visit to Holland I ever had, but recalling that all my visits to that fair country had herbal focus and were pre-child. Now going all nostalgic and slightly resentful…
    Back later xo

  2. June 8, 2009 5:48 pm

    funny F$%IN stuff me-lady…like the part about the angry Northerner of course…save this stuff and make a book, and a buck! who knew there was so much of a focus on women’s bits and bobs where you live – no wonder you’re still there. thanks for sharing hunny.

    • purplejake permalink*
      June 9, 2009 7:26 pm

      KFGLH: …And thanks for visiting, sweetie pops.

  3. June 9, 2009 6:42 am

    Hilarious! Laughing out loud!

    • purplejake permalink*
      June 9, 2009 7:29 pm

      Becky: Thanks for that – I hope it set you up for the day!

  4. June 9, 2009 10:43 am

    I can totally relate. I’m convinced the Dutch have horse in their linguistic DNA. I come from the other side of the world, and on my first visit to Holland became very confused because people were snorting, neighing and hawking so much. I mistakenly thought they were all shnorting at me. No one at the hotel (HOE’tl) understood that I wanted to buy some goo-dah cheese at first until a very large man proclaimed loudly to the entire lobby, “Ach, gHOTferdomme, she wantsh shom (hawking) gHOW-dah!” Ducking flying spit, I nodded yes. Although that was many visits ago, I still find it entertaining to hear someone speak as if he was rolling a hot potato on his tongue.

    So glad to have found your blog!

    • purplejake permalink*
      June 9, 2009 7:42 pm

      Megatonlove: And I’m so glad you visited! You’re on the blogroll. I covet those glass jelly dishes you snapped up at the rommel market (neuzelbeurs here, I think, and it’s all overpriced tat). I might have to make a trip over to Belgium soon and actually stop to have a look around. We only ever use it as a place to go through to get to France – how awful is that to admit to?! Antwerp is on my To Do list….. I hear the shopping’s fab.

  5. lidia serras permalink
    June 16, 2009 11:56 am

    Dear! it´s lovely to read your nice texts about the dutch life! it even makes me feel a bit nostalgic about my times in BB The Hague! keep the pace…

    • purplejake permalink*
      June 16, 2009 12:24 pm

      Lidia: I’m so glad you stopped by. I hope you’ll be a regular visitor and then it’ll seem like we’re just around the corner from each other! xx

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: