Midnight Rambler Explains Dutch Stuff:

Total posts: [231]
1 2 3 4 5 6 ... 10
Ich bin nicht schuld! 's ist Gottes Plan!
I love my country!
I love explaining stuff to people!
I love my fellow tropers!

So, I thought it would be mighty fun to explain stuff about my country to my fellow tropers. Which is what I will do here. I posted this in OTC because I don't want this thread to be overrun by ponies and/or personal in-jokes, which seems to happen to just about every thread in Yack Fest...

Anyway, I already made a Useful Notes page about the bizarre phenomenon of Pillarisation, as well as a page for the classical Dutch novel, Max Havelaar. And then there's these three posts in the "European political attitudes" thread, in which I deliver a long, somewhat biased, but hopefully interesting lecture on the Dutch political scene.

I also intend to make Useful Notes pages for our educational and political systems, when I get round to it. In the meantime, there's this thread, in which I will shed some light on various little quirks of our language, culture and society. So stay tuned for the first episode of MR:EDS!

edited 5th Feb '12 3:53:02 PM by BestOf

Ich bin nicht schuld! 's ist Gottes Plan!


Ep. 1 – It Giet Oan! The Dutch and Ice Skating

As I write, the outside temperature in most places in the Netherlands is below (or perhaps just above) freezing point. This is a rare occurence; it varies slightly depending on where in the country you are, but generally speaking, we're lucky if we have two weeks of frost a year. That's a temperate climate for ya...

Anyway, we treasure these short periods of wintry weather. They allow us to practise one of our national hobbies: ice skating. Our fondness for ice skating is much Older Than Steam, dating back at least to the Dutch Golden Age, as seen in the paintings of Hendrick Avercamp.

Wherever you are in the Netherlands, you're never far from a small body of water – and after a few days of frost, these bodies of water turn into tiny public parks. People of all ages and backgrounds go out onto the ice to skate, play, and generally have a good time. There are fanatical sportsmen who skate lap after lap, but also people who are just fooling around with or without skates on. Some children will play a basic form of ice hockey, the same way they play football/soccer in the park in summer. It's quite beautiful to see a frozen-over singel * full of people; in an age of ever-increasing commercialisation and professionalisation, ice skating is one of the last truly public, spontaneous forms of entertainment. Nobody owns the ice. There is nothing to organise and nothing to sponsor. There are no rules, and no security guards to throw you off the ice if you break them. There are no forms to fill in, entrance fees to pay, or lines to wait in. You just go out onto the ice and enjoy yourself.


Besides this innocent public recreation, there are quite a few serious skating races that are held on rivers and small lakes. And whenever the temperature is below freezing point for a few days in a row, the first question that enters the minds of many Dutchmen is: 'Will we have an Eleven Cities Tour this year?'

The Eleven Cities Tour (Elfstedentocht in Dutch; Alvestκdetocht in Frisian) is a 200-kilometre skating tour between eleven cities in the Dutch province of Frisia (Friesland, Fryslβn). The Tour is only held when the "Eleven Cities Committee", which organises it, thinks the ice along the entire course is strong enough to support the thousands of skaters who will take part. There have been fifteen Tours so far – the first in 1909, the last in 1997.

It giet oan! is a Frisian Catch Phrase * that roughly translates to 'It's going to happen!' or 'We're going through with it!' It is one of several phrases that have historically been used to announce the "Tour of Tours" (Dutch: Tocht der Tochten), as it is often called.

And the last few days, everyone has been spouting that phrase gratuitously. The slightest chance of a Tour means that for a week or so, you'll hear about nothing else in the media or in casual conversation. Massacres in Syria? Chaos in Greece? Twelve-digit sums of money being thrown around in a desperate attempt to save the Euro as a currency? Boring! All we're really interested in is whether the ice near this-and-this village is thick enough yet.

Many people (especially in the intelligentsia) scoff at this Elfstedenkoorts ('Eleven Cities Fever') and at the provincialism and kitschy nostalgia associated with it - but secretly, they're hoping for a Tour just like everyone else. Anyway, tonight, the Eleven Cities Committee announced that they're not going to cry It giet oan! any time soon. Better luck next year!

Oh, and there are some interesting Dutch expressions related to ice skating, such as zich op glad ijs wagen – 'to (dare to) go onto slippery ice'. This roughly means 'to enter or start a discussion on a topic about which you know very little'. Its polar opposite is beslagen ten ijs komen – 'to go onto the ice well-equipped'. This means that you are well prepared for whatever it is you're doing or discussing. It usually refers to knowledge and training, rarely to physical equipment.

Then there's het kan vriezen of het kan dooien – 'it may freeze or it may thaw', as in 'the temperature may be below or above zero degrees Celsius'. This is said of things that vary more or less randomly and are hard to predict, often with an undertone of 'don't worry about it too much'.

Een scheve schaats rijden – 'to skate on a crooked skate' – refers to scandalous behaviour, usually sexual in nature. Note that this is a rather mild expression: it's appropriate to say this about a businessman who has an affair with his much younger secretary, but you definitely don't say it about a rapist or a paedophile.

We also have a specific word for a hole (or a dangerously thin spot) in the ice: wak. Falling into a wak will lead to soaked clothes if you're lucky and a horrible death if you're unlucky. So watch where you skate, if you want to be around for the next episode of MR:EDS!

edited 9th Feb '12 6:54:26 AM by MidnightRambler

3 TamH709th Feb 2012 06:11:37 AM , Relationship Status: Faithful to 2D
Nice. Keep going, I never knew a tenth of that stuff.
4 Euodiachloris9th Feb 2012 06:19:37 PM , Relationship Status: Is that a kind of food?
Where, oh where, were oliebollen on that list of God's own creations? Although, I call 'em vetkoek, myself. And crave them fresh and hot stuffed with mutton or beef curry and a carton of guava juice... <drools> LEKKER!

For those who don't know: here.

If you think you know how to use pancake mix — the Netherlands beat you to it centuries ago.

edited 9th Feb '12 6:23:27 PM by Euodiachloris

Ich bin nicht schuld! 's ist Gottes Plan!
[up] Yeah, pancakes were mentioned in my history book at school as one of the principal Dutch meals in the 17th century.

Anyway, what you're talking about is more a South African thing... I've never heard of these "curry bunnies". As for oliebollen (oil balls), they're simply deep-fried balls of dough, often with raisins in them. In the Netherlands, they're sold during the months of November and December, and are particularly associated with New Year's Eve. These deliciously greasy snacks are usually eaten with iced sugar on top.

edited 10th Feb '12 7:30:44 AM by MidnightRambler

6 Balmung10th Feb 2012 07:40:31 AM from Omaha, NE, Free American Empire , Relationship Status: GAR for Archer
Break the Chains
Sounds similar to doughnut holes.

edited 10th Feb '12 7:40:38 AM by Balmung

7 Euodiachloris10th Feb 2012 12:14:55 PM , Relationship Status: Is that a kind of food?
Sorry, I wasn't very clear. (I'm good at that, unfortunately). I should have said that oliebollen and/or vetkoek come in sweet and savoury.

Another South African standardisation is the famous sugar-and-cinnamon vetkoek, as well as the aforementioned raisoned-beyond-reason style. There's also the Bar One (Mars Bar) vetkoek - does what it says on the tin. Or the equally famous whatever-leftovers-need-eating-up vetkoek.

In short: it's up to you what you put in it. I just happen to crave the curry bunny style. grin

And, yes — they are a bit like a doughnut. If you do some squinting.

[down] Modern Dutch oliebollen, yes, do come only in sweet. But, not historically — they did come in both. South Africa kept that. Sorry. Again, I wasn't clear.

edited 10th Feb '12 12:28:56 PM by Euodiachloris

Ich bin nicht schuld! 's ist Gottes Plan!
Sorry, I wasn't very clear. (I'm good at that, unfortunately). I should have said that oliebollen and/or vetkoek come in sweet and savoury.

Again, that's South African, not Dutch. In the Netherlands, the savoury variety is unheard of, as is the name vetkoek.
9 Balmung10th Feb 2012 12:28:46 PM from Omaha, NE, Free American Empire , Relationship Status: GAR for Archer
Break the Chains
[up][up]Well, I did say doughnut holes for a reason (doughnut holes (I'm working on the assumption that doughnut holes aren't terribly common outside of the US) are also balls of fried dough that are also usually coated insome form of sugar, so I imagine they'd look more similar than regular dughnuts).

edited 10th Feb '12 12:29:40 PM by Balmung

10 Euodiachloris10th Feb 2012 12:34:14 PM , Relationship Status: Is that a kind of food?
Willing to bet they come from the same roots as New York, eh? Whoops — should have said New Amsterdam. wink

edited 10th Feb '12 12:34:36 PM by Euodiachloris

Ich bin nicht schuld! 's ist Gottes Plan!


Ep. 2 – Protocol Peril: Forms of Address

The Dutch people have a long-standing and well-deserved reputation for not caring very much about formality or politeness. Nonetheless, Dutch, like most European languages, has two forms of the pronoun 'you' denoting different levels of formality. In French, it's tu and vous; in German, it's du and Sie; and in Dutch, it's jij and u.

So when do you use which form? The rule of thumb is simple: jij is for people with whom you're on a first-name basis, and u for people with whom you're on a last-name basis and for strangers. Children are never called u; teens sometimes are by young children who mistake them for adults. Adolescents (as in 18-25) are somewhat of a gray area; they're usually called jij by strangers, but sometimes u, depending on the context and on the attitude (and age) of the person addressing them. Either way, don't expect anyone to call you by your last name until you're in your late twenties.

For relatives, it varies from family to family. Anyone in your generation (siblings, cousins) or lower (children, nephews, nieces...) is always jij. It's with those above you in the family tree (parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles...) that it really gets interesting. Most Dutch children will call their parents jij, but some who were raised more conservatively may use u. And then there are those who call their parents jij but their grandparents u... To illustrate how this can vary, I address my grandmother (and all my other relatives) as jij, but my cousins call her u. Apparently, my aunt has different ideas on proper forms of address than my dad. Grandma herself doesn't care, by the way.

Dutch people speaking German may sometimes come across as impolite, because German often uses the formal Sie in situations where jij would be used in Dutch.

Now, u is an easy pronoun to learn: it's the same no matter how it's used, or whether it's singular or plural. (The associated possessive pronoun is uw). Jij is... a bit more complicated.

You know how English personal pronouns have different forms depending on their role in a sentence? There's 'I' and 'me', 'he' and 'him', 'she' and 'her', 'we' and 'us', 'they' and 'them'... the odd man out is 'you', which remains 'you' no matter how you use it. In Dutch, jij does have a second form, jou:

Jij sloeg Willem. – You hit William.
Willem sloeg jou. – William hit you.

The possessive pronoun is jouw. And here's the catch: jij, jou and jouw all have the same "shortened" form, je. Needless to say, this can be very confusing because you can't tell which of the three it is. The general rule is that you always use je unless you want to emphasise that you're referring specifically to the person you're talking to:

Je doet het geweldig. – You're doing a great job.
Jij doet het geweldig. – You're doing a great job. (subtext: it's not your fault things are going downhill)

Er is post voor je. – There's mail for you.
Er is post voor jou. – There's mail for you. (subtext: of all people!)

Hoe is het met je vrouw? – How is your wife doing?
Hoe is het met jouw vrouw? – How is your wife doing? (subtext: we've just talked about mine)

These are only a few examples, and the subtext, of course, depends heavily on context, but you get the idea. Using jij, jou or jouw where you should use je will make your Dutch sound very stilted and clumsy. Oh, and jij, jou, jouw and je are singular only. The plural form of all four is jullie.

Moving on from the horrible, inconsistent mess of Dutch personal pronouns...

Like French, Dutch has no separate forms for addressing someone with or without his name: if you're talking to meneer Jansen (Mr. Johnson), you call him meneer (sir). The female version is mevrouw. Meneer and mevrouw are also used as polite words for 'man' and 'woman' when you're talking to a child – compare English 'lady':

Vraag het maar aan die mevrouw daar. – Go ask that lady over there.
Morgen komt er een meneer van het elektriciteitsbedrijf. – A man from the power company will come over tomorrow.

A more formal form of meneer is de heer ('the gentleman'); this form is only used to refer to someone, not to address them. 'Dear Sir/Madam...' translates as Geachte heer, mevrouw...; 'ladies and gentlemen' is dames en heren.

In writing, the abbreviations dhr. and mevr. or mw. are often used:

dhr. Jansen -> de heer Jansen -> meneer Jansen -> Mr. Johnson
mevr. Jansen -> mevrouw Jansen -> Ms. Johnson
mw. Jansen -> mevrouw Jansen -> Ms. Johnson

The dimunitive forms meneertje and mevrouwtje ('little mister', 'little madam') are informal and very condescending. Calling someone meneertje roughly says, 'I'm not taking you seriously because you're much less important than you think you are'; mevrouwtje says, 'I'm not taking you seriously because you're a woman.' Meneertje is appropriate (if somewhat old-fashioned) when talking to a Bratty Half-Pint; when talking to an adult, it will come off as a crude attempt to sound intimidating. Mevrouwtje is never appropriate because of its sexist connotations.

There is no such thing as Ma'am Shock in the Netherlands; although officially, we do still have a separate form of address for unmarried women (juffrouw), it is very archaic, and using it will immediately mark you as behind the times (about five to six decades behind, to be specific), eccentric or, in some contexts, rude. Contrast this with French mademoiselle and English 'miss', which are still widely used to refer to young and/or unmarried women.

Juffrouw survives, however, as the inofficial title for female primary-school teachers; when used this way, it is often shortened to juf. Its Spear Counterpart is meester ('master'). In primary school, you call the teacher by their first name. Thus, a woman named Iris Bakker will be called juf Iris if she's a primary-school teacher, and mevrouw Bakker if she's a secondary-school teacher. For her brother Hans, this would be meester Hans and meneer Bakker, respectively.

Oh, and we never use academic titles unless they're relevant to the matter at hand, and even then we use them sparingly. University students will address their teachers as meneer and mevrouw rather than by their academic titles; an exception is sometimes (emphasis on "sometimes") made for professor, but never for the "lesser" titles like doctor (PhD) or doctorandus (MSc/MA).

Well, dames en heren, that's all for tonight. Stay tuned for the third episode of MR:EDS!

edited 18th Jan '13 10:10:22 AM by MidnightRambler

Ich bin nicht schuld! 's ist Gottes Plan!
NOTICE: As I'm very busy with other stuff this week, it may take some time before the next episode of MR:EDS gets up. I've got spring break next week, though, so then I'll have plenty of time to explain more things about my lovely little country!

edited 21st Feb '12 10:38:58 AM by MidnightRambler

Ich bin nicht schuld! 's ist Gottes Plan!


Ep. 3 – Go and Contract Tuberculosis! Dutch Profanity

Dutch people swear. A lot. We're quite relaxed about it, too; Sound Effect Bleeps are unheard of in our country, and we never use those f**kin ast*r*sks, either.

One peculiar thing about Dutch profanity is the phenomenon of 'swearing with diseases' (schelden met ziektes). The names of many diseases – often infectious ones which wroke havoc upon the land in earlier ages – are commonly used as swear words. Some of the most common ones are:

pokken – Smallpox
pest – Black Death
tyfus – Umbrella term for typhus, typhoid fever and paratyphoid fever
klere – Cholera, but only when used as a swear word; when actually talking about the disease, it's simply cholera.
tering – Tuberculosis, but only when used as a swear word; when actually talking about the disease, it's tuberculose or just tbc.

A special place is reserved for kanker (cancer). A good rule to follow when speaking Dutch is to NEVER say this unless you're actually talking about the disease. Kanker is the only swear word Dutch people do get squeamish about (unless they're religious – more about that later); more sensitive people might genuinely be offended, especially if they've lost loved ones to cancer, and the rest of us will just consider it a sign of extremely bad manners. Seriously, don't do it.

Anyway, let's look at the many colourful ways in which the Dutch can swear with a disease. We'll take tyfus as an example:

Expletive: Tyfus!
English equivalent: 'Shit!'

Insult: Tyfuslijer! – 'Typhus sufferer!'
English equivalent: 'Asshole!'
Note that 'typhus sufferer' would properly be spelled tyfuslijder – the D is dropped out in informal speech.

Dismissal: Krijg de tyfus! – 'Go and contract typhus!'
English equivalent: 'Go to hell!'

Prefix: Wat een tyfusweer! – 'What a typhus-weather!'
English equivalent: 'Fucking terrible weather!'
Note that when used as a prefix, a disease can also "amplify" other swear words – for example, mongool (retard) can become tyfusmongool or teringmongool if you're really, really angry with the person on the receiving end.

Another all-purpose cuss word is kut (cunt). We use it as a low-grade expletive all the time, as a prefix, and as an adjective: where English speakers would say that something 'sucks', we say that it is kut. As the Country Matters article duly notes:

In the Dutch language, in particular, it's considered mostly harmless: you're having a cunt day when there's cunt weather outside and the cunt dog ate your cunt homework, which is, as the Dutch say with heartfelt compassion, "cunt for you".
Also, like any European language, Dutch has a lot of religious profanity. This is known as vloeken (cursing); interestingly, there is a Bond tegen het Vloeken (Anti-Cursing League), mostly consisting of orthodox Protestants, which campaigns against religiously-inspired swearing. They're mostly seen as a harmless curiosity, but what is intriguing (and a little scary) about them is their huge budget: their billboards appear in railway stations and other prominent locations all the time.

Anyway, we have a direct equivalent to the English phrase 'God damn it': godverdomme. This is a shortened version of God verdoem mij, which translates to 'God doom me', but nobody ever uses this "full" version. Quite the contrary, godverdomme is often shortened further to verdomme or godver.

Godver, interestingly, can be glued to other swear words using the suffix -de-: thus, we get such gems as godverdetyfus and godverdekut. It is not unheard of for a really angry Dutchman to create an infinite loop of godverdegodverdegodverdegodver.

Godverdomme and godver are both quite heavy expletives, to be used with care; verdomme is somewhat lighter, but not all that much. Over the centuries, we've been very creative with Gosh Darn It to Heck! versions of godverdomme: we have verdorie, verdulleme, and a hundred other varieties with which I won't tire you. One interesting note, though, is that gedverdemme, gadverdamme, gedver and gadver, which also started out as Gosh Darn It to Heck! varieties of godverdomme, now mean 'Ew!' or 'Yuck!'

Oh, and then there's godsammekrake, usually shortened to godsamme – this comes from God zal mij kraken ('God will crack me'). Godsamme is considered a lighter alternative to godverdomme. And that's not the end of our "sacred profanity", of course: we have many other religious expletives, including godallemachtig (from God almachtig – 'God almighty') and Jezus Christus (take a wild guess).

On a final note, English expletives like 'fuck' and 'shit', which have been adopted into Dutch, are considered much less "heavy" in Dutch than in English. So if you're wondering why your Dutch friend is swearing like a sailor, he probably Did Not Do the Bloody Research and doesn't grasp the weight of these expletives in their native language (I learned this the hard way when on holiday in Canada at age 14).

Jezus, this tering-article is already finished again! There will be another MR:EDS somewhere in the foreseeable future, but I can't tell exactly when, so I won't ask you to "stay tuned" this time. When that time comes, this thread will pop to the top of OTC anyway.

edited 4th Jun '12 6:39:25 AM by MidnightRambler

14 MidnightRambler5th May 2012 06:16:25 AM from Germania Inferior
Ich bin nicht schuld! 's ist Gottes Plan!


Ep. 4 – Don't Mention the War! The Netherlands and World War II

Today is Liberation Day, so I thought I'd do an episode on World War II, how it affected our country and how we commemorate it.

First, the basics: the Netherlands were invaded by German forces in the early morning of May 10, 1940. The country was overrun within five days, and remained under German occupation until shortly before the end of the war. Queen Wilhelmina and her ministers went into exile in London. In 1942, the Dutch East Indies were seized by the Japanese, who controlled them until the end of the war.

I shall explain the rest by means of an alphabetical list of key concepts; for each term, I shall provide a literal translation as well as an explanation and context. Feel free to casually browse this list.

  • der Arbeitseinsatz (German) – 'the use of labour'. An euphemism for forced labour in Germany. Many German men had gone into the army, and the war industry badly needed workers. The British and Americans solved this problem by encouraging women to work in the factories; Nazi Germany relied largely on slave labour. Jews and other "undesirables" (homosexuals, leftists, gypsies...) were often used for this; their labour doubled as a way of killing them by exhaustion. However, random citizens from the occupied countries – including the Netherlands – were also brought to Germany for this purpose, first by false promises, later by brute force. Conditions in the German factories grew increasingly abysmal as the war dragged on; fear of the Arbeitseinsatz drove many Dutchmen into hiding (see onderduikers and razzia's below).
  • de bevrijding – 'the liberation'. This word almost always refers to the liberation of the Netherlands from German occupation. The date most associated with 'the liberation' is May 5, 1945, when what remained of the Wehrmacht in the Netherlands, Denmark and northwest Germany capitulated to the British Army. However, some parts of the Netherlands – in particular the southern provinces, which lay on the "west" side of the Rhine – had already been liberated months before. Nonetheless, the 5th of May is celebrated annually as...
  • Bevrijdingsdag – 'Liberation Day'. The closest thing we have to a national celebration (Queen's Day, April 30, being a close second). One of the rare occasions when it is considered proper to fly the national flag. Also, it's a good excuse to throw some parties: the many 'Liberation Festivals' across the country draw several hundred thousand visitors each year.
  • bijltjesdag – literally 'day of little axes'; this is a reference to an obscure piece of 18th-century history I won't bother you with. The word bijltjesdag refers to any period of chaotic, violent acts of revenge against former oppressors shortly after regime change. In practice, however, it usually refers specifically to this phenomenon as it occurred in the Netherlands at the end of WW2. Former NSB members (see below) were publicly humiliated in several creative ways; girls who had (or were suspected to have) slept with German soldiers were shaved bald, paraded through the streets, and called moffenhoer ('whore of the Huns'). I have seen footage of these humiliations, and it's not pretty. What's even less pretty is that Dutch citizens imprisoned many real or suspected collaborateurs without trial in makeshift concentration camps, where robbery, beatings, manslaughter and sometimes even rape were quite common.
  • het bombardement op Rotterdam – 'the bombing of Rotterdam'. During the first days of war in our country, German commanders tried to pressure the Dutch army into surrendering quickly by threatening to bomb Rotterdam, the second-largest city in the Netherlands. The Dutch high command eventually gave in and surrendered, but the bombers were already in the air. One wing of bombers saw the 'abort mission' being signalled at them from the ground; the other wing did not and went ahead. Results: most of the city centre obliterated, and about 800 to 900 dead. The 14th of May remains a tragic day for Rotterdam.
  • bunkers – 'pill-boxes'. These square-shaped lumps of concrete at apparently random places in the countryside remain one of the most visible reminders of the war. Some were built in The Thirties to defend against a possible German invasion (they didn't do much good), others during the war itself, on German orders, to defend against a possible Allied attack. The latter type can be found in great numbers along the North Sea coast, as part of the Atlantikwall.
  • de Canadezen – 'the Canadians'. Our country was liberated by British, American, Polish and Canadian soldiers; the Canadians made the biggest contribution, at least in terms of casualties. Mention 'the Canadians' around Dutch people (especially older Dutch people) without context, and they'll assume you're talking about the brave liberators of 1945.
  • collaborateurs – Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Les Collaborateurs. These ranged from people who ratted out Jews and resistance fighters for money, to fanatical Nazis who joined the Waffen-SS and fought on the Eastern Front. Our country is notorious for having had these in very large numbers during the war. Note that whereas 'collaboration', in English, is a perfectly innocent word for 'working together', mentioning collaboratie in Dutch means invoking Godwin's Law. You have been warned. As for the collaborateurs' fate after the war, see bijltjesdag above.
  • de Dodenherdenking – literally 'the Remembrance of the Dead'; 'Remembrance Day' is a somewhat less clumsy translation. On the 4th of May, the day before Liberation Day, we solemnly commemorate our dead. The flag is flown at half mast. The two minutes' silence (twee minuten stilte), starting at 8 P.M., are the most essential part of Remembrance Day: everyone in the country, no matter where they are or what they are doing, is expected to shut the fuck up for the duration of these two minutes. Intentionally breaking the silence of these two sacred minutes is just about the most rude and disrespectful thing you can do in the Netherlands. Anyway, at war memorials across the country, there are ceremonies on Remembrance Day, built around the two minutes' silence: the mayor (or some other local official) lays a wreath on the memorial shortly before 8 P.M., then the two minutes silence are observed, then the national anthem is played, after which there is a longer ceremony with poetry, speeches on the importance of freedom, and much wreath-laying by organisations ranging from political parties to gay-rights groups to student fraternities, concluding in a solemn procession of all citizens present around the memorial. The most well-known of these ceremonies is the one at the 'National Memorial' (Nationaal Monument) on Dam Square in Amsterdam. Here, wreaths are laid by the Queen and by the Speakers of both Chambers of our parliament, among others. This ceremony is broadcast live by all public television networks. The Remembrance Day memorial ceremonies continue to draw huge crowds, including many young people, even today.
  • Engelandvaarders – 'Albionauts', or 'those who sailed to England'. People who managed (and many who tried, didn't) to escape to Britain by various means. Most of them did their best to aid the Dutch resistance, or other parts of the Allied war effort, from there. Queen Wilhelmina was particularly fond of the Engelandvaarders, granting each of them an audience – after they had been thoroughly screened by MI5 to ensure they weren't spies, of course. During these audiences, the Queen would ask a lot of questions about the situation in the Netherlands – the answers became worse and worse over time. Engelandvaarders is also the title of a popular trilogy of "boys' books" (jongensboeken), written during the war and released shortly after it ended, about the adventures of two young men who make the crossing to Britain and enlist in the Dutch navy there.
  • de Februaristaking – 'the February Strike'. In February 1941, the (underground, of course) Communist Party of the Netherlands organised a general strike in Amsterdam, out of protest at the rounding-up of hundreds of Jews in that city. This massive display of solidarity with the persecuted Jewish population is often cited as our national Crowning Moment of Heartwarming during the war. The Germans were not amused; they violently crushed the strike and locked up or executed many of the ringleaders. After the war, the strikers were honoured with a now-famous statue called De Dokwerker ('The Dock Worker').
  • goed en fout – 'right and wrong'. These words can denote a thousand different things depending on context (correct/incorrect, good/bad, etcetera). When talking about the war, they refer to which side you were on. Anybody who had helped the Resistance or the victims of Nazi terror (e.g. hiding Jews in their home) had been goed; anybody who had supported and/or aided the Nazis in any way had been fout. (Note the use of the past perfect: these terms only really caught on after the end of the war). Fout is used much more often than goed in this context. Saying hij was fout in de oorlog ('he was with the bad guys during the war') was, for decades, a good way to push someone beyond the Moral Event Horizon in the mind of whoever was listening to you. Of course, the majority of Dutch people were neither goed nor fout.
  • hongertochten – 'hunger journeys'. As the famine in the cities grew worse (see Hongerwinter directly below), urban citizens started going into the countryside, on foot or by bike, to see if they could buy or beg some food there. Many farmers did what they could to help their starving countrymen; others mercilessly exploited their desperation, selling them food at ridiculously high prices. Well, that's the Dutch merchant spirit for ya; we pulled the same trick during the Thirty Years' War, when most of Germany was starving because their fields had been ravaged by war.
  • de Hongerwinter – 'the Winter of Hunger'. In the autumn of 1944, the south of the country had been liberated, but for those living above the 'great rivers' (grote rivieren), the worst was yet to come. As retaliation for a large railway strike, the Germans blocked all food transports to the west of the country for six weeks, which led to a famine of mediaeval proportions. To make matters worse, the country's coal mines now lay on the other side of the front, and the winter was exceedingly cold that year, leading to a massive shortage of fuel. In many places, everything that could burn – trees, railway sleepers, furniture – was burned. The cold winter also meant that all the major waterways froze over, making it impossible to transport goods by ship. The shortage of fuel and food thus lasted all winter long; approximately 20,000 people died from hunger, disease (living on 300 kcal/day doesn't exactly do wonders for the immune system) or cold. Eventually, after long negotiations, the German high command allowed the Allies to help the starving western Netherlands; the aptly titled "Operation Manna" – British and American bombers dropping food parcels over our country – came just in time for many and just too late for many others.
  • de illegale pers – 'the illegal press'. Basically the Voice of the Resistance in printed form. Soon after the German invasion, the Dutch newspapers were faced with a choice: adhere to the Nazi party line, or be banned. Most chose the latter and went underground. New publications also arose from the underground circuit; some of these stuck around after the war and are now among the most popular and respected newspapers in the Netherlands. Anyone who helped write, print or distribute these newspapers risked their life, and many of them were indeed captured and executed.
  • Jappenkampen – 'camps of the Japs'. When the Japanese conquered the Dutch East Indies, they rounded up all the Europeans there and put them into prison camps. While not comparable to the Nazi death camps, these camps were still pretty nasty: the prisoners were fed far too little, hardly given access to basic medical supplies, and cruelly punished for minor offences. Thousands died in these camps; those who survived were often scarred for life.
  • de Jodenvervolging – 'the persecution of Jews'. Before the war, there were about 140,000 Jews in the Netherlands; 105,000 of them were sent to the death camps; only 5,000 returned – do the math. As in Germany itself, the Nazis' anti-semitic policies started with petty bullying and harassment, which gradually grew worse until it culminated in the Final Solution. Dutch Jews were sent to a concentration camp near Westerbork (unfortunately for the citizens of this quaint rural village, the name 'Westerbork' will be associated with the Holocaust for a long time yet). From here, the trains to Auschwitz and other death camps departed. Of course, many Jews went into hiding to avoid this fate; see onderduikers below.
  • koeriersters – 'female couriers'. These women (and they were almost always women, because men were more likely to be rounded up at random) made up the supply lines of the Dutch resistance. Usually by bike, they smuggled everything the resistance needed – from food to stolen secret documents to explosives – past the German checkpoints. If they were caught, they risked torture and execution. Without these brave women, the resistance would hardly have accomplished anything.
  • mof – Slur directed at Germans, comparable (I think?) to 'Hun' or 'Jerry'. During and after the war, the Dutch people understandably came to feel very hostile towards anything German. Even today, in some circles, the mere mention of Germany or German people will provoke a shower of crude jokes about the war and the Nazis. One such joke is 'huh huh, I'm gonna walk up to a German and ask my grandpa's bicycle back' – as the war dragged on and the tide turned against Germany, the Wehrmacht started stealing whatever they could use; their random commandeering of bicycles became especially memetic.
  • de Nationaal-Socialistische Beweging (NSB) – 'the National Socialist Movement'. As you can probably guess from the name, this organisation made up a large part of Les Collaborateurs in the Netherlands. Formed as a political party in 1931, they were not particularly influential before the war, only gaining a few percent of votes in elections; however, when the Germans invaded, things changed for these Dutch Blackshirts. Soon, all parties except the NSB were banned; however, the NSB weren't given much power by the Nazis, mostly because they were incompetent and not much more popular than the Nazis themselves. They are mostly remembered today as a bunch of pathetic little scumbags who jumped at the chance to live out their power fantasies.
  • onderduikers – literally 'under-divers'; refers to those who went into hiding. They hid in basements, in Abandoned Warehouses, in secret huts in the forest. Some people offered these fugitives sanctuary in their own homes, others ratted them out to the Nazis for money. The onderduikers' motives varied, but they all boiled down to 'if the Nazis catch me they're going to do horrible things to me'. Many people involved with the resistance had to hide, of course, as did Jews who wanted to survive; however, as the war dragged on, many ordinary Dutchmen also went into hiding because they didn't fancy doing forced labour in German factories under terrible working conditions – see Arbeitseinsatz above. As many onderduikers could not go outside for fear of being arrested, they were often completely dependent on their hosts.
  • de oorlog – 'the war'. As in many European countries, if you mention 'the war' without context, Dutch people will assume you're talking about World War II.
  • op de bon – 'on the ration stamp'. Rationing (formally known as distributie) had already been introduced in the Netherlands during The Great Depression, and it continued until well after the war's end. If certain goods were op de bon, it meant that they could only be bought with ration stamps. Of course, the rations grew more and more meagre as the war dragged on. Rationing returned briefly during the 1973 oil crisis, when petrol was op de bon for a while.
  • Oranje boven – 'Orange on top'. The colour orange was and is associated with the House of Orange-Nassau (our royal family), for obvious reasons. The monarchy being one of the most powerful national symbols we have, the colour orange became an Icon of Rebellion during the war. People grew orange flowers or wore orange clothes to show their loyalty to Queen and Country and their anger at the German occupation. The acronym 'OZO' (Oranje Zal Overwinnen, '[the House of] Orange Will Triumph') became a popular rallying cry. One interesting effect of the war was that even people who had previously been very critical of the monarchy – such as Socialists and Communists, who were, of course, opposed to any form of hereditary rule – suddenly became staunch royalists.
  • persoonsbewijs - 'identity card'. During The Thirties, an ambitious civil servant by the name of Jacob Lentz came up with the idea of a compulsory ID card for all Dutch citizens, but his superiors were not interested. Then the Germans invaded; the Nazis saw a lot more potential in Lentz's plan, and carried it out with great enthusiasm and Germanic Efficiency. Using various chemical tricks, Lentz designed a document that was nigh impossible to forge; this greatly hindered the efforts of the Dutch resistance. From 1941 onward, all Jews got a big black capital J on their ID cards. The persoonsbewijs is often seen as a symbol of how scarily cooperative many sections of the Dutch civilian bureaucracy were during the war.
  • Radio Oranje – 'Radio Orange'. The Voice of the Resistance, or rather the "Voice of the Government in Exile". Radio Oranje was a radio station that broadcast in Dutch from London. Its programming included news of the Allied war effort, coded messages for various resistance groups, and occasionally a Rousing Speech by the Queen or other members of the government in exile. Of course, if the Nazis caught you listening to Radio Oranje, you weren't in for a good time. In 1943, all radios were confiscated, and owning a radio at all became a dangerous act of defiance.
  • razzia's – 'roundups'. One of the Nazis' favourite methods for catching the many people on the run from them: take a few squads of soldiers and order them to search all the houses in a given block, dragging out anyone "suspicious" they find – or, if it's an Arbeitseinsatz roundup (see above), simply every more or less able-bodied man. For many people, this was the scariest and most visible form of Nazi terror.
  • Soldaat van Oranje – Soldier of Orange. The quintessential Dutch war film. It was released in 1977, and based on the memoirs of Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema, resistance member and Engelandvaarder (see above). A Tuxedo and Martini-style drama, it follows a group of friends who study at Leyden University at the outbreak of war. Some of them join the resistance, another joins the SS. Many scenes from Soldier of Orange became more or less memetic; for example, the scene in which two uniformed NSB members (see above) randomly start harassing a Jewish street merchant, eventually throwing his cart full of Vendor Trash into the water, became a symbol of the many petty acts of cruelty committed against the Jews in the early years of the war (of course, it got much worse for the Jews in the later years). Oh, and the film's theme tune is an Ear Worm if ever there was one.
  • Sperrgebiet (German) – 'forbidden area'. The area around military bases was off-limits to civilian traffic. This was nothing unusual, of course; what was unusual is that there were suddenly a lot of these areas. Especially along the North Sea coast, where the Atlantikwall was built. My grandmother lived in The Hague during the war, and she vividly recalls being forced to move several times as more and more of the city was declared to be Sperrgebiet.
  • troostmeisjes – 'consolation girls'. Perhaps the most euphemistically named concept on this list. The Japanese set up "war brothels" for their soldiers across the territories they had conquered. The women who were forced to "work" in these brothels – and in the Dutch East Indies, they were usually Dutch women – were called 'consolation girls'; being one of these meant being raped by one Japanese soldier after another. Cruelly, after the war, many of these rape victims could not find husbands because they were "damaged goods". A Fate Worse Than Death, indeed.
  • het verzet – 'the resistance'. Compared to the partisan movements in France and the Eastern European countries, the Dutch resistance was relatively peaceful. They did fight the Germans, certainly, but they focused more on helping onderduikers (see above). Other activities of the resistance included:
    • Blowing up railway lines, in order to disrupt the German supply lines or to delay – at least for a while – the trains carrying Jews to the death camps.
    • Raiding civil registration offices and burning the records, making it harder for the Nazis to track down and round up Jews.
    • Distributing banned newspapers (see illegale pers above).
    • Organising strikes such as the Februaristaking (see above). These were almost always initiated by Communist groups, with others quickly joining in.
    • Helping people escape to Britain (see Engelandvaarders above) and maintaining radio contact with the Allies. The latter activity eventually degenerated into a cruel game of I Know You Know I Know between the British and German intelligence services (the Englandspiel, German for 'England game'), which resulted in several dozen Allied agents being parachuted into the Netherlands... and right into the arms of the Germans.
  • Voor hen die vielen - 'For those who fell'. This simple inscription, together with the years '1940 - 1945', adorns war memorials across the country.
  • de Waterlinie – 'the Water Line'. A ring of fortifications around the economic and political heartland of the country (the Vesting Holland, 'Fortress Holland', in the west), combined with a broad strip of land that could be inundated quickly to prevent an invading army from getting across. It worked great against the French in 1672; against the Germans in 1940, however... well, they took one long hard look at it, then flew some companies of airborne troops across, making the whole thing as useless as the Hollywood History version of the Maginot Line. (The Dutch air force was powerless to stop them at this point).
  • de wederopbouw – 'Reconstruction'. The period after the war, encompassing most of The '50s, when our country was getting back on its feet (with Marshall Plan aid from the US). Many new houses were built; industry and agriculture rapidly modernised. The Reconstruction era is associated with optimism and great national solidarity: we were all working together towards a common goal. Old-fashioned Calvinist virtues like hard work and frugality (which paid off in The '60s when wages went through the roof) reigned supreme. However, the era had its dark side, as well: there was a very conservative moral code and strict social control. Women were expected to Stay in the Kitchen, homosexuals were seen as mentally ill, and Heaven help you if you conceived a child out of wedlock. There was also a culture of cover-ups and keeping up appearances. All this, of course, contributed to the outburst of rebellion and individualism in The '60s.

Well, that was one of the mightiest Walls Of Text I've ever built. Hope you found it interesting. Stay tuned – or not, this series suffers from terrible Schedule Slip even though it doesn't even have a schedule – for the next episode of MR:EDS!

edited 4th May '13 3:06:23 PM by MidnightRambler

Ich bin nicht schuld! 's ist Gottes Plan!


Ep. 5 – Wat is het hier gezellig! Translating the Untranslatable

Describe gezelligheid here.

...Yeah, good luck with that. The Dutch adjective/adverb gezellig and its associated noun gezelligheid are notorious for being impossible to translate into most languages (German being one notable exception). And it's not only direct translation that's difficult: the entire concept of gezelligheid mystifies many foreigners, and even immigrants who have lived here for several years. This post is one of many attempts that have been made, with varying degrees of success, to explain this concept, which is essential to social life in the Netherlands. So essential, in fact, that it might be said that gezelligheid is what all true Dutchmen strive for.

Gezellig is derived from gezel, an old-fashioned word for 'companion'. The Van Dale Dutch - English Dictionary gives a long and confusing entry for gezellig, which starts with 'pleasant, enjoyable'.

This is rather vague; sure, gezellig does mean that something is pleasant or enjoyable, but there's more to it than that. It's best explained by means of a list of characteristics rather than any single definition:

  • Most importantly, gezelligheid is fun which involves other people. Reading a book or playing Solitaire can be tons of fun, but these activities are not gezellig because they aren't social activities.
  • Gezelligheid is a universally positive concept - it's impossible to insult or criticise something by calling it gezellig.
  • Gezelligheid excludes any physically or emotionally intense activities. Sex, for example, is not an activity you'd call gezellig (except as an Unusual Euphemism; see below). Neither is a sports match - although watching a sports match with other people can be very gezellig indeed. Conversations on serious and/or emotionally charged topics aren't gezellig either.
  • Gezelligheid is also incompatible with being tough or edgy. For this reason, teenagers - especially teenage boys - often fail to appreciate gezelligheid, and will not use the word much; however, this will change during adolescence.
  • Gezelligheid as a quality can apply to a host of different things:
    • A party or other event - if a party is gezellig it means that the atmosphere is good, everyone is getting along nicely and there are lots of opportunities for pleasant conversation. Saying that a party is or was very gezellig is the greatest compliment you can make to the host.
    • A person's behaviour - if someone is being gezellig, they're cheerful, extroverted, and generally open to conversation or other gezellig activities.
    • Music - usually light and cheerful music is considered gezellig.
    • The interior of a building - a gezellig room looks pleasant, down-home and inviting. Minimalistic, sleek design is not gezellig at all.
    • Board Games such as Risk, Settlers of Catan and Monopoly. In fact, any board game sold in the Netherlands is highly likely to be marketed as a gezelschapsspel - from gezelschap 'company' (as in the people who happen to be with you at the moment) and spel 'game'. The implication, of course, is that playing this game will be gezellig. Whether it actually is depends more on the people you're playing it with than on the game itself.
    • Anything else that contributes to a good, sociable atmosphere - tea, open fires, comfy chairs, small amounts of alcohol... you name it.
  • Gezelligheid is a subjective quality - as noted above, the word carries universally positive connotations, so not everyone will agree on what is gezellig and what isn't. Things that represent the pinnacle of gezelligheid to one person may be considered cheesy and boring by another - think, for example, of Schlager music, Romantic Comedy films, or the Game of the Goose (ganzenbord).

The polar opposite of gezellig is ongezellig. If you think a place, event, or person is ongezellig, you'll most likely want to stay away from it.

The word gezellig can also be used humorously, in two ways:
  • Sarcastically, to describe things that wouldn't be considered gezellig at all, e.g. Death Metal music, Zombie Apocalypse films, or a conversation about World War II. This can also be a way to mock things that try to be very Dark and Edgy, since gezellig implies that something is pleasant and harmless.
  • As an Unusual Euphemism for sex. The following exchange between Alice and Bob, who, in this case, are close enough friends to discuss their sex lives with each other, should serve to illustrate this:
    • BOB: En, Alice, heb jij nog wat boeiends meegemaakt? *
    • ALICE: O, Charlie kwam gisteren langs. *
    • BOB: En, was het gezellig? *
    • ALICE (broad grin): O ja, het was hιιl gezellig. *
    • (Bob grins back at Alice, understanding she and Charlie had sex).

Right, I hope you all understand gezelligheid now. But perhaps that's too much to hope for. Anyway, trope on, and see you in the next episode of MR:EDS!

edited 20th Jun '12 6:15:37 PM by MidnightRambler

An English equivalent for "gezellig"... "cosy", maybe? They share quite a few connotations.

By the way, your articles are godverdomme brilliant.

edited 27th Jun '12 3:55:48 PM by Fresison

Ich bin nicht schuld! 's ist Gottes Plan!
Gezellig has overlap with "cosy", but it's not quite the same. "Cosy" would be more accurately translated as knus. (In the Netherlands, that is; I have no idea of the connotations in Belgium).

And thanks! grin I love doing this.

edited 27th Jun '12 4:59:34 PM by MidnightRambler

18 AceofSpades27th Jun 2012 05:21:10 PM , Relationship Status: In Spades with myself
That was an interesting point about how some words just don't translate exactly, ever, into other languages. Kind of reminds me of the word schadenfreude in that respect. The concept can be described, but it ends up needing a paragraph to do so.
19 Euodiachloris27th Jun 2012 05:25:59 PM , Relationship Status: Is that a kind of food?
Actually, Midnight, "cozy" is a very close translation: check out some of the synonyms. Coziness is also good for gezelligheid. Another possibility in English is to go for the better understood second meaning of "comfort" and "comforting", however, to my mind, "comfort" isn't precise, either. <shrugs> Mind you, you're probably going to say I miss nuances due to only speaking Afrikaans... <sighs>
Ich bin nicht schuld! 's ist Gottes Plan!
[up][up] Schadenfreude is easy. 'Amusement from other people's misfortune'.

[up] I see where you're coming from, and "cosy" covers some forms of gezelligheid, but not the entire spectrum. It's really hard to explain, but... well, would you call a Drinking Game like Kings * or I Never "cosy"?

Well, with the right people, games like those can be very gezellig indeed. Basically, the "fun involving other people" definition applies.

Note: I said a sports match couldn't be gezellig. This isn't entirely accurate. It's true that any enjoyment the players derive from the match itself does not fall under gezelligheid; however, if they talk and/or share laughs during play, that can certainly be called gezellig.

edited 27th Jun '12 6:56:19 PM by MidnightRambler

21 Euodiachloris27th Jun 2012 10:28:29 PM , Relationship Status: Is that a kind of food?
Northern English idiom would have games like that in a pub be cozy, actually. Particularly in a snug. Southern English? Not so much. Not so sure about American English. It's a poser.

South African English dodges that and uses jol for some of the lively aspects, and actually, sometimes, gesellig itself. Well, those with a solid grounding in Afrikaans. Jol has got there even if not and has taken on a lot of the meaning, in the English use at least, that gesellig has. That's also bleeding back into Afrikaans, so gesellig is losing some of it's "party, fun-time, with friends, sociable geniality (with lots of booze)" feel and becoming a little more grown-up, but, not entirely, of course.

Oh: and other South African languages have taken jol on board. Just thought I'd say.

Ja, South Africa likes to swap it's words around. To be honest, I don't think there is an easy translation. [lol] Just as trying to translate lekker gets bogged down. wink

edited 27th Jun '12 10:41:36 PM by Euodiachloris

Ich bin nicht schuld! 's ist Gottes Plan!
*Sigh*... All right, all right. Refer to post #15 above for detailed explanation of "gezelligheid". Call it whatever the fuck you want.

Everybody happy now?

edited 28th Jun '12 12:40:25 AM by MidnightRambler

23 honorius28th Jun 2012 03:45:37 AM from The Netherlands
There is actually a Dutch word for "schadenfreude": "leedvermaak".

Just throwing that in as a funny fact.
If any question why we died/
Tell them, because our fathers lied -Rudyard Kipling
Ich bin nicht schuld! 's ist Gottes Plan!
Oh yes, that definitely exists. That's why we have so few loanwords from German: we already have our own equivalents for them anyway. English needs to borrow words like Zeitgeist and Schadenfreude from German, but why should we bother? We already have tijdgeest and leedvermaak, respectively.

We do, however, have a lot of loanwords from French. Oh boy, do we have a lot of loanwords from French. From chef (chief, manager) and douche (shower) to monteur (technician) and faillissement (bankruptcy)... the list is endless. Probably has something to do with it having been the preferred language of the upper classes from the Middle Ages to sometime in the 19th century (and in some circles, well into the 20th).

edited 28th Jun '12 3:56:12 AM by MidnightRambler

25 Euodiachloris28th Jun 2012 07:52:41 AM , Relationship Status: Is that a kind of food?
[up]Is it gauche for me to point out that tijdgeest is a direct translation? <ducks the tomatoes> Leedvermaak... not so much.

Oh, it does my heart good to see double As in the right places. waii Even if I'm used to turning Zs to Ss. wink Look, it's not my fault I grew up with Ss for Zs, OK? [lol]

edited 28th Jun '12 7:53:41 AM by Euodiachloris

Total posts: 231
1 2 3 4 5 6 ... 10