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Basic Dutch: The essentials

How to answer your colleague’s casual question: “Coffee? / Koffie?” properly?

The Dutch are not known for either their ornate way of expressing themselves, nor their elaborate politeness. On the contrary, Dutch like to be honest, efficient and direct in their use of language (although this means that some might call them somewhat blunt). This is great news for you, as a new user of the language, because you only need a few words to sound as Dutch as Dutch can be. In fact, when your Dutch colleague asks you whether you would like something to drink, often using no more than two syllables (e.g. “Koffie?”), there are a number of pretty compact possible answers, all cramming a whole set of implications into not more than two words.


› Ja, oké / Nee, bedankt
Even to Dutch ears, this monosyllabic answer is too short. Although your effort to answer in Dutch will be appreciated, you might want to add another word to sound more advanced and / or polite. Just add oké or bedankt!

› Alsjeblieft
Yes, please – politely affirmative without any implications (a good alternative to an unprofessional “Ja”).

› Dankjewel
No, thank you – politely negative without any implications (a good alternative to an unprofessional “No”).

› Ja, lekker
The word lekker translates as nice, tasty, yummy, snug, or tempting – which seems like a rather wide range of translations for just one adjective. Actually, lekker is quite a general adjective, which can be used for all positive sensations. Hence, a lekker broodje is a sandwich that tastes nice and lekker weertje means that the weather is agreeable (though this might be ironic, when used in the pouring rain).

You can feel kiplekker, meaning that you feel as fit as a chicken (which is just as odd as feeling fit as a fiddle), and a lekker ding denotes an attractive person that appeals to your senses.

Put simply, by answering “Ja, lekker,” you tell your colleague that you are very much looking forward to it!

› Ja, gezellig
As with lekker, gezellig is an adjective that can be used for many different things. It translates as cosy, sociable, snug, or homey, but it is a very Dutch concept that is quite hard to translate into English.

While the translations all sound a bit fuzzy, gezellig is a pretty unambiguous adjective. An Irish café can be gezellig, but a big, booming nightclub can’t. A lively dinner party, a Sunday afternoon with the family, or even a good night out with your friends can be very gezellig, but a formal reception hardly ever is. When you tell your colleague “Ja, gezellig,” you are expressing that you are not only looking forward to the coffee, but even more to spend some gezellige breaktime with him or her – possibly exchanging some good office gossip. As you can see, there is no excuse whatsoever to not make a first feeble attempt to engage with your colleagues, neighbours and / or friends in Dutch straight away. Even if no one asks you whether you feel like a cup of coffee, you can always ask them instead. And now you are sure to interpret their answer correctly – or, in any case, at least the first two words. Good luck!

By Marloes van Rooijen

Photo by SCA on Flickr