‘Het waait’ (it’s windy, es weht, il y a du vent) in Holland. Living in the Netherlands means that you have to put up with rain and wind. Cycling in this mountainless country is great. But it’s a mistake to leave home thinking that the day will pass by without wind. Wherever you go, the wind will be against you. I know this cannot be true, but that’s the way it feels. ‘Het waait altijd in Nederland.
Buffy, the office dog, is fond of HERFST (autumn), especially when ‘het waait’ (the wind is blowing). At the ripe old age of thirteen she still loves to sniff at the fallen leaves and wallow in them. She also likes to listen to the adventures of Jip and Janneke and look at the pictures. So I bought her the popular book ‘Herfst met Jip en Janneke’ (only 8 euro!) and read her the story ‘Het regent zo’.
In this story the two kids want to go to the baker’s. But it’s pouring and a storm is blowing. Because they really, really want to go out, mother allows them to go with father’s umbrella. See if you understand the Dutch text
> ‘O, o, wat een weer. De regen tikt op de paraplu. En de wind trekt heel hard aan de paraplu. Jip en Janneke moeten hem samen vasthouden. En ze moeten ook nog goed uitkijken. Anders vallen ze in de plas.
> (O, o, what frightful weather. Rain is tapping on the umbrella. And the wind is pulling very hard at the umbrella. Jip and Janneke have to grasp it firmly together. And they must watch out at the same time too. Or they’ll fall into a puddle.)
Of course this children’s story by Annie M.G. Schmidt has a happy ending. The baker’s wife helps them with their collapsed umbrella and gives them a sweet. When they get home safely, they tell mother that the wind had almost blown them away into the sky. The story ends as follows:
> Jip en Janneke kijken uit het raam. En ze zien hoe de wind aan de bomen rukt. Fijn om binnen te zitten.*
>(Jip and Janneke look out of the window. And they see how the wind is pulling at the trees. Great to be sitting inside.)
The Jip-en-Janneke stories with mother and the dog Takkie and the cat Siepie have remained very popular over these last sixty years. In 1952 the newspaper Het Parool published the first Jip-en-Janneke story and the last one appeared in 1957.
The stories have given their name to the phrase ‘jip-en-janneketaal’ (taal=language). This phrase was invented by Peter Zuydgeest who trained civil servants to write comprehensible texts for the general public in Voorburg. What he meant by ‘jip-en-janneketaal’ is a style that is clear and simple. Long complicated sentences are a ‘no-no’. The ending of the above story is a good example. One long sentence was cut in half and the final phrase has neither subject nor predicate.
Since the eighties the Jip-and-Janneke stories have been referred to as paragons of clarity and that’s why so many Dutch recommend them to students of Dutch. The Persian-Dutch writer and poet Kader Abdolah (Iran, 1954) is proof, since he taught himself Dutch by reading Jip and Janneke stories. The bestseller ‘Het huis van de moskee’ (The House of the Mosque, 2005) was even voted second best Dutch novel ever in Holland. It’s an amazing success if you take into account that Kader Abdollah fled to the Netherlands as late as 1988 and that the newcomer published his first stories five years later. People forget, however, that he also studied literary novels by Willem Frederik Hermans.
So are ‘Jip-en-Janneke’ stories really as simple as people say? I doubt it. They certainly look as if they were written in a style that appeals to Dutch kids, but let’s not forget that Annie Schmidt was a virtuoso and that her texts contain many idioms that beginners of Dutch find difficult.
Buffy does not agree. She loves the simplicity of the stories and she especially enjoys the illustrations in which dog Takkie steals the show. What do you think of Jip and Janneke? Are they good learning material? And if so why?
* From: Annie M.G. Schmidt (1911-1995) and Fiep Westendorp (1916-2004), ‘Herfst met Jip en Janneke’, Querido, 2013