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5 Dutch expressions that express the Dutch way of life

How would you describe the essence of the Dutch, those enigmatic people with whom you are sharing your home away from home with? Many writers have attempted to do so in books, articles, speeches, and television documentaries. However, it may have all been in vain.

Even the queen of the Netherlands has admitted to struggling with pinpointing the Dutch national identity. In fact, when Queen Maxima was still a princess, she infuriated many Dutch people when she stated in a speech: “’De Nederlander bestaat niet.” (the Dutchman does not exist). Her conclusion was that the Netherlands is too multifaceted to be stereotyped.

Now, generally, Ruud Hisgen agrees; however, this article will attempt to capture some truths about the Dutch by examining five short expressions and sayings. These might come in handy when you are in a meeting, at a reception or while chatting with the Dutch, so learn them by heart.

1. Zuinigheid met vlijt (Thrift and diligence)

Many Dutch people grew up hearing this saying. Be frugal, work hard! The Dutch uphold these two virtues above everything. The first virtue is “soberheid” or “zuinigheid” (austerity), which should not be confused with “gierigheid” (stinginess). The Dutch praise economical talents, however, they can be very generous when they need to be.

While it may be true that many Dutchies are not fond of parting with their money, there are notable exceptions. Just think of the many times Dutch people have collected big sums of money for charity, when people somewhere in the world experienced a disaster.

Austerity goes hand in hand with another virtue, “vlijt” (thrift, diligence, hard work). Whatever you would like to achieve (an academic title, promotion), do it with “vlijt”.

Another saying with which you can practice rolling your Dutch r’s is “rust roest” (rest rusts). According to dictionary Van Dale this translates to: “It’s better to wear out than to rust out”.

2. Meten is weten (Measuring things brings knowledge)

The Dutch are firm believers in the power of reason and common sense. Measuring things, they say, is the gate to wisdom. Be suspicious of your intuitions. An emotional stance can be extremely hazardous, for it might lead to biased opinions and fatal mistakes. Knowledge should therefore be based on scientific facts.

Two thousand years ago some hot-headed conquering Romans observed that large parts of the low lands were neither land nor sea. They wondered what kind of headstrong barbarians would want to live in such uninhabitable parts. These people, the forefathers of the Dutch, studied the freaky behaviour of water and later generations developed precise instruments to measure the movements of the rivers and sea.

Accurate measurements and corrective measures eventually led to a better chance of survival. Never forget that over half of the Netherlands is located metres below sea level. Meten is weten…

So, take good care when a Dutchie utters these three simple words to you. It probably means that you have not done your homework. If he or she then adds: “gissen is missen” (guessing things causes mistakes), you will have to work even harder to regain their trust.

3. Oost west, thuis best (East, West, home is best)

Like their ancestors, many Dutch people travel a lot and no matter where you go on this Earth, you’ll meet thrifty and zealous Dutchies. However, you will find that their home will always be where their heart is (“eigen haard is goud waard” / your own fireplace is worth gold), because the Dutch worship “gezelligheid”.

4. Gezelligheid kent geen tijd (Cosiness knows no time)

Gezellig (enjoyable, pleasant, entertaining, sociable, companionable, convivial) is the cosiest of all Dutch words. It can be attached to almost any other word: coffee, film, man, fire… They can all be “gezellig”.

When in Dutch company, make sure you utter the word “gezellig” several times. This way, they’ll find you very “gezellig” and you’re sure to be invited to the next “gezellige” party.

5. Haastige spoed is zelden goed (Haste makes waste)

When you meet a Dutch person in an elevator and you ask how life is treating them, you’ll very likely get the answer “druk, druk, druk” (busy, busy, busy). Why three times “druk”? Why three kisses on the cheek? Nobody knows. It’s a ritual.

Even when the Dutch do not seem to be “druk”, they’ll insist that they have a lot to do. This is probably connected to the idea that they need to be “vlijtig” (hard working), or at least give the impression that they are. However, don’t forget that things in the Netherlands should never be rushed, because haste makes waste… And that’s not “gezellig”.