Trivial tidbits about the Netherlands

by admin on August 5, 2011

in About the Dutch

Source: Radio Netherlands Worldwide

Fun Fact Friday: all the trivial tidbits you never wanted to know – but will now use to impress your friends and family – about the Netherlands.

Today’s Fun Fact (Friday 5 August 2011)
This week’s entry is by Hilary Staples as Ashleigh Elson is enjoying a well-deserved break.

Family names:
Bottenheft (Blunt handle), Geelhoed (Yellow hat), Mooibroek (Smart pants). Believe it or not, these are all names of colleagues who work for RNW. The Dutch are known for their funny family names and there is a lovely myth explaining where they come from.

The story goes that when Napoleon occupied the Netherlands in 1810, everybody was forced to take on a family name for taxation purposes. The Dutch thought it was only going to be a temporary measure, so they made up comical or offensive sounding names, such as Naaktgeboren (Born naked) and Poepjes (Little pooh), as a practical joke on their French occupiers.

I was taught this at a Dutch school and I’ve only just found out the story is actually not true. Apparently most Dutch people already had family names at the beginning of the 19th century – including the allegedly rebellious names Naaktgeboren and Poepjes.

Past Fun Facts (in alphabetical order)

Alcohol:
Gin was invented in the Netherlands. It was – and still is – called “jenever” (pronounced yeh-NAY-ver) and was originally used for medicinal purposes in the 16th century. The juniper berry, which is used to mask the flavour, comes from the juniper bush, a protected plant.

April Fool’s:
From an early age Dutch children are brought up with the saying: “Op 1 april verloor Alva zijn bril”. Literally translated it means: On 1 April Alba lost his glasses. But in actual fact it refers to the Spanish Duke of Alba losing the town of Den Briel to the Dutch in 1572. It was an important historical battle in the Dutch War of Independence (1568-1648).

Bicycles:
The average Dutch person bikes 2.5 km per day and 900km per year! At that rate it would take our Amsterdam colleagues 12 days to cycle into Hilversum. More here.

Bridges:
Amsterdam has 1,281 bridges. This means that crossing one bridge a day, it would take you 3.5 years to go across each one of them just once. Luckily there is no one-bridge-a-day-limit… More here.

Cake for breakfast:
Like most cultures, the Dutch have many different options for breakfast, including cereal or bread with cold cuts, cheese, or sweet toppings (such as jam, chocolate spread or hagelslag – see below). But the Dutch also often eat ontbijtkoek (breakfast cake), also known as peperkoek (pepper cake) or kruidkoek (spice cake).

This “cake” is more like a dense, sticky bread. The taste is sweet but strong, and the cake includes spices such as cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg. A local northern variation is flavoured with aniseed and curiously called “oudewijvenkoek” (old hag’s cake).

Ontbijtkoek is a traditional home remedy for tummy troubles and is reported to have laxative properties… so best beware.

While breakfast cake can be eaten as-is, it’s often served slathered in butter… or sandwiched between two slices of bread! Yes, really, a cake sandwich.

Carrots:
Orange carrots appeared in the Netherlands in the 17th century. It has been said that they were bred for the House of Orange who led the Dutch revolt against Spain and later became the Dutch royal family. Orange is still the official colour of the Netherlands).

Coffee:
After the Scandinavians, the Dutch are the world’s biggest coffee drinkers. The Dutch were the first to import coffee to Europe on a large scale back in the 1600s and 1700s and were the first to add coffee into the fair-trade movement in 1988 with the Max Havelaar brand. More here.

Dairy:
Dutch people have the lowest incidence of lactose intolerance of any country – only 1%. Why? Milk products form a large part of the staple diet – even that of adults.

Eindhoven: City of Light:
The Dutch city of Eindhoven is also known as the City of Light – because the electronics giant Philips started there… and some of its first products were light bulbs. Philips is well-represented throughout the city – in fact, the “PSV” in the football team PSV Eindhoven actually refers to the Philips Sport Club (Vereniging). Interestingly, on Dutch TV – which was non-commercial at the time – they never referred to the company name, instead calling Philips a “light bulb manufacturer in the south of the country”.

Evening four-day marches:
Thousands of Dutch school children and their parents spend four evenings in a row during May and June trudging through streets and along footpaths in huge processions, walking five or ten kilometres at a time. It’s called the avondvierdaagse, or ‘evening four-day marches’.

It’s not a protest march or usually even a sponsored walk. It’s just for the satisfaction of saying you’ve done it. And supposedly for the exercise. But more importantly, for the famous Dutch gezelligheidof joining in and doing it all together.

Traditional refreshment on the way is a half a lemon with a peppermint laid on the cut side, wrapped in muslin. The children slurp on their minty lemons, slowly reducing them to slobbery pulp. They also carry improbably vast supplies of sweets on strings around their necks.

The whole parade is accompanied by lots of singing to pass the time. The best known marching song is Potje met vet, the endlessly repeating lyrics of which explain ‘I’ve put a little jar of fat on the table and this is the 37th verse’.

At the end of the final evening, the weary kids are greeted by bands, balloons and bunches of flowers. And they win a medal, inscribed with the number of years they’ve successfully completed the walk.

In the grown-up version, the Four Day Marches, the participants walk all day long. The tradition dates back to 1909.

Flags:
In the not-so-distant past, an individual hanging a Dutch flag outside their house would have been considered a bit of an ‘overzealous nationalist’. But flag-flying is becoming less of a taboo and, this week (mid June), many Dutch will hang a flag along with a backpack – a sign that somebody in the household has passed their final (secondary school) exams.

Of course, these are not official flag-flying situations.

On official government buildings, flag-flying follows certain rules, including the standard decrees that it must not touch the ground and must not be raised after dark unless appropriately lit. Officially, an orange pennant may be hung along with the flag on Queen’s Day and on the birthdays of members of the royal family. However, while a flag must be flown for the Queen’s birthday and that of her first son Crown Prince Willem-Alexander, it does not have to be flown for his brothers’ birthdays. Similarly, Willem-Alexander’s first-born Amalia gets a flag raised on her birthday, but her sisters Alexia and Ariane do not.

By-the-way, the current red, white, and blue flag colours were officially declared by Queen Wilhelmina on 19 februari 1937; previously some people supported an orange, white and blue version.

Read more about the Dutch flag here and read the official Ministry of the Interior flag instructions here (in Dutch).

Hagelslag:
Children around the world would be jealous to know that the Dutch – children and adults alike – regularly eat chocolate sprinkles, called hagelslag for breakfast (or lunch or snack!). Literally, hagelslag means ‘hailstorm’, presumably because that’s what hail would look like if water were replaced by chocolate.

Originally made of chocolate, the tiny bits were invented in 1936 by the Dutch chocolate company Venz and are traditionally served on buttered bread or toast (to help them stick). Nowadays it’s also possible to get vruchtenhagel (fruit-flavoured candy sprinkles) and chocoladevlokken (chocolate flakes).

By the way, in order to be called ‘chocolate’, hagelslag must contain at least 35 percent cacao. Otherwise it’s called cacaofantasie or ‘cacao fantasy’.

If you don’t live in the Netherlands, the best place to look for hagelslag is, surprisingly, in Asian supermarkets – because of the Dutch influence in Indonesia.

Read more here and here (check out the delicious recipe and bizarre video at the end) and here and how to eat them here (it’s a popular topic!).
Inventions:
The microscope, the telescope, pendulum clock and the mercury thermometer are all 16th or 17th-century Dutch inventions. This inventive tradition continues right into the 21st century. But are all Dutch inventions that great? It’s hard to imagine the traffic enforcement camera enhancing anyone’s life…

Jip and Janneke:

Jip and Janneke
(pronounced YIP (rhymes with “tip”) and YUNN-uh-kuh) are the main characters in the well-known Dutch children’s series by Annie M. G. Schmidt.

The stories have been translated into many languages – including English, where the children go by the names Mick and Mandy. Or Bob and Jilly. Or, more recently, just plain Jip and Janneke (though surely mispronounced).

In fact, it seems that the names are different in every country they visit: Polish: Julek i Julka, German:Heiner und Hanni and Julia und Alexander, Spanish: Mila y Yaco, Russian: Sasja i Masja -Саша и Маша, Hebrew: Yip we-Yaneqe, Indonesian: Tono dan Tini, Estonian: Jip ja Janneke, and Latin: Jippus et Jannica.

Even the Dutch dialect Twents has it’s own slightly different version: Jipke en Jannöaken.

Although Annie Schmidt committed assisted suicide on 21 May, 1995 (the day after she turned 84), today would have been her 100th birthday. More about Annie Schmidt here.

Kermis:
The Dutch kermis is a travelling carnival with rides, games, and food. But, if it’s kermis in de hel (a carnival in Hell) or duiveltjeskermis (devil’s carnival), it means it’s raining and sunny at the same time!

Here are a few more expressions that have spun off this much-loved summer tradition:

Van een koude kermis thuiskomen: Literal: To come home from a cold carnival. Figurative: To be disappointed.
Als je de stilte uit Kerstmis weghaalt, houd je een kermis over: – Literal & figurative: If you take the quiet out of Christmas, there’s a carnival left over.
Het is daar kermis: Literal: It’s a carnival over there. Figurative: there’s a lot of fighting over there.
Het is niet overal kermis waar het vaantje uitsteekt: Literal: It’s not carnival just because the pennant is flying. Figurative: Everything is not always as it seems.
Zij verstaan als twee dieven op de kermis: Literal: They were like two thieves at the carnival. Figurative: They really didn’t get along with each other.
Een bonte kermis: Literal: A colourful carnival. Figurative: A crazy, fun, hilarious situation / event.

There are also a few carnival expressions specific to Limburg, which has its own dialect:

Aachterum is kermes: Literal: The carnival is at the back. Figurative: Come to the back door, the front door is locked.
Zien keuntje haj kermes!: Literal: His bum got a carnival. Figurative: He got a good spanking.
Al ston d’r kräöm, ‘t is nie aldaag kermes: Literal: Even if you’re hunched over, it’s not always carnival. Figurative: Moderation in everything, even in times of plenty.
Kermeskaost: Literal: Carnival food. Figurative: Good food! Traditional carnival fare often included potatoes with green and white beans (called witte keuntjes ien ‘t gras “little white bums in the grass”) along with a good portion of baked ham. For dessert: Rice pudding with black plums.
Kermesbed: Literal: carnival bed. Figurative: a spare bed, used in the past for carnival visitors.

Komkommertijd (cucumber time):
In English it’s usually known as “silly season”, though sometimes, like the Dutch version, it is also referred to as cucumber time: the few summer months when news slows down and is filled out with silly stories. Apparently the term originated with tailors who didn’t have enough work in the slow summer period and went to find work elsewhere – presumably in cucumber fields?!

Here are a few different language versions of “cucumber time”:

Dutch: komkommertijd
Danish: agurketid
Norwegian: agurktid
Czech: Okurková sezóna
Polish: Sezon ogórkowy
Hungarian: uborkaszezon
Hebrew: עונת המלפפונים (Onat Ha’melafefonim)
Estonian: hapukurgihooaeg
German: Sauregurkenzeit (“pickled cucumber season”). It is also known as sommerloch (“summer [news]hole”)
French: la morte-saison (“the dead season” or “the dull season”)
Swedish: has nyhetstorka (“news drought”)
Language:
Dutch is also spoken in Belgium, part of northern France, Suriname, the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba. This means over 22 million people speak Dutch as a native language and over 5 million as a second language! More here.

Liberation Day:
While the Netherlands celebrates the end of WWII on 5 May, the war didn’t end for another three months in the then-Dutch colony in Indonesia. And it wasn’t until 1999 that the Dutch government officially acknowledged that the war didn’t actually end for the Netherlands until 15 August 1945. More here.

Pronunciation:
For many foreigners, a lot of Dutch words look totally unpronounceable. This is partly because they’re so long (mostly because they’re often made up of many smaller words that, in English, we would keep separate) but also because there are often long strings of consonants or vowels.

The Dutch word with the most consonants in a row (8) is angstschreeuw. Literally, a scream of fear: angst = fear, schreeuw = scream. It’s pronounced: UNGST-schray-oo (where the “sch” is the typical Dutch gutteral “g” sound – a bit like you’re gargling). The word with the most vowels used to be koeieuier – cow udder – but the official spelling has since changed to include an “n”, becoming koeienuier.

Queen’s Day:
Every year, the Dutch celebrate Queen’s Day – marking the late Queen Juliana’s birthday – on 30 April. But it’s also celebrated around the world – this year the UK celebrated two weeks early! On 16 April, 50,000 orange-clad people crowded into Trafalgar square.

If you want to celebrate Queen’s Day wherever you are, just dig out your best orange duds and check this page for some local party places. If you’re in the Netherlands, there’s an app for that!

Slugs:
The dutch use the same word – slak, pronounced sluhk – for a slug or a snail. Either way, if you’re Dutch, you can be zo traag als een slak (as slow as a snail/slug) or you can be the type of person who op alle slakken zout legt (literally: puts salt on every snail/slug, figuratively: is nitpicky).

Het Wilhelmus:
The Dutch national anthem – Wilhelmus van Nassouwe, usually known just as Het Wilhelmus – is the oldest national anthem in the world, even though it was not officially recognised until 1932. It was first written down in 1574, making it over 437 years old.

Many people are confused by the opening lyrics especially at the mention of “German blood” and “honouring the King of Spain” (read all 15 stanzas here - in old and modernised Dutch as well as literal and rhyming English versions).

Wilhelmus van Nassouwe  –  William of Nassau
Ben ick van Duytschen bloet,  –  am I, of German blood.
Den Vaderlant getrouwe  –  Loyal to the fatherland
Blyf ick tot in den doet:  –  I will remain until I die.
Een Prince van Oraengien  –  A prince of Orange
Ben ick vrij onverveert,  –  am I, free and fearless.
Den Coninck van Hispaengien  –  The King of Spain
Heb ick altijt gheeert.  –  I have always honoured.

The song is a first person story of William of Orange, the main leader of the Dutch revolt against Spain in the Eighty Years’ War (1568 – 1648). Surprisingly to many, his parents were not Dutch but German and he (and other leaders of the Dutch Revolt) originally supported the King of Spain.

Interestingly, the Wilhelmus is only played once at any event and should always be played last. It may only be played for a visiting head of state if a member of the Dutch Royal House is present – unusual because most countries play their own anthem and then that of the visitor. At sporting events, only one or two stanzas are played (either just the first or the first and sixth together) to avoid having 15 minutes of music!

See the Dutch attempt to sing their own anthem here…!

Windmills:
There are approximately 1,170 windmills in the Netherlands (link in Dutch). Even though the windmill is considered a symbol of Holland, the first windmills were actually built in northern France or the UK, most likely before the 11th century. The first windmill in the low countries was built in Belgium in 1040; the first Dutch windmill didn’t appear until 1180 in Limburg. You can read more about Dutch windmills here.

Interestingly, the windmill is also a breakdancing move where your legs rotate above you – like a windmill. Learn how to do it with this video - if you dare!

Radio Nederland Wereldomroep

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