Life in Amsterdam: Dutch Words That Sound Rude But Aren't
I've been living in Amsterdam for over eighteen months and while my knowledge of the Dutch language is still embarrassingly limited, my understanding of a select number of words continues to grow, mostly through trial and error (you don't want to know how many times I've signed off an email with "Vriendlijke Groenten" instead of "Vriendlijke Groeten", the latter means "friendly greetings", the first means "friendly vegetables") but there's a lot to be said for remembering a word because it sounds like something else in your own language, and the dirtier, ruder, cheekier the better.
And thus I give you a collection of fine Dutch words that sound filthy rude but are actually perfectly innocent... mostly.
Yes this literally translates as "bitter balls" and no, it's still not rude! It refers to these small, orange breadcrumb covered balls of beef stew that are deep fried and served at "borrel" time... or after work drinkies to you and me. They have a silly name, look mostly unappetising and can easily give you third degree burns inside your mouth, but they're delicious and already an irrationally big part of my life here in Amsterdam.
I love the word winkel. Love, love, love it. It sounds like the word you may give a child to label their private parts but it's actually just the Dutch word for "shop". You may think this is boring but it still sounds so cute when you hear Dutchies say the word. It also doesn't stop me smiling when I see signs for "Slaapwinkel", see "Slaapkamer" below for further explanation.
Possibly the first Dutch word that stopped me in my tracks long before I moved to the Netherlands. You'll see it on plenty of Dutch menus and thus hilarity can ensue figuring out what ordering slagroom gets you. It only gets funnier when you learn it means cream Yes, please, plenty of slagroom for me!
Many people dream of being good koks and indeed there are several truly excellent koks in Amsterdam. Personally, I'm not much of a kok, but NewMan really is. I love it when he gets his koksmuts on and gets in the kitchen.... Okay, I'll stop. Kok is the Dutch word for chef or cook, and possibly even more amusingly, a "koksmuts" is a chef's hat, of course. I honestly couldn't make this up.
In an almost connected story, the Dutch have a Euro Council MP called Tiny Kox and what's most remarkable for us English speakers is that Tiny is an abbreviation of his real name Martinus. (Google it if you don't believe me). Apparently (and this is a story I was told by a Dutch friend, not a result of intensive internet research of the search term "tiny kox") Heer Kox once corrected a journalist who pronounced his first name "tiny", saying it should sound like "teeny". Hmm...
A few months ago I went to see the Dutch Student Orchestra perform at the famous Concertgebouw, Amsterdam's oldest and most famous music venue. It was a sophisticated evening and I thoroughly enjoyed the music. I also had several giggles when I opened the program and saw that three young men were responsible for slagwerk. I spent a long time looking out for what this slagwerk would entail but quickly quietened my imagination when I realised it was drums. And yes, slag means "beat" so that's the connection to cream... clever, huh?
Yes, another slag for you! If you already read my article on Dutch food for Travelettes, you'll know exactly what hagelslag is and when I then add that it's a popular breakfast or snack "delicacy" amongst children in the Netherlands, you'll have to wipe all thoughts of rudeness from your mind. At least until you're in the privacy of your own home and it's totally okay to giggle at the lonely box of hagelslag at the back of your cupboard. Because that's exactly what I do as I reach for the strawberry jam instead of these weird chocolate hundreds and thousands that I'm just not convinced will taste good on bread.
Arguably the finest example of a perfectly normal Dutch phrase sounding and looking exactly the same as an almighty English insult, not only is "u kunt" not a rude expression, it's actually the polite way of conjugating the verb "kunnen", or "to be able to" in English. So "u kunt" means "you can". Interestingly, when I then say that "u kunt niet" means "you can't" suddenly the English version looks a little dodgy too, wouldn't you say? (On a separate note, the Dutch word for the implied curse word that still makes me shiver at the grand old age of 33, is used much more freely over here. It's not unusual to hear it said in front of family and strangers and even by teenagers, and its usage is quite flexible as a verb, noun or adjective. What is, apparently, the worst thing you can say to someone or about someone over here, is another c-word; cancer, or "kanker". It's not that hard to see why seeing as you're pretty much wishing a potentially terminal illness on someone. Fairly unpleasant stuff.)
Pronounced "hore", this is one word you'll hear bouncing around virtually any conversation that goes on longer than a few minutes. A conjugation of the verb "horen" which means to hear, it's one of those words people use for emphasis or in certain other ways to imply certainty or even sarcasm. From my experience Dutch people throw it around so much the literal meaning - "you hear?" - has become very diluted so you definitely shouldn't answer, "Yes, I hear you" when it's thrown into a question or comment directed at you. At least, I don't. But then my Dutch really isn't that good at all, so maybe they are just calling me a....
So I have a lot of basterdsuiker in my kitchen because I really like to bake cakes and I have a bit of a sweet tooth. Yes, basterdsuiker is the Dutch word for caster sugar. From my research, the word basterd does indeed translate directly to the same sounding English word, which then left me actually pondering on the alternate meanings of caster in English and it all seemed very un-PC and made me feel very uncomfortable so I stopped, got some witte basterdsuiker out the cupboard and baked some raisin scones instead.
Oh goodness me, the images these words are popping into your brain. I do apologise. Well, let me try and correct what you're possibly imagining dik sap to mean. Dik sap is something you drink, it's best served fresh, and it has plenty of nutritional benefits. Oh, did that not really help? Okay, I'll just translate it directly. Dik sap literally means "thick juice", and is used to imply juice concentrate. Of course, the word dik gives me countless other opportunities to snigger but I think dik sap is one of the most amusing.
No this isn't the verb "to bone" or another such double entendre-ing verb, this is actually the Dutch word for beans so take your mind out of the gutter and into the beans and pulses aisle of the supermarket.
Yet again, the Dutch language has seriously shown us English speakers up. While we have somehow turned what is essentially the same word (albeit it with slightly different usages) into a filthy synonym for a man's wee-willy-winkel (sorry!), they probably wouldn't dream of calling a man's love tool such a derogatory word like "prick" or "prik". Instead they keep it for important things like the room ("kamer") I need to go to when I have been for blood tests during my pregnancy. Though I must admit I'm really not a fan of this kind of prik at all.
So you now know that prikkamer is where you have blood taken, so of course a slaapkamer is where you.... indulge in slap and tickle? Well, yes, actually. (Though the famous Dutch phrase "neuken in de keuken" suggests they don't like to limit themselves to one set of four walls). But it's also where you sleep... yes, slaap is sleep, so a slaapkamer is your bedroom.
Anyone else got any naughty sounding Dutch words that are perfectly innocent? Or in any language in fact? I'd love to hear them as I honestly didn't snigger enough writing this article!
And you can read more about my life in Amsterdam here, or you can plan your own trip to Amsterdam starting with one of the posts below:
When is the Best Time to Visit Amsterdam?
Frances M. Thompson
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