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Everyday Dutch Words All Internationals Should Know

Date:12 September 2019
Just a casual conversation between me and a machine
Just a casual conversation between me and a machine

Congratulations! So far, you have managed to find your way to class through mazes of corridors, mastered riding a bike through Dutch traffic and made your first new friends. “So what next?”, you might be asking yourself. Well, now might just be the perfect time for you to start getting to know your new home country a bit better. Of course, the next step to understanding your new neighbours and the Dutch culture better is by learning their language. Naturally, you have already gone through all the standard phrases and words such as ‘Hoi’ and ‘Dank je wel’, which you confidently use in every situation you encounter a native Nederlander. However, the Dutch often use a lot of words and phrases in their everyday language which are not explained in most beginners language books. This is why in this blog I have come up with some fictional Groningen scenarios and summarized some of the most commonly used everyday words and phrases you might hear when you speak with a Dutchie. 

Scenario 1: At the Market 

So you are on your way to do some groceries with your friends. Yet once at the market, you can’t seem to find anything you are looking for. You see an old lady and politely ask whether she speaks English. Somewhat bewildered, the lady replies Helaas niet” (Unfortunately not”). Remembering this one blog you recently read you immediately try to gather your Dutch skills and continue speaking: “Oh, dat maakt niet uit. Kunt u mij misschien helpen?” (“Oh, that doesn’t matter. Can you maybe help me?”). To this, the old lady joyfully responds with a loud “Ja, natuurlijk!!” ( “Yes, of course!”). After finally finding the right market stall, your language limbo continues. Upon asking the vendor whether the avocados are ripe, the bulky looking Groninger just responds by saying: “Ze zijn gewoon goed” (“gewoon” is often colloquially used in Dutch and translates into ‘normal’ or ‘just’. Here: “They are just fine”). Not exactly sure what to make of this answer, you buy your fruits and head off for a study session at a nearby café...  

Scenario 2: In the Café

At the café close to the vismarkt it is business as usual. The constant chatter is only interrupted by a sequential exchange of “Dag” “Doeg” “Doei” (“bye” (informal)) with each word following a slightly different vocal sound and intonation, similar to an old doorbell. In the corner of your eye, you notice a couple sitting at another table who are in a seemingly intense debate about which place sells the best Bitterballen. You have enough time to pick up the guy saying “Jawel lieverd, klopt. Maar....” (Yes sure, honey/love, that's right. But…”), before he suddenly gets the contents of the girl's water glass into his face. Instantly, the place turns dead silent, as if someone had hit a mute button. Only one tall guy sitting in the corner tears through the silence with a deep “Oh joh!” (Dutch vocal expression of surprise).  While the girl angrily stomps out, you decide that this was enough Dutch passion for the day. You hush to the cashier and pay your coffee. Stumbling out of the café you still hear the cashier call  “Bonnetje mee?” (“Do you want a receipt?”), but all you can get out is a soft “da..doe...doei” before fleeing the scene...

Scenario 3: At university 

After the experience at the café, you decide to seek refuge at uni and go to class early. At least people have to be quiet there and water is only allowed in plastic bottles. While you’re about to walk inside the Academy Building a guy bumps into you and promptly says “Sorry hoor” (‘hoor’ is an untranslatable word which is very often used in Dutch to emphasize something, used in certain contexts it means ‘listen’). Slightly surprised about what you believe to be an uncalled-for insult, you decide to just brush it off by saying “Geen problem” (“no problem”). While the guy is about to continue his way you suddenly realize that you actually have no idea where your class is as the schedule only reads the building name and address. You quickly stop him and ask where to find the Oude Kijk in ‘t Jatstraat, yet the words coming out of your mouth sound as if you were struggling to eat a hot potato while talking. He bursts out laughing and says Doe normaal, man! Je bent echt een gekke gast!” (“Seriously, dude. You are a really funny guy”) and explains you the way. After giving him a dubious sounding  “dank je wel”, you part ways with a slightly awkward high five to which the Dutch guy just says “Later man, succes!” (“Later dude, good luck!”). Heading to class you can’t help but wonder whether it’s just you or whether this is just a typical day in Groningen…  

As mentioned before, the scenarios above are fictional. But as you know in every fictional story there is also a grain of truth, and some of these situations may or may not have occurred to me at one point during my time in Groningen. If you want to know more about how to learn Dutch as an international you can check out my blog where I talk about my own experiences with the Dutch language. There are also quite a few websites and videos that explain to you how to pronounce words correctly and teach you the basics of the Dutch language. In addition to this, you should make sure to check out these free Dutch courses offered by the language centre. Tot zo and success!

Do you know any other peculiar Dutch words and phrases that the Dutch use often? Let us know in the comments below

About the author

Hey there! My name is Asmo and I’m a Finnish/German student exploring life in the Netherlands. Besides being into photography and politics, I am currently doing my Master's degree in European Law. Oh, and I write blogs as well.


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