Being Dutch in London

It’s already over 2.5 years ago that I moved to London. I thought that moving to another Western European country where they spoke a language I was fluent in, wouldn’t be too much of a challenge. Indeed it didn’t take me long to feel at home here and I can’t stop raving about what a great city London is, but I have come across many more baffling typical British habits than expected. Also, being immersed in a different language 24/7 is quite different from speaking English at school or hearing it on TV. I have experienced some awkward situations due to language issues indeed. Like that time when I was sitting in one of my favourite restaurants with a Dutch friend and I was telling her enthusiastically about the chef. I felt so embarrassed when I realised I had said the word kok (Dutch for ‘chef’ or ‘cook’) a bit too loud and too often in the quiet restaurant…

Feeling inspired by Hayley’s hilarious blog Bitterballenbruid I decided to write down some of the curious British habits and differences with the Netherlands I’ve encountered in these last years.

Damn these vowels!

Daily words and sayings that do my head in
A list of a few English words and sayings I come across on almost a daily basis and that absolutely fry my brains. Having studied English in uni, I’m almost embarrassed to share these, but these are things they don’t teach you at school!
1. ‘a’ vs ‘e’ / ‘e’ vs ‘i’: spelling is one of the basic things when learning a language, but I still have problems with these vowels. The letter ‘a’ in English sounds exactly as the letter ‘e’ in Dutch while the letter in ‘e’ English sounds as the Dutch letter ‘i’. Confused anyone?
2. 18.30 vs 17.30: English time indications are highly confusing for my Dutch ears and brains. When they say ‘half 6 in the evening’ here they mean ‘half past 6’ or ‘18.30’. If you were to meet someone at half 6 in the Netherlands, you’d better be ready at 17.30 as in Dutch we interpret it as ‘half an hour to 6 o’clock’. In this case, I do think the English way of indicating time is more efficient though. Try to explain how we say 17.35 in the Netherlands to an English-speaking person and I promise they will just stare at you in confusion. (In Dutch you would say this as ‘5 past half to 6’ while in English you simply say ‘five thirty-five’ or ’25 minutes to 6′.)
3. cafe vs cafรฉ: in the UK a ‘cafe’ is a coffee shop where they serve hot drinks and sell nice cakes and sandwiches. In Dutch cafรฉ means ‘pub’. You can imagine how surprised visitors might get when I suggest to go to a cafe at 10am.
4. organic vs biological: in Dutch you use the word biologisch when you refer to food that is free of pesticides. In English we refer to these products as ‘organic’ and not ‘biological’ which would have made things much easier. In English, you use ‘biological’ for processes that are related to biology or living organisms.

School run
I learned this term from the book Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy last year. The first time I came across it, I thought Bridget was volunteering at the sports day at her kids’ school. But then there was a second school run, a third, a fourth and so on. Okay, Bridget might have adopted a healthier lifestyle, but I couldn’t imagine her running every day and why would her children have sports days at least once a week? Did they go to a military academy for youngsters? I was confused so I asked my hubby for clarification. He laughed at my theory of marathon Bridget and explained that a school run is the activity of dropping off and picking up children at school by car. Ah, the book suddenly made much more sense!

Size does matter
It’s a cliche, but Brits are thirsty people! Fortunately, beer and wine distributors have introduced proper glass sizes to adequately quench that thirst. Standard Dutch beer glasses of 250ml won’t do the trick here! In the UK, pints hold 556ml of refreshing beer and you can order wine in three sizes: small (125ml), medium (175ml) and large (250ml).
If you want to see what effect pub-crawling has on people, then hop on the tube around 11pm in the weekend for some free entertainment. Be warned: especially women are notorious drinkers here and I tell you, seeing a drunk orange-faced stiletto-wearing sausage (British women prefer short and tight dresses) is not a pretty sight!
Especially Christmas seems to revolve around getting wasted and I’m sure December is just one boozy blur for loads of people. These weeks the biggest work challenge is how to get more intoxicated than your colleagues at the office Christmas party while donning the ‘coolest’ Christmas jumper. Christmas boozefests have been the main topic in magazines here for the last weeks. But we all know that peace on earth starts with a hangover of course.

Two drunk girls in London on ‘Mad Friday’, the last Friday before Christmas. Photo from

It is true, the British are very polite people and they apologise ALL the time, even when they’re clearly not in the fault. When someone bumps into you in the Netherlands, the ‘normal’ response would be to yell at them or give them the evil eye, but here you, the bumpee, apologise as well. Apologise for what? Because you just happened to walk in the street and that other person was too busy playing on the phone to notice you? It’s an odd thing, but I find myself saying ‘sorry’ all the time as well now and notice how rude Dutch people actually can be whenever I go back to the Netherlands.

Trendy kale
Kale has been branded as a superfood in the US and UK in recent years. I can’t help chuckling when I pass trendy juice bars selling green smoothies containing holy kale or expensive organic shops with at least three different types of kale on display. Kale has been an ordinary vegetable all my life back in the Netherlands. It’s a typical winter vegetable traditionally eaten in a stamppot (kale, or another vegetable, and potatoes cooked and mashed together in one pan) and not sexy at all. But how trendy could you get with a name as boerenkool – the Dutch word for ‘kale’ – which literally translates as ‘farmer’s cabbage’?!?

The trendiest juice of all: kale in a bottle

Christmas in the weekend? Let’s change the dates for national days off work then!
The British are very practical so to have a national holiday in the middle of the week doesn’t make any sense to them. In the Netherlands our holidays are set to certain dates: Liberation Day (Bevrijdingsdag) is always celebrated on the 5th of May and King’s Day (Koningsdag) on the 27th of April. So, should those dates happen to be on a Wednesday, then you just party on a Wednesday and go back to work on Thursday. Not in the UK, here they move such holidays to a Friday, ensuring people have a longer weekend to get properly boozed up (see above). The UK government is very generous and even gives you an extra day off work when a national holiday takes place in the weekend. It was a real bummer when I had my first job in the Netherlands and I found out that Christmas and New Year’s Eve took place in the weekend. Here in the UK you get extra days off if holidays are in the weekends! For example, in 2015 Christmas Day is on a Friday and Boxing Day (in Dutch Tweede Kerstdag) on a Saturday. To compensate this, Monday 28 December is yet another bank holiday (feestdagen en nationale vrije dagen). Sweet!

Are you Dutch and can you relate to any of the points I mentioned in this post? Do share your experiences here by leaving a comment! Expect more of such posts as I keep discovering curious differences ๐Ÿ™‚

10 thoughts on “Being Dutch in London

  1. Lol, i recognise almost everything from your list! I tried to explain our way of telling time to some friends but I just got confused stares, haha.

    I’ve been living in Reading for 4.5 years now and when I go back to NL it bothers me a lot how rude the Dutch actually are! I said ‘thank you’ to the bus driver when I got off the bus and people stared at me like I was crazy! ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. That awkwark moment when you tell you dutch friend you’ll be there at half 3 and let him wait for an hour..

  3. Heel herkenbaar! Jij loopt tegen dezelfde dingen aan als die ik ook ooit meemaakte! Leuk om te weten dat ik niet de enige ben….
    Het is vaak wel leuk om spraakverwarring mee te maken, er valt vaak wel om te lachen, toch? ๐Ÿ™‚

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