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I have heard the Dutch national anthem played a fair few times during the past week or so because of national remembrance day on the 4th of May, Liberation Day on the 5th and the week before the celebration of King Willem Alexander’s birthday.  Ever wondered about the origins of the Dutch national ditty? Well, wonder no more.

Origins of the Dutch National Anthem

The national anthem is entitled “Het Wilhelmus”.  The song is more than 400 years old.

It is thought to have been written back around 1572 but the writer of the piece remains uncertain. There are two theories, one being Philios van Marnix and the other Dirck Coornhert, but many doubt that either of the men wrote it due to the nature of the language and no claim being made by either.

A notable fact is that Het Wilhelmus has only actually been the official recognised Dutch anthem since 10 May 1932. Before that it was a popular ditty in any case and sung on more than one official occasion throughout Dutch history.

The origins of the tune is less uncertain and is based on a french song, “Autre chanson de la ville de Chartres assiégée par le prince de Condé”.

What is the Dutch National Anthem About?

The song tells the story of Willem van Oranje (known also as Vader des vaderlands because of his importance in Dutch history) and the tale of his fight against the King of Spain.The anthem is about the Dutch struggle for independence from Spain, whi were persecuting protestants.

Willem didn’t always agree with the Dutch king but wanted to remain faithful to him – and do right by the Dutch people and his country.

The song is written as if Willem himself is singing it.

How Does it Go?

Het Wilhelmus is made up of fifteen verses and is an acrostic; the first letter of each verse originally spelling Willem van Nassov (old Dutch for Willem van Nassau).

Also interesting to know that some vowels in some of the words have been changed so that they rhyme – call it poetic licence if you like. In other words. you’re best off not honing your Dutch language skills by means of the national anthem…..

For those of you who feel the need to stand up and sing the first verse of the Dutch national anthem next time the orchestra strikes up, here it is:

Wilhelmus van Nassou ben ik, van Duitsen bloed,
den vaderland getrouwe blijf ik tot in den dood.
Een prinsje van Oranje ben ik, vrij onverveerd,
den koning van Hispanie heb ik altijd geëerd.
The original lyrics (taken from Wikipedia) went like this:
Wilhelmus van Nassouwe
Ben ick van Duytschen bloet
Den Vaderlant getrouwe
Blyf ick tot in den doet:
Een Prince van Oraengien
Ben ick vrij onverveert,
Den Coninck van Hispaengien
Heb ick altijt gheeert.
And in English:
William of Nassau, scion
Of a German and ancient line,
I dedicate undying
Faith to this land of mine.
A prince am I undaunted,
Of Orange, very fearless,
To the king of Spain I’ve granted
A lifelong loyalty.

And if you want to hear all 15 versus knock yourself out using this YouTube link.

When is the Dutch National Anthem Played?

It is played at ceremonies and special events. However, it may only be played during the receiving of a head of state if a member of the Dutch royal house is present. This is not the case in most other countries.

You’ll hear it played at international sporting events, like World Cup football tournaments. If the Dutch actually make it to the finals. Which is not the case this year, but was in 2010.

When the Dutch sportsmen and women win an Olympic medal the anthem plays so during any given winter Olympics you’ll hear it a lot!

Usually only the first verse (and often the sixth too) is played on such occasions to ensure that thousands of people do not have to sit through fifteen minutes of unknown music.

Let’s Write A New Anthem – Ready for a Challenge?

Given that the current Dutch national anthem is based on an historical event that certainly no longer features in daily conversation it may well be time to come up with a new one. What should it be about? What story summarises the modern day Netherlands?

Anyone creative enough to pen the first verse of a potential new Dutch anthem? In Dutch or English and bonus points if it fits the current music.

If it’s really good I’ll send you a copy of the Dutched Up! (Rocking the clogs expat style) book………… give it a go and share below!
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Turning Dutch by Amanda Van Mulligen - 3w ago

This week sees the Dutch taking to the streets in honour of the king’s birthday. He’ll be in Groningen with his family this year but the celebrations will be country wide.

At the forefront of any King’s Day celebration are children’s events. You can read more in my post over on Multicultural Kid Blogs: Celebrating King’s Day in the Netherlands

If this is your first Koningsdag then you are in for a treat, here’s the low down – everything you need to know about King’s Day in the Netherlands: Everything You Need to Know About King’s Day in the Netherlands (And Some Stuff You Probably Don’t Need to Know)

If you’re a seasoned partygoer then you know exactly what is in store and have your orange shirt at the ready.

Where are you heading and what will you be doing on Friday on Koningsdag?

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When I was pregnant for the first time I had a renewed interest in nursery rhymes; all those childhood favourites suddenly flooded into my head, breaking through the barrier that adulthood had erected. I wasn’t just remembering the English songs from my childhood, but I started learning Dutch ones too.

Nursery Rhymes as a Language Learning Tool
Nursery rhymes are usually the first songs we learn as children, the tunes staying familiar to us long past the time when the words have faded from our adult memory.
These rhymes are an excellent way to add vocabulary to a second language, a great way to learn new words – not just for children but for their mothers too I discovered.
Nursery Rhymes as an Integration Tool

I also learnt that nursery rhymes are a strangely useful integration tool when you’re an expat; think along the lines of local mother and toddler groups and storytime at the local library.
Without putting much thought into the why I bought a CD of Dutch nursery rhymes a few months into my first pregnancy and listened to it numerous times. The CD had the words printed in a booklet so I could sing along to the new songs I learnt. Those were probably not my finest moments……..
Some tunes I recognised even though the words were obviously different from the English version I was familiar with – tunes such as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, known in Dutch as Twinkel Twinkel Kleine Ster.
Some of the songs I heard were multicultural classics which the Dutch have adopted and made their own, like Broeder Jacob  known as Freres Jacques in French or Brother John in English.
However, most of the songs I listened to were completely new and traditionally Dutch. One that caught my attention early on was Witte Zwanen, Zwarte Zwanen because of the line “Wie wil mee naar Engeland varen? Engeland is gesloten. De sleutel is gebroken,” which translates as “Who wants to sail to England with me? England is closed. The key is broken.” A Dutch nursery rhyme featuring my birth country was sure to make an impact!
Story Time at the Library & Local Mother Toddler Groups
By the time my first born son was old enough for me to take him to the weekly story time at our local library I had a few children’s songs in my repertoire that I felt confident enough to attempt singing when the librarian launched into a sing song session. I didn’t feel as left out and different as I would have done if none of the tunes sounded familiar.
By the time I started taking my youngest to the library story time events I could sing a mean ‘In De Maneschijn’, which he insisted I sang with him almost every bedtime up to the age of four.
Translated the title means ‘In the Moonlight’ and it goes like this:
In de maneschijn, in de maneschijn,
klom ik op een trapje door het raamkozijn.
Maar je raadt het niet, nee je raadt het niet.
Zo doet een vogel en zo doet een vis
en zo doet een duizendpoot, die schoenenpoetser is.
 
en dat is één en dat is twee
en dat is dikke, dikke, dikke tante Kee.
En dat is recht en dat is krom,
en zo draaien wij het wieleke nog eens om.
Rom-bom!
You can listen to the song here.
So nursery rhymes helped me feel more of an integrated expat mother on the Dutch mother toddler scene. Learning these songs added many new words to my Dutch vocabulary  – and I had a few Dutch history lessons as a bonus along the way.
Bedtime Song
The rhyme I sang the most was definitely Slaap Kindje Slaap as my children fell asleep at night. This song conjures up wonderful memories of new motherhood, as well as providing a timeless reminder of those sleepless years……..
It’s a Dutch lullaby about a baby and a sheep:
Sleep baby sleep
Outside walks a sheep
A sheep with white feet
That walks so softly and sweetly
Sleep baby sleep
Outside walks a sheep
Origins of Dutch Nursery Rhymes
Many Dutch nursery rhymes are traditional and their origins are no longer known. They have been passed from generation to generation for hundreds of years. These songs for children are a testament to the power of the spoken word throughout history. Despite their simple language many nursery rhymes, not just Dutch ones, hide a dark or political message within a catchy tune. The speculation about the popular Ring a Ring o’ Roses song is a great example of this. So I started looking up the origins of some of the Dutch songs I had learned.
Hoedje van Papier is commonly sung by Dutch children – it means Paper Hat. I learned that the song stems back to the reign of King Willem I who was facing the threat of a rebellion. He called up 80,000 soldiers to fight but had a shortage of military uniforms for them. Hence, the soldiers were given paper hats instead of leather or cloth hats. And that’s where this funny rhymes about paper hats comes from.
Final Words
For many years after I first became a mother, nursery rhymes played a part in my daily life and truly helped me feel like I belonged at those toddler and mother gatherings.
My children are no longer interested in nursery rhymes but the memories and the vocabulary learnt stay with me.
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I moved to the Netherlands in 2000 and over the years I have learnt Dutch the best I can. In 2017 I moved to the Achterhoek and suddenly faced the issue that this part of the Netherlands doesn’t speak the same Dutch language as the West of the country. You know when people speaking Dutch on TV are subtitled because their regional dialect is so levend it is incomprehensible to those speaking only standard Dutch? Well that’s my new life. Subtitles would be great.

Regional Dialects

The Netherlands as a country may be small but that fact doesn’t stop it being diverse. Language is definitely a large part of that diversity.

Friesland has its own language (the only Dutch province to have a separate recognised language) but officially the rest of the country speaks standard Dutch. However, don’t let theory fool you; the Dutch language is not identical throughout the rest of the Netherlands. There are massive regional differences.

Each area of the country has its own language quirks, sayings and words. And that includes the Achterhoek.

Dutch Low Saxon

Unbeknown to me when we were house searching, we moved to an area (east Netherlands basically) with a Dutch Low Saxon dialect.

The Dutch government recognises it as a regional language but its use is officially in decline, especially amongst children. It’s a dialect influenced by our German neighbours but similar enough to Dutch to be classified as Dutch by some linguistic experts.

Achterhoeks is a subgroup of Dutch Low Saxon.

Speaking Achterhoeks

Achterhoeks is the regional language spoken in Gelderland. And I can confirm it is alive and well amongst the older adult population around me.

There are sounds in Achterhoeks that don’t exist in standard Dutch. There are umlauts. Seriously. Leven is laeven. Praten is praoten. Waaien is waejen.

Suddenly I find myself, once more, linguistically sticking out because people have to switch to standard Dutch to communicate with me. Yep, after however many years of struggling to have conversations in Dunglish when I first moved here I now find myself looking as confused and blank when someone Dutch talks to me as I did seventeen years ago.

Learning the Hard Way About Dutch Language Differences

Like last week when a fellow mother told me I may as well wait where I was instead of going into the school grounds because my three were heading out already. I saw her lips moving, I heard her making noises but I had no clue what she had just said to me. My brain was processing madly but I could make no sense of a single word she had uttered. Achterhoeks.

“Ach ja, ik moet natuurlijk Nederlands praten,” she said laughing as my blank face told her everything she needed to know. She repeated her sentence in Dutch and I waited on the spot for my kids.

A few weeks ago we were invited for a borrel by newcomers to the street but they addressed the invitation using names that were not ours. I explained the error to our neighbour and she looked at my kids and asked if they could translate. It had been many years since my language skills were insulted to that degree. You could have knocked my eldest son down, he was so flabbergasted. Oh how we laughed. Afterwards. A little. Oh hang on, how my Dutch husband laughed.

Our builder (when he was actually coming to the house regularly and doing the work he promised to do and not flitting in and out for an hour at a time completing projects months later than he said he would – bee in my bonnet? Moi?) talks to his colleagues in Achterhoeks. I have no clue what they are talking about most of the time. Luckily he switches to Dutch with me, and even then I have to use my best concentration face to have a conversation.

We had a local tiler here that I swear just made noises. Incomprehensible noises.

The older a person is the more likely they are to speak Achterhoeks and the less chance there is of me ever understanding a word uttered.

Wat zegt u? Or rather Wah blief?

*Sigh*

Just when you think you have this turning Dutch thing sorted, you discover this integration lark just never ends……….

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We spent the Easter weekend at a FarmCamps in Noord Brabant. It’s our second Farm Camps experience and it didn’t disappoint. I, once again, had three upset boys for two evenings after we packed up and left our holiday tent. They’re on a promise of a return visit.

I’m not a camping type of girl, and my husband is not the camping type of guy but Farm Camps is a whole other story. It works. It’s glamping – so there’s a toilet, a shower and heating in the tent. Heat is vital for my cold blooded husband and not having to hobble over a field in the middle of the night to go to the toilet with three kids is a sure win for me.

We stayed in a six persons Lodge tent – and it’s roomy. There’s no crawling around on hands and knees to get into bed (which are proper beds by the way, with duvets) and no danger of waking up in a huge rain puddle. There’s an equipped kitchen area with a hob, fridge and sink. There’a a BBQ with a table and chairs on the terrace outside each tent, and a hammock to lounge around on in good weather.

But for the rest it’s camping. When the wind blows the tent blows (a little – the tents are sturdy constructions) and when it rains you hear it loud and clear. You open the tent up and you are outside.

There are activities for the kids. This time around the emphasis was on the ponies – which my boys LOVED! They are not experienced riders by any means, in fact this was only their second pony riding experience (the first one also at a FarmCamps) but they were hooked completely. They loved the individual attention, fetching the ponies out of the wei, and brushing them and helping saddle them ready for riding lessons.

Carolien and Huub run Breehees and its Carolien who is passionate about the ponies and horses there. She takes in animals with a story, ponies who have not been treated well by their owners for example and she helps them.  And she gives riding lessons.

There are two alpacas living in Breehees with a similar story, who incidentally like to spit chewed up corn at guests as I personally discovered. There are rabbits and chickens on site too.

There’s a playground with an air trampoline and a zip-line, a climbing frame and slide and swings, go-karts for the kids to tear around on, a field with goals to football on and space to throw a frisbee around.

There’s a cafe/ restaurant too, and Huub bakes his own bread (which is extremely tasty) and every day there are baked goods (baked by Maria) to try. You can have breakfast delivered to your tent in the morning, or you can place a bread order and pick it up at the restaurant.

And not to forget the tramsafari trip that sets off from Breehees stopping at a nearby dairy farm (run my Carolien’s brother) and the local woods, with lots of stories along the way. The tour in our case was given by Carolien’s father, who used to run Breehees and was a farmer himself. He had lots to say about the sorry state of farming in the Netherlands these days, probably worthy of a separate blog post in the future.

In short, FarmCamps is a brilliant experience and we’ll be back!

*This is NOT a sponsored post. FarmCamps was such a positive experience (twice) that it is worth spreading the word!*

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Turning Dutch by Amanda Van Mulligen - 1M ago

Dutch food is not like anything you have eaten before. Of that I am sure. Here’s the low down of what to expect when encountering typical Dutch food.

1. Lower Expectations

If you don’t expect much, you won’t be disappointed. Typical Dutch food is not haute cuisine. It is not fine dining. In fact, some might say it’s hardly dining at all. Unless you head to a Michelin star restaurant. However, that doesn’t mean you should steer clear of Dutch menus. Here are five foods you should experience whilst in the Netherlands.

2. Get Frying

A lot of frying is done in the Netherlands. A lot.

‘Snacks’ are a unique type of fast food found floating in fryers across the country, usually served with friets.

Snacks include things like kipcorn, frikandel, bitterbal, bami and kroket.

It is actually best not to ask what is in your snack – you don’t want to know. It’s the reason why snacks are served with more sauce than you know what to do with.

The traditional food at New Year is also a deep fried delicacy oliebollen just as its name suggests (oil balls).

3. Ditch the Cutlery

The Dutch eat quite a bit with their hands. For example, no knives and forks are needed for traditional ‘snacks’ or frietjes, despite the lashings of sauce (see 4). Abandon the metal tools and get stuck in.

4. Get Saucy

The Dutch are masters of sauces. The ‘out of a plastic bottle’ variety. A friend once visited us from England and exclaimed surprise at the sauce assortment in our fridge. I am assimilated and as saucy as any Dutch person you will ever meet.

When we talk about sauces, we are talking about frietssaus (for dolloping on your chips, not to be confused with mayonnaise), currysaus (not the same curry sauce you get in British fish and chip shops), satesauschillisaus, knoflooksaus (garlic sauce), shoarmasaus and of course tomato ketchup and mayonaise.

5. Learn to Love it Hot and Strong

Drinking coffee is a national pastime in the Netherlands and for those who like their coffee bordering on coloured water, you are in for a shock. The Dutch tend to like their coffee dark and strong.

Complex coffee machines are a central part of many Dutch kitchens.

6. Drink Milk With Lunch

The Dutch obsession with cows is widely acknowledged so it’s hardly a surprise that milk is popular too. With lunch. And not in schools but in the workplace.

When I first moved to the Netherlands I was astonished to see adults gulping down plastic beakers of milk with their boterham; the last time I’d drunk milk with my lunch was back in the days of bottles of school milk served with a straw!

On a side note, drinking tea in the Netherlands is also an experience for Brits who put milk in their tea (yes, don’t roll your eyes, I know!). The Dutch often look blankly at you if you ask for some milk to pour into your tea (rightly so, in my humble opinion but my English visitors do put milk in their tea and it has led to some interesting discussions out and about). You may end up using creamer or koffiemelk in tea. Either way, it doesn’t make for a ‘nice cup ‘o tea”.

In addition, when the Dutch drink white coffee they tend to use koffiemelk (evaporated milk) or koffiecreamer and not the regular stuff from a cow like many Brits.

7. The Dutch Like it Flat

Like the country they live in, one favourite Dutch food is flat; pancakes.

Pannenkoekenhuizen (pancake houses) are everywhere and are wildly popular. You’re never far away from one.

Pancakes come in all sorts of varieties – sweet, savoury and everything in between. They even come in different sizes; poffertjes are mini pancakes. If you want to make your own you can buy poffertje pans, something I did and regretted the first and only time I used it. It’s much easier to buy them or consume them in a pannenkoekenhuis.

The thing is that dinner in a pancake restaurant quite often results in a meal of pancake covered in sugar and syrup. Not a vegetable in sight. This is what I call pudding or dessert…….. and I am told I am wrong – sweet pancakes are simply a dinner that is a treat.

My tip is to eat dinner before you head out and grab pudding in the pannenkoekenhuis  unless you plan to take a savoury pancake, which by the way really are very good.

8. Take up Jogging

Aside from all the deep fried food and the pancakes I have mentioned, there is also a lot of sweet food on the Dutch menu, especially when it comes to celebrating.

For birthdays there is the usual birthday cake (if you are lucky), and you are required to provide a traktatie for your classmates or colleagues. This means you either exercise serious willpower or end up with a ‘treat’ on a regular basis.

To celebrate the birth of a baby the parents offer  beschuit met muisjes (meaning literally biscuits with little mice; in reality a round, dry, crunchy cracker with either blue or pink sugar coated anise seeds depending on the gender of the baby).

King’s Day is marked with orange tompouce.

Sinterklaas celebrations mean sweets, sweets and more sweets. And little biscuits.

On New Year’s Eve oliebollen and appelflappen are all the rage and even a simple coffee date with a neighbour is usually accompanied by some kind of sweet treat.

It all starts to take its toll on the hips. And thighs. And rear end. So taking up jogging is a good idea.

The alternative is to hide away in your house and quit socialising FOREVER.

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It’s local election day in the Netherlands today. You can also vote in a referendum on the new intelligence service law which the government want to introduce. Here’s the Turning Dutch guide to voting today:
  • You need to take your stempas and ID (passport, ID card or rijbewijs) to your local stembureau. This is indicated on your stempas, but you may choose another so long as it is in your gemeente.

  • The stembureaus are open from 7.30 am to 9.00pm. There are some exceptions where opening times are earlier but by the time you read this that is completely irrelevant so I won’t waste any more of your time with details.

If you have no stempas you cannot vote – it’s that simple. Go about your day as usual.

  • If you are ill you can give permission for someone to vote on your behalf – see your stempas for details. You need to supply a copy of your ID so make sure you allocate someone you know and not any stranger that happens to wander past your house.
  • When you enter the stembureau there will be a row of tables with people sitting behind them. In my bureau they were friendly and helpful. Hopefully they are in yours too and they will guide you through the process if you need assistance.
  • An official will check your ID against your stempas.
  • If the official is satisfied you are who you say you are you will be handed two pieces of paper (by the official sitting next to him or her).
  • Where I now live the ballot paper is small and can be unfolded easily within the confines of the stemhokje. Where I used to live the ballot paper was about 5 meters wide and extremely unhandy. The size of the ballot paper is related to the number of parties and candidates within those parties taking part in the gemeenteraadsverkiezingen. If you find the size of the paper unmanageable then make sure you move to a different gementee by the time the next elections come around.
  • Take those two pieces of paper to the stemhokje.
  • Note you are not allowed to take anyone else into the hokje with you, that includes babies and toddlers (without permission), children, elderly parents or waifs and strays. It’s not meant to be a social event or ‘gezellig’. Get in, get the job done and get out. There are some exceptions if there are physical restrictions meaning you need assistance.
  • You may take as long as you need to cast your vote. Within reason. If you get your camping gear or a three course meal out then you may be escorted out of the stembureau.
  • You may be intoxicated when you vote but you may not be a nuisance. Nuisances will be escorted out of the stembureau. Sober nuisances will also be helped on their way.
  • Nobody may influence your vote whilst you are casting it. Nobody should be looking over your shoulder or bribing you with stroopwafels to choose a certain candidate.
  • The stemhokje must be open and visible – i.e it may not be closed off. It must also be a certain size and if you want to measure it to make sure it meets requirements then feel free.
  • Using either the red pencil provided (attached to a chain and not to be taken home with you) or one you brought with you (it must be red) colour in the circle of the candidate you wish to vote for.
  • Whilst you are busy with the red pencil also colour in the circle next to ja or nee on the referendum ballot paper.
  • If it floats your boat you may take a stemfie – that’s a photo of your ballot paper with you hovering over it. Het mag.
  •  If you mess up and colour in the wrong circle let one of the officials know and they will provide you with a new ballot paper. Mess up again and it’s tough luck. There are no third chances in Dutch politics.
  • Place the ballot paper for the gemeenteraadsverkiezingen in the blue box (looks like the dustbin you put out on the street for collection only it has a hole in the top) and the referendum paper in the yellow ‘bin’.
  • Wish everyone a fijne dag and leave.
  • Carry on about your business as normal.
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Dutch is not the easiest language to learn but there are ways to help you pick the language up a little quicker.

Whatever your situation, living in the Netherlands means you need to have some level of Dutch language skills to get around; even if it is just to be able to read traffic signs and shop notices.

Some expats have to attend a compulsory inburgeringscursus, which includes Dutch language lessons, but if you are from the EU then such courses are not obligatory and it might be a little harder to get yourself motivated to attend evening Dutch classes.

Here are 8 ways to improve your skills:

Formal Language Tuition

After a few years here I realised that although I understood a lot of Dutch and could certainly get by, my writing and grammar was not up to scratch so I found a tutor and went for a few lessons.

Sometimes an employer will pay for you to attend language tuition, and sometimes even in work hours so it’s definitely worth asking.

Read Everything You Can Get Your Hands On

Read Dutch newspapers and magazines. Read brochures and info booklets. Whilst you are waiting for your huisarts or tandarts appointment pick up something and read it to pass the time.

The more you read, the more vocabulary you pick up and that makes life easier when you are out and about.

Watch Dutch TV Channels

By this I don’t necessarily mean Dutch spoken TV, but make life easier and watch English spoken programs on Dutch channels. The subtitles will help you pick up new Dutch words, their meaning and spelling whilst being entertained.

Story Time

Obviously this works best if you actually take a child of the right age with you, otherwise you may get strange looks. Story time at the library is a great way not only for your children to pick up Dutch, but you too.

You will learn theme based words and Dutch songs, as well as the opportunity to take books home with you from the library (again certain conditions apply – library membership is recommended as stealing library books is frowned upon).

This leads on to my next tip….

Join Your Local Library

Borrowing books from the library is a fabulous way to expose yourself to the Dutch written word. It’s particularly handy if you borrow the Dutch version of a book you have already read in English. This way you know the story and already have the gist of the book and can concentrate on the vocabulary, spelling and grammar.

Be Hard on Yourself

Be strict if you have a Dutch partner and in-laws and ask them to be mean and speak Dutch and only Dutch to you. If you work with Dutch people ask them for help to get you speaking more Dutch in the workplace.

This is how I gained a lot of my Dutch – not that I asked my in-laws to stop speaking English to me: they just did. However, it works a treat because you are forced to speak Dutch and concentrate on every single word being said to you. This is language immersion at it’s most effective.

Language Course Books or CD’s

Before I moved to the Netherlands I got myself a copy of Hugo’s Dutch in Three Months which is a great example of a helpful language book to move your Dutch along.

Set Up a Group

You could set up Dutch conversation sessions with a group of you to motivate you, over lunch at work or in a more social setting. Make it fun!

Over to You: What methods have you used to improve your Dutch?
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The Netherlands is a liberal country. Dutch society prides itself on being open and tolerant. But is it? A recent suit company advertising campaign may just have blown that particular theory to pieces.

If you live in the Netherlands, you are probably more than aware of the discussion caused by Suitsupply’s recent marketing campaign that features gay men. Billboards and posters went up around the country featuring two men kissing and men affectionately touching one another. The accompanying slogan is “Don’t Just Fit In, Find Your Perfect Fit.”

New Spring Summer 2018 | Find Your Perfect Fit pic.twitter.com/zcjzmV5Rtt

— SUITSUPPLY (@suitsupply) 21 February 2018

Turns out, there are some living in the Netherlands who are not so tolerant as the Dutch reputation would make you believe. Around thirty bus stop posters were vandalised such as this one with a swastika, shared by Pride Amsterdam on Twitter:

Other posted were covered over with tape, or simply ripped from the holder.

The Netherlands has a reputation for tolerance and a support of gay rights, being the first country to legalise same sex marriage back in 2001. However, this advertising campaign is just one of many notable incidents in recent years that highlight that the LGBT community is often a target for prejudice and discrimination.

Remember the allemannenhandinhand hashtag? That was in response to a physical attack on a gay couple in a Dutch city:

The trend was sparked by reports of a gang attack on a gay couple, Jasper Vernes-Sewratan, 35, and Ronnie Sewratan-Vernes, 31, in Arnhem, a city in the east of the Netherlands, in the early hours of Sunday morning.

CNN April 5th 2017

Twitter is awash with comments about daily discrimination – albeit sometimes in subtle and indirect ways.

In other words, there is no doubt about the fact that homophobia in the Netherlands is alive and kicking. Just as it is elsewhere.

Notable is that this ad campaign has not only stirred up a debate about homophobia, but also a discussion about using sex to market goods. Sex sells, so they say. And companies know it.

Many have commented that they don’t want to see posters of anyone kissing whilst they stand at the bus stop, regardless of gender. Sexist campaigns of other companies are also topical again (like this one from the summer of 2016). People are busy with the question of where the boundaries lie of what is visually acceptable on the billboards on streets of the Netherlands.

Of course, this is all media attention for Suitsupply – and we all know that publicity is exactly why marketing departments exist. In this case, the publicity has also had some negative consequences for the company:

Suitsupply lost over 10 thousand followers on social media when this campaign was launched online. The company also received hundreds of complaints and curses via email. “Many people ask us how to explain these posters to their children”, De Jong said. “Those are questions we never get when we use an erotically loaded poster with a man and a woman.”

NL Times March 7th 2018

Fokke De Jong (CEO of Suitsupply) relaying parents’ concerns about explaining these billboards to their children highlights something we all know: prejudice is learned. And there are parents who teach their children that being gay is not okay. It’s that simple.

This is not my first post about same sex relationships – here’s one about same sex marriage written in 2014. My eldest was then seven, he’s now eleven. I spoke to him yesterday about this advertising campaign following on from a tweet I saw about an opinion poll hosted by Jeugdjournaal (Dutch news program for kids – which incidentally is a good tool for reading about current affairs whilst you are learning Dutch….).

De peiling vanochtend op de jeugdjournaal app van mijn dochter. Ik schrik. Als hun ouders het niet doorgeven, zeg ik: onderwijs, onderwijs, onderwijs. pic.twitter.com/Utx4p1BYgl

— Anastasia Hacopian (@ahacopian) 7 March 2018


The topic as a lead in to the poll is about the Suitsupply campaign – however the question posed is such that the result is a little ambiguous. The poll states: A poster with kissing people is okay. 57% say yes, 43% say no. Were kids answering with the poster of two men kissing in mind? Or pictures of kissing in general, irrespective of gender?

I showed my 11 year old Suitsupply’s advertising posters and asked him what he thought about them, and if anything struck him about the pictures. His answer was that the pictures were all ‘mooi‘ but he didn’t need to see the kissing – what has kissing got to do with suits? he asked. The rest of them were fine, he said.

“I don’t like huge posters of people kissing,’ he explained. I asked him if posters of men and women kissing bothered him. “I don’t care who’s doing the kissing – I don’t need to see huge posters of it.” Yep, he’s eleven.

I am pretty sure his reaction is not a strange one amongst his age group. He really couldn’t care less if two men are on a poster, two women, or a man and a woman – but kissing – yuk!

He’s doesn’t see anything out of the ordinary in this particular advertising campaign. He has grown up in a home environment that is conscious of prejudice. It’s not something he has learnt to be – and he is now old enough to form his own opinions about the world around him.

And thankfully he is not unique. Most children are raised to be accepting of diversity. This is less ambiguous and certainly an encouraging poll:

Discrimination is learned. It starts with our children. It starts at home.

And it is something that happens even in a society that prides itself on being open, tolerant and liberal.

So back to worried parents. On Facebook yesterday I saw exactly that question posted by a parent: how could they explain these Suitsupply pictures to their children?

I think the answer is obvious. Ask your children to explain it to you.

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Many moons ago I wrote on the topic of home births in the Netherlands. It was something I had hoped I could write about from personal experience one day but it never quite happened. Three babies, three hospital births. However, as a result of writing on the topic I learnt a few things, or eight, about home births direct from the mouths of what I lovingly call internet trolls.

1. Home birth is all about being able to watch your own television whilst you pop out a baby.
2. Whale music is an intricate part of a home birth.
3. Women who choose home birth put their own comfort above the safety of their baby.
4. Pleasant home births are a myth – they are only in the mind of bloggers who want to make themselves sound interesting.
5. Home births should be banned.
6. Actually home births should be made illegal.
7. If you don’t plan for a hospital birth and are suddenly transferred from a home birth to a hospital the staff have to find you a bed which makes you stressed.
8. Home birth is all about cost cutting.

So there you have it – the internet is indeed the fountain of all knowledge…..

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