What I Learned on my Hollandays   Leave a comment

Windmills: actually windpumps.

Recently I went on holiday to the Netherlands with my partner, Becky, who has family out there. As I learned before we left, the Dutch are a bizarre and alien culture; they eat chips, obsess over football, and complain about the weather. I didn’t know how we’d cope.

Turns out it’s actually very similar to Britain in many ways! And, despite that, a really lovely place. But there were a few things which surprised me or caught me out.

Firstly was language. I’d tried cramming a bit of Hollandaise vocabulary (there’s a jolly useful 1,000 Most Common Words in Dutch YouTube series) before we left, and this was definitely helpful (and surprisingly straightforward; there’s a lot of overlap with English). But conversations often followed a pattern: we’d manage the first sentence or two in Dutch, then stumble. The Dutch participant would notice, diagnose the problem, and switch to German. We’d have to resort to “spreekt u Engels?”, and they’d exclaim “Oh!” and carry on in perfect English. It seems, despite my fears of not being able to communicate with anyone, that a significant number of Netherlanders are tri-lingual. And most places had leaflets, menus, and museum information written in English (although, on the island of Texel, English was rather the third language and occasionally absent from written information. Most people still spoke it, though, and when we turned on the television in the B&B a program made in Britain was showing, in English with subtitles).
For a sadly monolingal Englander it was a bit embarassing in how thoroughly they showed us up.
My favourite thing in Dutch is that they use the same words for “please” and “here you are”; “alstubleift” or “alsjebleift”; which literally translate to “if it pleases you” once de-contracted. My least favourite thing is trying to pronounce their letter G.

The next… Well, the Dutch like bread. And they’re good at it. And they really like sweet things, and they’re good at those too (try some stroopwafels from Lidl!). So alongside the cheese, ham and salami “normal” Continentals have on their breakfast bread (presumably to persuade themselves that it’s lunchtime and the horrors of morning have passed), and the jams, peanut butter and no marmalade or lemon curd that they spread on their morning slice or pastries, the Dutch have hagelslag. Hagels for short.
I think “hagelslag” translates to “hailstones” or “hailstorm”, which is not a literal description or helpful in any way. To emulate it one morning, take a nice slice of bread and butter it. Now go to your baking cupboard. Find some chocolate hundreds and thousands, and liberally sprinkle them on the bread. Eat.
Marvel at how it’s actually really good.
For a laugh, look at how much it costs to buy a box of hagels in Britain.
Another Dutch peculiarity is speculoospasta, which is biscuit spread. Not just biscuit flavoured (speculoos, specifically; you can also buy them in Lidl, especially at Christmas and Easter), but actually biscuits dissolved in fat. Which sounds odd until you realise chocolate spread is chocolate dissolved in fat, and that biscuits are better than chocolate. Certainly not as odd as chocolate hundreds and thousands on bread. For breakfast.

Something which was a minor problem, though, was paying for things by card. I’d got my Euros on a travel money card, and assumed that as it was just a normal chip and pin Mastercard it would be accepted anywhere and everywhere, just like in the UK.
Alas, not so. Often, but not always. Even if card readers were present; I’m not sure that chip and pin Mastercards are “normal” in the Netherlands. In one pub they were confused because they only accepted chip and pin cards, and mine was the first Mastercard with a chip they’d seen. It didn’t work though, and I had to run to a cashpoint so I could pay for our dinner (cashpoints always worked. Fortunately, because the Dutch still seem to use the stuff for some reason).
It wasn’t just smaller places which gave us problems. Albert Heijn, probably the most common supermarket chain (although the stores aren’t nearly as big as an Asda or Tesco over here, more like a moderate Co-Op in scale), didn’t accept Mastercard either. Not having Dutch debit cards we had to use actual cash in a supermarket!
So, if you visit, bear that in mind. And certainly don’t hope to rely on American Express; I don’t recall seeing anywhere that would take it until we got to Belgium. It’s certainly the credit card of choice if you don’t want to run up debt.


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