If you say so: Dutch proverbs

Even though I can speak Dutch at a fluent level, my mother-tongue and the language that I feel most comfortable expressing myself in still remains English. And to this day - almost 20 years - I still find myself in a state of confusion now and then because of the complexity and many a time, illogicality of the Dutch language.

Let’s take proverbs and sayings for example. Many of them translate the same into English. However, there are a few exceptions, that when translated, make no sense what so ever!

Example: My Dutch friend and I decided to meet at the train station. My friend being extremely punctual, it would shock the Swiss and me being so fashionably late, it was almost last season.

After waiting for 10 minutes, she calls me up and asks (in Dutch) where I was. I explained that I was on my way. Continuing in Dutch she says (and I translate literally) "hurry up, I am shooting carrots."

Trying to sound nonchalant even though being completely thrown off by this comment, I said "okay, cool, see you in a bit." All the way to the station I had this picture in my head of my friend standing in the middle of a train station aiming and shooting at carrots.

Luckily, on arrival, that was not the case, though her statement bothered me the whole day. A combination of courage and curiosity lead me to finally ask her what on earth she meant. She laughed and explained that it is a Dutch saying for being in one place for a long time. 

In Dutch the word carrot also means "root" and "shoot" has the same double meaning as in English. Therefore, apart from shooting with something (like a gun) it also means the growth or sprouting of a plant. So basically, what she really meant and what a Dutch person would understand is: "I’ve been standing here so long I am sprouting roots in the ground."

Examples of Dutch proverbs, sayings and expressions translated into English

So here are some more Dutch proverbs and sayings (literally translated into English). Let’s see if you can make out what they mean:

1. Lachen als een boer met kiespijn
 Laughing like a farmer with a painful molar

2. Oude koeien uit de sloot halen
 Getting old cows out of the ditch

3. De kogel is door de kerk
 The bullet is through the church

4. Daar lust ik wel pap van
 I would like porridge from that

5. Je weet nooit hoe en koe een haas vangt
 You will never know how a cow catches a hare

6. Je moet een gegeven paard niet in de bek kijken
 You should never look at a given horse in the mouth

7. Wie boter op het hoofd heeft, moet uit de zon blijven
 He who has butter on his head should stay out of the sun

Actual meanings of the Dutch proverbs, sayings and expressions

1. Pretending to laugh with others, though it is insincere
2. Opening up old wounds
3. A decision has been made that cannot be reversed
4. Not being able to get enough of something
5. Never rule anything out, no matter how unlikely
6. You cannot complain about something that is for free
7. First look at yourself before judging others

Any sayings / expressions / proverbs (in Dutch or your mother-tongue) you would like to share?

Half Italian, half Indonesian and born in L.A. Priscilla Nasi works for Perfect Visit. Priscilla's posts can also be found at the Perfect Visit Blog.

Priscilla Nasi


Priscilla Nasi

I work at Perfect Visit as a Operations Coordinator which allows me to experience a lot of interesting stuff for my blogs!

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