Too Dutch to be translated

Too Dutch to be translated

Every language has a couple of unique words with no direct English equivalent. Surprisingly or not, these “gaps in translation” can tell a lot about the people speaking the language and their peculiarities.

Let’s take a look at some wonderful untranslatable Dutch words and see what they have to say about the Dutchies. Do you recognise a thing or two from the list?


This word is used at least three times a day by every Dutch person and is at the very core of being Dutch. “Gezellig” is a broad term that means anything from cosy to friendly, and from relaxing to enjoyable. It’s an adjective that describes a feeling rather than a physical thing (and you know how hard it is to describe feelings). If it makes you happy, if you feel good about it - it’s “gezellig”.

A homey place is “gezellig”. Friendly people are “gezellig”. Going out with friends is “gezellig”. Similarly, the things you don’t like are “ongezellig”.

Dutch people can evaluate everything on its level of “gezelligheid” (“gezellig”-ness). And now you can try to pronounce it if you dare: heh-sell-ick (the word starts and ends with the typical Dutch "g" sound).


When the dinner is over, it doesn’t mean the conversation is. The Dutch are quite a sociable bunch, and here is vivid proof of that. “Natafelen” is a verb that literally translates as "after table-ing" and means lingering at the dinner table after the meal is finished - to enjoy the company, conversations and atmosphere. Only if all of the above is "gezellig", of course.


A “borrel” can be defined as an informal social gathering with drinks and snacks. “Borrel” snacks are called “borrel hapjes” and they usually consist of traditional Dutch deep-fried food like bitterballen, kroketten and… “borrelnootjes”, which are deep-fried nuts (yep, that’s a thing!). The Dutchies love their “borrels” and can always find a good excuse to have one.


“Uitbuiken” is a verb that means to sit back and relax after a nice meal when you’re super full and satisfied and want to enjoy this feeling. Make yourself comfortable, unbuttoning of pants optional, and give the food some time to digest!

Doe normaal

A phrase rather than a word, but it says so much about the Dutch culture! “Doe normaal” means something like “act normal” or “just be normal already!” The Dutch are simple, modest and down-to-earth people (most of the time), who don’t like bragging, showing off or making too big of a deal out of everything. And that is exactly what falls within the definition of “doe normaal”.


“Verregenen” is used to describe the "wet look" you get after just being caught in the pouring rain. It's no wonder Dutch people needed a word like this, is it? Truth be told, the Dutch like talking (complaining?) about the weather, so they have many more “rainy” words and expressions in their vocabulary.

Still, bad weather or not, Dutch people do not allow these circumstances to control their life. Which is why rain is never an excuse to skip an important meeting or a lunch with a friend. After all, people are “niet van suiker” (“not made of sugar”), right?


Those who have already had some experience with Dutch medicine will probably know that the way to treat a cold in the Lowlands is to let the illness run its course and wait until it’s over. That is exactly what "uitzieken" means - literally "to sick it out".


Do you ever feel like there are just too many laws and regulations out there? Well, the Dutch will agree and offer to “gedogen” some of them. The word “gedogen” means to tolerate or turn a blind eye to something, choosing not to enforce the laws concerning it. The Dutch drug policy is a good example of this.

The takeaway

The Dutch are easygoing, direct and down-to-earth people. They like being out and about, love their “borrels” and spending time with "gezellige" people at "gezellige" places.

They are able to enjoy the little things and can always “turn it around”, no matter how hard the situation is. They are drenched by rain most of the year but have no problem putting up with "a wet look". And if you catch a cold because of it… Well, it’s not a big deal either. Just "sick it out"!

What's your favourite untranslatable Dutch word? Let us know in the comments!

Iana Poliakova


Iana Poliakova

Iana Poliakova is an Amsterdam-based content writer and one of those lucky people who are extremely passionate about what they do. She loves traveling, cinema, books with a great story,...

Read more



Leave a comment

pavitra 11:35 | 7 December 2017

It is interesting. I like the word gezellig. The word sounds cool. It is gezellig. And also uitzieken. I can very well relate to this word