Spreekwoorden en Uitdrukkingen (Sayings and Expressions) 1 – The Calf and The Stone

Posted on 24. Jul, 2014 by in Dutch Language

Spreekwoorden (sayings) and uitdrukkingen (expressions) are very useful in everyday language and knowing them makes things easier to understand when you hear them. In this series, I will try to explain the origin of the sayings and expressions, explain its use and give examples of possible ways of using them.

This week we will start off with a spreekwoord that is quite related to the consequences of the downing of flight MH17. All airlines now changed the airspace they fly over to avoid the (eastern) Ukrainian sky. There is a very interesting spreekwoord for this. This comes first.

The uitdrukking this week is one that Mark Rutte used just a few days ago when he talked about the investigation of this disaster. Just read on to find out what he said!

Als het kalf verdronken is, dempt men de put

When the calf has drowned, the well is filled up (i.e. closing the stable door after the horse has bolted)

Just as the English spreekwoord, the Dutch one refers to a bad happening followed by action to prevent it from happening again. It obviously comes too late, and as such this spreekwoord can be seen as a verwijt (reproach). It is especially used in situations where one knew very well that something bad could occur, but just nothing was done. This can justify this verwijt.

Its origin lies in the sixteenth century, when the kalf was a kind (child). The switch only came in the seventeenth century. Another version that was used was: als het kind verdronken is, dempt men de gracht (when the child has drowned, the gracht is filled up). I suppose people found the spreekwoord using a child going just a bit too far…


This saying is quite widespread in the Dutch language. It is used in many occasions where something should have been done before, but nothing has been done. Examples:

Nadat een ongeluk was gebeurd, werd er op de weg eindelijk het snelheidlimiet aangepast. Als het kalf verdronken is, dempt men de put.

(After an accident had happened, the speed limit was finally changed on that road. It’s closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.)
Toen het vliegtuig was neergestort met alle gevolgen van dien, besloten alle vliegmaatschappijen het luchtruim te ontwijken.
(After the airplane had crashed with all consequences of it, all airlines decided to avoid the airspace.)
De onderste steen boven halen
To lift the lower stone to the top (to leave no stone unturned). 

So this stone never comes to the top! (Image by Jim McDougall at Flickr.com)

So this stone never comes to the top! (Image by Jim McDougall at Flickr.com)

This expression has a very interesting origin. Back in the days, when flour was still ground in a mill on millstones, two stones were used. The lower stone, the so-called ligger (“lie-er”, the lying stone), and the upper stone, the so-called loper (runner), both very heavy, were used to mill the grains. The loper, though very heavy, was turned sometimes to sharpen the stone. The ligger was never moved, let alone turned. So when you take that ligger to the top, in other words, turn that stone around, you are really onto something. Its meaning: to find something out to the bottom, no matter the costs. Even if such liggers have to be moved!
The use is just like the English expression to leave no stone unturned or to get to the bottom of something. Mark Rutte, the minister-president (Prime Minister) of the Netherlands, used it when he was referring to the investigation of the cause of the MH17 plane crash. Interestingly, the Malaysian leader used the same expression, to leave no stone unturned, in an earlier speech about the same topic.
We moeten dit voorval grondig onderzoeken en de onderste steen boven halen.
(We need to thoroughly investigate this happening and leave no stone unturned.)
Ik wil weten wie mijn knuffel heeft gestolen! Ik haal er de onderste steen voor boven!
(I want to know who stole my stuffed animal! I leaven no stone unturned!)
Any suggestions for other (English) sayings or expressions you would like to see explained? Please leave a comment!

Traveling by Train in the Netherlands

Posted on 24. Jul, 2014 by in Culture, Travel

One of the novelties I have enjoyed the most in the Netherlands is to travel with the Nederlandse Spoorwegen (or NS for short). My only train memory prior to Europe is a very old one from the last times there was a passenger train in Mexico (before 1992). We took the overnight trip and played cards and had fun crossing each wagon. In the Netherlands, I have experienced all sorts of train trips; most have been very pleasant and just a few have been a bit troublesome. However, nothing has been too much to handle and I’ve always reached my destination.

Two friends from Mexico came to visit this month, and we moved around by train a lot! They arrived at Schipol so we first took the train from the airport to Amsterdam Centraal or the central station of Amsterdam. The NS changed their papieren kaartjes policy two weeks ago in order to promote the use of the OV-Chipkaart, which is a plastic card where you put in money to travel by train, bus and metro. The disadvantage of the card for tourists is that it costs €7.50 and the card must have €20 in order to be able to check in when you travel by train. However, papieren kaartjes are still available but have an extra charge of €1 per ticket. My friends and I experimented with both OV-Chipkaart and papieren kaartjes, and I think the ease of having money in the card for metro, trams and buses makes the cost of the card very much worth it.

This trip with my friends showed me how reliable the train is. It is really the best option for travel within the Netherlands. Of course, there are beautiful places and landscapes to see by car and the possibility of having pie on a terrace overlooking tulip fields or discovering a quaint little town. However, for travel within the main cities, it is ideal. Riding on the train gives you the possibility to read, check social media (intercity trains have Wi-Fi) and even take a nap if your travels have left you sleep deprived. You save on parking which can be very expensive in some cities, especially Amsterdam where a day’s parking in the city center can cost up to €60. The main train stations of all the cities and towns are usually in the city center so you can quickly walk to the museum, park, or square of your choice.

My favorite advantage of traveling by train and one that I experienced yesterday was the ease of going home after a long day of being a tourist without worrying about staying awake during the drive, gas, or which highway to take. Even with the delays I experienced yesterday to get home (there were repairs on the line that takes me straight home from Amsterdam so I had to detour), I was relaxed and comfortable. The friendly people of NS explained what my options for getting home were, and the journey was uneventful. I napped, read, and practiced Dutch listening skills as I eavesdropped on conversations (all for the sake of learning, dat beloof ik!)

I will continue to consider myself a trein meisje and will take advantage of the ease of traveling. I encourage you to try out the train during your next visit to the Netherlands!

Useful Vocabulary:

de NS (Nederlandse Spoorwegen)- Dutch rail

het openbaar vervoer – Public transportation

de conducteur – Conductor

de trein- train

de OV-chipkaart- public transportation card

de kaartjesautomaat- ticket machine

het kaartje- ticket

reizen- travel

het saldo- balance

Opladen- charge

Inchecken- check in

Uitchecken- check out

het spoor- platform or rail

Reizen- to travel

het vertrek- departure

de aankomst- arrival

The Worst Disaster Since 1953 – The King’s Reaction

Posted on 22. Jul, 2014 by in News, Politics

In 1953, the Netherlands was hit by a terrible flooding, which gave way to great improvement of the Dutch water defense. After the flooding, the sad result were 1836 deaths and tens of thousands of people that lost their home and all their belongings. Families ripped apart, friends lost and colleagues gone forever.

Last Thursday, July 17, 2014, the Dutch were once again shocked by a disaster of large proportion. Since 1953, there has not been a disaster hitting the Dutch that killed this many people. 298 people died after flight MH17 crashed just a few hours after its departure from Schiphol Airport. Of these 298 casualties, 193 are Dutch. Immediately, the Dutch media started reporting. Updates came in continuously for days. The King Willem-Alexander and his wife Máxima wrote in the condoleanceregister (condolence registry) and expressed their medeleven (compassion) with the nabestaanden (relatives of the victims).
Many flowers, condolences and wishes have been laid down at the Schiphol Airport gate where the MH17 departed.

Many flowers, condolences and wishes have been laid down at the Schiphol Airport gate where the MH17 departed. (Image by Roman Boed at Flickr.com)

Minister-President Mark Rutte was also very shocked, and now his sorrow turns into anger. The independent, international investigation of the crash site was blocked by Ukrainian separatists. He complained that Putin did not do enough to fight them.
All over the Netherlands, people are shocked by the crash. Willem-Alexander expressed this in his speech today, which you can read below (with my English translation in parentheses):

“Vanmiddag kwam een grote groep nabestaanden bij elkaar van de slachtoffers van de vliegramp in het oosten van Oekraïne. Mijn vrouw en in waren daarbij. We zijn diep geraakt door de schrijnende persoonlijke verhalen van mensen die dierbaren hebben verloren. Mensen wier leven in scherven ligt. Hun verdriet, hun onmacht en hun wanhoop snijden ons door de ziel. (This afternoon a large group of relatives of the victims of the airplane disaster in the east of Ukraine convened. My wife and I were present there. We were deeply hit by the distressing personal stories of people that lost loved ones. People whose lives have fallen to pieces. Their grief, their impotence and their despair cut through our souls.)

Veel mensen zeiden ons: we willen tenminste waardig afscheid kunnen nemen van onze dierbaren. We begrijpen hun frustratie en hun gekwetstheid. En we delen hun innige wens dat er klaarheid komt over de oorzaak van deze ramp. We weten dat hun verlies niet meer goed te maken is. Het verdriet is immens. Het enige dat wij vandaag konden doen is bij hen zijn en luisteren naar hun verhaal. (Many people told us: at least we want to give our loved ones a dignified goodbye. We understand their frustration and hurting. And we share their fervent wish that clarity comes about the cause of this disaster. We know that their loss cannot be compensated anymore. The grief is immense. The only thing we could do today is being with them and listening to their story.)

De afgelopen dagen zijn overal in het land mensen bij elkaar gekomen. Ook in de komende tijd zal dat gebeuren. In bedrijven, op scholen, bij sportverenigingen en in huiskamers. Overal in Nederland. Mensen laten elkaar niet los. Dat is vooral van belang in deze dagen. Nu ons land op de proef wordt gesteld en zo veel landgenoten overweldigd zijn door verdriet. Dat we elkaar vasthouden, dat we elkaar steunen en opvangen waar mogelijk. En dat we ons hart openstellen voor iedereen die zijn of haar verhaal wil delen. Nu, maar ook in de maanden en jaren die volgen. (The past few days people came together throughout the country. This will also happen in the coming time. In businesses, at schools, at sport clubs, and in living rooms. Everywhere in the Netherlands. People do not let go of each other. That especially is of importance during these days. Now that our country is put to the test and so many countrymen are overwhelmed by grief. That we hold each other, that we support and pick each other up where possible. And that we open our heart to everybody that wants to share his or her story. Now, but also in the months and years to come.)

Ik wil graag mijn waardering uitspreken voor al die mensen die zich bekommeren om de getroffenen. Familie, vrienden, buren, collega’s, clubgenoten. U bent zo nodig nu. Ik wil ook mijn waardering uiten voor de honderden professionals die ondersteunen bij de vele droevige en moeilijke taken die moeten worden verricht. Mijn vrouw en ik leven mee met alle getroffenen die in rouw zijn gedompeld. In gedachten zijn we bij hen. (I would like to express my admiration to all people that take care of the affected. Family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, club members. You are needed so much now. I also want to express my admiration for the hundreds of professionals that give their support for the many sad and difficult tasks that need to be done. My wife and I feel compassion with all those affected that are drowned in sorrow. Our thoughts are with them.)

Dat geldt evenzeer voor mijn moeder en de overige leden van mijn familie, die zich in deze donkere dagen extra nauw met het land verbonden voelen. Deze vreselijke ramp heeft een diepe wond geslagen in onze samenleving. Het litteken zal zichtbaar en voelbaar blijven tot in lengte van jaren. In diepste nood komt het aan op innerlijke kracht, compassie en onderlinge verbondenheid. Het zijn die eigenschappen waar ons land op cruciale momenten over blijkt te beschikken.” (This also counts for my mother and the other members of my family, who feel connected to the country even closer in these dark days. This terrible disaster has cut a deep wound in our society. The scar will stay visible and palpable for years. In needy times inner strength, compassion and connection between each other are crucial. These are the attributes our country appears to possess.)

What will happen next? Allegations have been made that the plane was shot down by the Ukrainian separatists. Hopefully, especially for all those that are left behind, the black boxes will reveal the truth.