Dutch Language Blog

Slaap je niet lekker? Posted by on Nov 14, 2010 in Dutch Language, Uncategorized

I don’t think it is going too far to observe that, in general, the Dutch are a people of strong, often inflexible opinions.  The imposition of those opinions on friends, family and casual bystanders is not uncommon.  In my experience, a subject that consistently draws expressions from that staunch Dutch well of opinion is sleep.  Slaap, that is.  Before bed, it’s customary, here, to say “slaap lekker” (“sleep well,” though the translation of lekker is ever-elusive and not at all sufficiently captured by a word as nonspecific as “well”) or “welterusten,” which loosely means that you wish someone a good rest.

But I wonder sometimes whether such wishes are sincerely meant, since any appearance or suggestion of sleepiness in public seems to strike a nerve with many Dutch people.  In late August of this year, I stopped my bike at an intersection on the way to an appointment for which I had nearly slept too late:  my hair was uncombed, my eyes were, I’m sure, still tired.  It was a moment at which I possessed many of the telltale signs of deep slumber.  A man who was doing some kind of construction work called to me, “Al lang wakker?”  In this way and others, my sleepiness has been pointed out to me countless times by the Dutch.

More pronounced yet is the Dutch distaste for undisguised yawns (geeuws).  Every time I have ever yawned without covering my mouth, in Holland, the yawn has been met with a sharp “hand voor je mond!” An extreme version of this scenario happened once in 2008 when, walking out of a bookstore in Maastricht, I happened to yawn without lifting one of my hands – both laden with shopping bags – to my mouth in time.  A man twice my size stopped in front of me and, without saying a word, covered my mouth with his own hand.

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  1. ellen:

    What a great, great post and story. You are so right about the Dutch people. They are people with an inflexible opinion. I am Dutch, living in the States, and knowing sometime I have to be “quiet”. People here are not so used to women with an outspoken opinion. and I think it is great, not always to be able to say what you think. The video is very cute.

  2. MissNeriss:

    Did you thank the man for his kind helping hand? Strange though, the same man probably doesn’t feel it’s important to cover his mouth when he coughs 😛

    This post really made me laugh! It is true, I’ve also noticed people pointing out that I’m not looking so perky and awake at times. I don’t see the necessity in pointing out to another person that they might not be looking their best. My grandmother in law also likes to make mention if I’ve put on a few pounds, something that is absolutely against all social rules I’ve ever learned…

  3. T.Chambers:

    !989 to 2007 lived in Antwerp area and learned een beetje vlaams – trying to learn more nederlands I find the Dutch accent more difficult than the Flemish. Fun, though.

  4. mary:

    Sooooo darling!

  5. marianne:

    A very interesting cultural detail indeed!
    Personally, I would not have appreciated the gesture of the man; I don’t respond positively to unknown people intentionally having physical contact with me, especially men. I would have turned around and walked as fast as I could away from the person… I think it’s a personal and cultural difference; I’m not accustomed to being direct and physical with most people… Just my two cents in :).