Dutch Language Blog

Spreekwoorden en Uitdrukkingen (Sayings and Expressions) 13 – Sinterklaas! Posted by on Dec 5, 2019 in Culture, Dutch Language, Dutch Vocabulary

It’s December. A month full of long hours at work to meet that early end-of-the-month deadline, sitting in traffic on the way home in the dark, and trying to stay warm despite blazing up the fireplace. But it is also a month of coming together with friends and family, reminiscing the year past and looking forward for what’s coming next – and gifts, of course. This all starts a bit earlier for the Dutch, since they celebrate Sinterklaas already tonight on December 5! Read all about Sinterklaas here, here and here. You can also improve your Dutch for Sinterklaas – with a spreekwoord (saying) and an uitdrukking (expression). Let’s start with the spreekwoord!

For other sayings and expressions in this series, click here.

Ik ben Sinterklaas niet!

Literally: I’m not St. Nicholas!

I’m not Santa Claus!

This spreekwoord comes simply from a song by Kinderen voor Kinderen (children for children), which is a kinderkoor (children’s choir) of the Dutch omroep (channel) BNNVARA. With new kinderliedjes (children’s songs) every year, the koor that started in the 1980s is building on children’s themes constantly.

In the song, which you can listen to in the video above, the children want a computerwalkman (the song is from 1986, after all!), rode fiets (red bike) and more!

And when the father hears this, he gets angry, and gets rooier (redder) and rooier. And then he complains:

Ik ben toch zeker Sinterklaas niet.
Er staat geen geldboom in mn tuin.
Ik ben Sinterklaas niet.
Ik heb een negatief fortuin.
Als er straks bankbiljetten groeien op mn rug,
ben jij de eerste die het hoort, kom dan nog maar eens terug.
Ik ben Sinterklaas niet (Sinterklaas).
Ik ben toch zeker Sinterklaas niet (Sinterklaas).
Als er straks bankbiljetten groeien op mn rug,
ben jij de eerste die het hoort, kom dan nog maar eens terug.

(I’m not Sinterklaas, am I?
There’s no money tree in the garden.
I’m not Sinterklaas.
I have a negative balance.
If bills grow on my back soon,
you’ll be the first to hear it, then you can come back.
I’m not Sinterklaas (Sinterklaas).
I’m not Sinterklaas, am I? (Sinterklaas).
If bills grow on my back soon,
you’ll be the first to hear it, then you can come back.)

Quite dramatic, isn’t it?! The meaning becomes quite obvious here. Sinterklaas is the man that brings all the gifts to all the children. All wensen (wishes) can be fulfilled! But there are limits – and dad is not Sinterklaas, he doesn’t have unlimited money!

So, if you say this, you are basically indicating that you can’t just gift things to everybody. For example:

Hee Hans! Kun je mijn lunch vandaag betalen?

– Alweer? Dit is al de derde keer deze week. Ik ben Sinterklaas niet!

(Hey Hans! Can you pay my lunch today?

– Again? This is already the third time this week. I’m not St. Nicholas!)

On to the uitdrukking!

Voor Sinterklaas spelen

Image by RF Jorna at Commons.wikimedia.org under license CC BY SA 4.0

Literally: To act as Sinterklaas

Conversely to the spreekwoord, this means exactly that – to play Sinterklaas and to pay for everything or to fulfill every wish. Where it comes from is quite obvious – again from the figure of Sinterklaas!

Here’s how it could be used:

Jan geeft alweer een chocoladeletter aan iedereen op kantoor. Hij speelt graag voor Sinterklaas!

(Jan is again giving a chocolate letter to everyone in the office. He likes act as Sinterklaas!)

Will you celebrate Sinterklaas tomorrow? Let me know in the comments below!

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About the Author: Sten

Hi! I am Sten, both Dutch and German. For many years, I've written for the German and the Dutch blogs with a passion for everything related to language and culture. It's fascinating to reflect on my own culture, and in the process allow our readers to learn more about it! Besides blogging, I am a German-Dutch-English translator, animator and filmmaker.