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Untranslatable Dutch: VOC-Mentaliteit Posted by on Feb 8, 2018 in Culture, Dutch Language, History, Politics

There are certain words that are used in a language and are impossible to translate. You can try, but it will never be a completely accurate translation that catches its meaning. Such as the Zesjescultuur post, the Pottenkijker post or the Komkommertijd post. In the Untranslatable Dutch posts, we will explore Dutch words that cannot be simply translated to English. Enjoy!

Today, we will have a look at VOC-mentaliteit (VOC mentality).

Balkenende’s Term

The VOC logo on a Dutch flag (Image by McKarri at Commons.wikimedia.org under license CC BY SA 3.0)

VOC refers to the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, the first publicly traded company in the world. Founded in 1602, it would help make the Dutch a very wealthy, colonial power, especially through spice trade. This left traces in the Dutch language too, such as peperduur (‘as expensive as pepper’ – very expensive). It also initiated the Gouden Eeuw in the Netherlands, a very prosperous time in the country in a wide variety of sectors.

Apparently, the VOC had a certain mentality that is worth preserving. The term was coined in 2006 by then-prime minister Jan-Peter Balkenende.

It was a reaction to politician Femke Halsema about the economische opleving (economic recovery).

What he says:

“Ik begrijp niet waarom u hier zo negatief en vervelend over doet. (…) Laten we blij zijn met elkaar! Laten wij optimistisch zijn! Laten we zeggen: Nederland kan het weer! Die VOC-mentaliteit, over grenzen heen kijken, dynamiek! Toch?”

(I don’t understand why you are so negative and pesky about this. (…) Let’s be happy with each other! Let’s be optimistic! Let’s say: The Netherlands can do it again! That VOC mentality, looking beyond borders, dynamic! Wouldn’t you say?)

What he meant is that the VOC was a company that had handelsgeest (a trader’s spirit), daadkracht (decisiveness) and durf (dare). It was criticized by many, because the VOC is also associated with rooftochten (raids), kolonisatie (colonialism) and slavernij (slavery). That is not the kind of mentality you want, of course!

Others defended the PM, since the efforts to put a small country like the Netherlands on the world map were quite impressive, and the Netherlands would not be the country it is today without that entrepreneurial spirit – even with all the negative connotations.

Rutte likes it too

Mark Rutte on his first day as Prime Minister in 2010 (Image by Rijksvoorlichtingsdienst at Commons.wikimedia.org under license CC BY 2.0)

Back in 2015, the opvolger (successor) of Balkenende said a similar thing: He wanted the sfeer van de Gouden Eeuw (atmosphere of the Golden Age) back. Mark Rutte, still Premier (PM) today, got quite a lot of backlash for this as well.

In the end, both Rutte and Balkenende mean the will to take risico’s (risks), the handelsgeest (trade spirit) of the time. That is in the Dutch DNA, they say, and that should be harbored.

Television Show

Hans Goedkoop, a Dutch historicus (historian) and filmmaker (film maker), got the idea for the televisieserie (television show) De Gouden Eeuw (The Golden Age) from Balkenende. To find out what this VOC-mentaliteit means, he dug deep to explain the entire Gouden Eeuw!

The entire show is available on YouTube, or on the website. Above a link to the first aflevering (episode)!

What do you think about the VOC-mentaliteit? Does it sound like a positive or rather negative term to you? Let me know in the comments below!

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About the Author:Sten

Hi! I am Sten, and I am half Dutch and half German. I was on exchange in the United States, and I really enjoyed that year! So in that sense, I kind of have three nationalities... I love all of them!


  1. Joseph T. Madawela:

    I THINK that it is a laudable spirit have.

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