Doe normaal: behind the Dutch concept and mentality

The saying goes like “doe maar gewoon, dan doe je al gek genoeg” in Dutch, or ‘just act normal, it’s already crazy enough’ — a phrase that turns out to be not only an invitation to act normal but a source behind Dutch thought.

Maybe it’s the Dutch language that doesn’t do its culture justice sometimes, at least translated into English that is. From bizarre-sounding idioms, untranslatable Dutch words, to harsh sounding expressions that mean absolutely nothing close to what they sound — like gezellig, niksen, or even uitwaaien.

Since we’re crowned explorers of the Dutch psyche, we bring you yet another complex concept wrapped in a phrase, a true element of the Dutch culture: the doe normaal.

What is doe normaal?

In translation, the general concept basically translates to ‘act normal’. However, tone matters here: the phrase can be seen as a gentle “try to fit in” pat on the back, but also a still-faced “act normal” with a warning shake of an index finger. 👆

Generally, doe normaal carries a negative tone. One meaning can be similar to the ‘you’re embarrassing yourself (and me)’ connotation, but it could also be seen in the light of general advice from one Dutchie to another poor soul. There, there, don’t stress.

picture-of-a-woman-sending-warning-with-finger
The anatomy of doe normaal. Image: Allexxandar/Depositphotos

Another Dutch phrase that can back this concept up is “steek je kop niet boven het maaiveld uit” which translates to “don’t stick your head above the ground, or literally, cornfield” — very ironic given how tall Dutchies are.📏 But you get the point, Dutchies don’t exactly like to stand out from the crowd.

Why doe normal?

Well, that’s a good ‘but why’ question with many possible answers. The answer may lie behind the time or situation you’re being told to doe normaal in. For instance, don’t expect anyone to yell doe normal at you when you’re swimming or even skating in a canal — it is the Netherlands, after all. 🤷‍♀️

It can also relate to the pillarisation in Dutch society, where different “pillars” had different ideas of what is considered ‘normal’ based on their religious beliefs and political opinions. Take some of the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) ads for example, where heel (very) normaal and niet (not) normaal are used as part of Dutch political messaging. 📢

Doe normaal can also relate to the Dutch tendency of social policing within the society, being direct as the Dutch are, in combination with their respect for rules and regulations. Like the countless times I’ve encountered a Dutch person asking a random stranger to keep it down in a silent train carriage.🤫

Normaal is time relative, so always keep your normaal in check for the latest.

How and when should you doe normaal?

While it can be seen as a passive quality of conformity and submission, as a general rule of thumb, doe normaal is mainly about trying to blend in. We can easily derive a simple example from King’s Day, where the normaal uniform is an orange attire in celebration of the King’s birthday. 🍊

But the Dutch doe normaal can also run below the surface. Avoiding discussions about certain financial aspects and evading boastful conversations altogether are examples of what the Dutch consider as a conversational taboo.

Dutchie’s take

What do Dutchies think doe normaal is? We went all sciencey and asked a number of Dutch individuals about what it means and what they associate doe normaal with. 👩‍🔬

For Jelle (26), doe normaal is a simplistic social conduct that’s often used in conservative, political offtimes, slogans and messages. Like how doe normaal seems to be connected to political messaging said by outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte and the VVD. 🗣

Other Dutchies maintain that doe normaal is a phrase a grandparent would keep repeating to their grandchildren during different social occasions to avoid rule-breaking related embarrassments.

As for Fieke (31) doe normaal is an expression that can be heard in different social situations, like when you’re on a bike and someone blasts past you in their car yelling: “doe normaal joh!” or when you hear a crazy, hard to believe story so your reaction is: “neeeee joh, doe normaal!” 😲

It can also be used in a human to pet communication, like when your dog growls at your friendly neighbour passing by so you go like: “nou, doe eens normaal!” 

According to Fieke, doe normaal can be used in different ways, but in the previous examples it all comes down to “are you crazy?!” “no way!” and “come on, behave yourself!” More of a typical Dutch way of expressing disbelief and excitement at the same time.

Did you experience the Dutch doe normaal or used it before? Tell us more in the comments below!

Feature Image: oneinchpunch/Depositphotos

Farah Al Mazouni 🇸🇾 🇺🇸
Farah believes she's been on many adventures during her millennial life, each for a different (sometimes invisible) purpose. The latest adventure whisked her away to Amsterdam for love, and what a magical surprise she found in this city. Armed with imaginary confetti in her pocket, and ready to celebrate all wins, big and small, Farah says "ahla w sahla" or “welcome” to her latest adventure in this wonderland.

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