Doe normaal: behind the Dutch concept and mentality

Everybody, be cool!

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 when into English.

From bizarre idioms, and untranslatable Dutch words to harsh-sounding expressions that mean something completely different to what they sound — like gezellig, niksen, or even uitwaaien.

We bring you yet another complex concept wrapped in a phrase, a true element of the Dutch culture: doe normaal.

What is doe normaal?

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

Generally, doe normaal carries a negative tone. It could mean ‘you’re embarrassing yourself (and me)’, but it could also be considered general advice from one person to another. There, there, don’t stress.

picture-of-a-woman-sending-warning-with-finger
The anatomy of doe normaal. Image: 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 cornfield” — Dutchies don’t exactly like to stand out from the crowd.

Why doe normal?

A good question, indeed.

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 as direct as the Dutch are, in combination with their respect for rules and regulations.

This is like the countless times I’ve encountered a Dutch person asking a random stranger to keep it down in a silent train carriage.🤫

Translation: 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 about trying to blend in.

READ MORE | Dutch Quirk #83: Tell everyone to ‘doe normaal’ when they’re not normal themselves

For example, on King’s Day, the normaal uniform is orange attire in celebration of the King’s birthday. 🍊

Quirky-Dutch-people-wearing-orange-on-boat-in-Amsterdam-on-King's-day
It’s a sea of orange. Image: Depositphotos

The Dutch doe normaal can also run below the surface. Discussions about certain finances and boastful conversations altogether are examples of what the Dutch consider a conversational taboo.

Dutchie’s take

What do Dutchies think doe normaal is? We 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. For example, 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.

grandmother-talking-to-her-granddaughter-about-doe-normaal
Grandparents will often impart their wisdom about social rules and norms to follow. Image: Depositphotos

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 human-to-pet communication, like when your dog growls at your friendly neighbour passing by, so you go: “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 in the comments below!

Feature Image:Depositphotos
Farah Al Mazouni 🇸🇾 🇺🇸
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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What do you think?

  1. Never heard “doe normaal” around our house but perhaps an equivalent expression used by my parents, (they being from the early 1900s) was “pas op!”, meaning look out, watch out, be careful, easy does it, pay attention, etc. I can’t recall ever hearing “pas op” used the same way by contemporary Dutch people though.

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