The Dutch and time: how the Dutch language shows they are planning maniacs

About Dutch and time, and how time-management may be the actual crush of the Dutch – besides eating delicious cheese.

After more than two years in the Netherlands, people expect certain things from you. Like not complaining about the weather anymore (check), being able to do your groceries in Dutch (check), eating your hagelslag without feeling like a kid on holiday (nope) and drinking karnemelk at lunch like it is the most normal thing in the world (WHERE IS MY WATER?!).

One thing I sometimes wish I could passively absorb from the Dutch culture is the attitude towards time. The life of the Dutchies doesn’t seem to be filled with anxiety like all of us mere mortals; they have a way of bending time to their needs, and becoming the masters of it. Or simply put, they are very good at planning their time realistically and, most importantly, they stick to their plan!

Not the Bible nor the Quran: the sacred text for the Dutchies is their agenda. Image: M. Minderhoud/Wikimedia Commons

Dutch language and time: a love story

After learning the basics of the Dutch language and the basics of the Dutch culture, something strikes you: the language itself shows their love for punctuality. “Save the date” is a way of living and talking; everything can be accomplished if tackled in time.

Here are 3 Dutch language constructions about time that amazed me:

#1 What time is it?

The way you ask “what time is it?”: Hoe laat is het?, or “how late is it?”.
When asking the time, you’re already assuming you’re late.

#2 It’s late.

The way you answer that question is also kind of perverse. Dutch people look at the future; 11:30 is not “half past eleven” but half twaalf, as in: you’re already rushing for the next hour.

The absolute masterpiece, however, is with the forthcoming minutes: 8:20, for example, is tien voor half negen, or “ten minutes to half before nine”.

By the time you’ve calculated this in your head, you’re probably late — again.

#3 The most important information.

As you proudly build your Dutch sentence, the “when” of the action happening always comes before where, how, what, and with whom. Morgen moet ik met Sander in het kantoor werken.

Also notice that the “real” verb (not the auxilliary “must”, moet) comes at the end of the sentence. This is a very smart way to talk without being interrupted! If you want to know what’s happening, you can’t guess; you must wait.

Conclusion: a healthy relationship with time comes with a fast-paced mindset. And the Dutch language had to adapt to this!

Are the Dutchies obsessed with time, or is the rest of us sloppy? Let us know in the comments!

Feature Image: Moose Photos/Pexels
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in November 2017, but was fully updated in August 2020 for your reading pleasure. 

Aurora Signorazzi
Aurora Signorazzi
Aurora comes from the majestic Italian capital, and is working on her PhD in virology at the University of Groningen. She has been living in the Netherlands for four years and is by now familiar with many Dutch habits... But still finds plenty of reasons to be pleasantly amazed (most of the time) by this industrious country and its brutally honest inhabitants!

8 COMMENTS

  1. There is nothing that annoys me, is not starting a meeting on time. It seems that you cannot start a meeting until every one is there.

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