Expats who come to work in the Netherlands are often faced with both a culture shock and a language barrier. The Dutch are famously blunt: expect your work to be criticized, regardless of your position on the corporate ladder, by some mumbling Dutchman without a grasp of proper English, claiming you’re “walking off the sides”.

As such, your helpful friends at DutchReview have decided to put together some essential phrases for prospering, or at least understanding, the Dutch workplace.

Here’s all you need to know about speaking Dutch at work.

#1 “De kantjes er vanaf lopen”

So you woke up Monday morning still hungover from a weekend long bender in Amsterdam. You arrive at work half an hour late, wearing the darkest sunglasses you could find, hair a mess and clothes still smelling like tobacco (weed COUGH) and beer.

This, but less fancy

While no self-respecting Dutchman would hold that against you, be prepared to face some backhanded comments if your work suffers under your evening activities. Your colleagues may inform you that you’re “de kantjes eraf aan het lopen bent”. This translates literally to “walking off the sides” and is meant to convey that you’re dodging the hard work taking place in the middle, or at least doing your job half-heartedly.

#2 “Met een Jantje-van-Leiden er vanaf maken”

The Dutch language contains many phrases like “de kantjes er vanaf lopen” which essentially mean the same thing. Take for instance “Met een Jantje-van-Leiden er vanaf maken”, a phrase which essentially means “Pulling a Jantje-van-Leiden”. The phrase is named after Jan van Leiden, a smooth-talking, sly Dutchman born in 1509.

Lazy bum

He was so universally acknowledged for being a dishonest Ne’er-do-well that 500 years after being murdered for it, his name is still synonymous with a bad work ethic. No-one holds grudges quite like the Dutch.


#3 “Met de pet ernaar gooien”

Finally, there is “met de pet ernaar gooien”, which translates to “throwing the hat at it”. The phrase comes from a Dutch children’s game of yore, where Dutchlings would throw their hats at butterflies to try to catch them (the bugnet was a late invention in the Netherlands). Of course, the Dutch children usually failed in catching butterflies, as they are notoriously hard to trap by throwing headwear at them. The phrase has survived through the ages and now is used in the workplace to tell people off for being unwilling to put in the effort.

#4 “Laat de kaas niet van je brood eten”

While the Dutch will definitely let you know if your work has been subpar, they’ll also gladly tell you how well you’re doing and to stick up for yourself. The phrase “laat de kaas niet van je brood eten” is an example of this and roughly translates to “don’t let them eat the cheese off your bread”. If someone tells you this, it means you should take credit for your work rather than letting someone else get away with honor which should be rightfully yours!

This guy frequently eats the cheese of someone else his bread. Source: stolen from the Shallowman! 😉

#5 “De handen uit de mouwen steken”

“De handen uit de mouwen steken” is a phrase you’re likely to hear when your colleagues are running around in a panic because of that one deadline which seemed so far of, yet is now by some arcane magic due tomorrow. It is also one of the few phrases which has an equivalent in English, meaning for all intents and purposes to “roll up the sleeves”.

speaking Dutch at work

Want to learn more Dutch phrases to use on the workfloor?

Of course the translation of five relatively simple phrases is hardly enough to survive in the Dutch workforce. Yet classes are expensive and, let’s be honest, far too time-consuming. This is why people such as Bart de Pau at Learn Dutch have created Dutch lessons that are completely free! Yes you heard right, free.

This way you can practice a few Dutch work phrases and many other dutch phrases and impress all of your colleagues – check it out!

Have you been practicing speaking Dutch at work? Let us know in the comments.




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