Maybe you’ve heard about the Dutch football coach Louis van Gaal, who’s maybe even more famous for his weird use of English than his coaching talents. Especially when it comes to proverbs, much can go wrong. Translating literally is often not the way to go, but it’s exactly what van Gaal does. This results in funny ‘sayings’ that don’t make any sense in English, like the title of this blog. What he meant is that playing against Chelsea was something quite different from what his team was used to: a ‘different kettle of fish’, or a ‘horse of a different colour’. Which in turn wouldn’t make any sense if you translated them literally into Dutch…
In order for you not to make any silly mistakes of this kind (even though it can be quite funny to mix up your proverbs), we collected a handful of quite common proverbs in Dutch and their English translations and equivalents. Learn them by heart and impress your Dutch friends!
Since bikes are at the very heart of Dutch culture, we’ll start with a proverb using this beloved way of transport: “Wat heb ik nou weer aan mijn fiets hangen?” As you can see by the question mark, it is indeed a question. Literally you say: ‘What’s that dangling from my bike?” Quite weird, right? You’d better use the English equivalent: “Hey, what’s all that?” (But the Dutch variant is cuter, right?)
If you’ve been lucky enough to find a job in Utrecht and you can get there without any weird items dangling from your bike, we most certainly hope that it won’t get you no dry bread. Come again? In case you’ve been as unlucky as getting a job that doesn’t pay enough ‘to keep body and soul together’, in Dutch you say: “Het levert geen droog brood op.” Literally this means that it doesn’t even get you dry bread or, as the Americans say: “It doesn’t pay beans!”
Talking about food, how about these? “Dat wordt brood met pindakaas”, or this beauty “Koken voor een weeshuis”. You may have heard of pindakaas, which means peanut butter. It goes well with… right: dry bread! “Dat wordt brood met pindakaas” is not officially a proverb, but it is figurative speech. When you’re running out of money but still have some time to go till your next pay check, you can say that you’re going to have to make sandwiches with peanut butter – as opposed to more fancy stuff like a piece of good old Gouda cheese with pear chutney, for instance (yummy!). Because peanut butter is quite cheap, this is a nice way of figuratively saying that you don’t have a lot of money at the moment.
On the contrary, if all is well and you have plenty of money to buy big amounts of food and you cook it all at the same time, you can say: “Koken voor een weeshuis.” This means ‘to cook for an orphanage’. The meaning of this should be rather clear, but in correct English you may want to use army instead. Assuming you don’t have an army at home to feed, hopefully there’ll be someone who’s got “berehonger”: who ‘feels like he can eat a horse’. And in case that shouldn’t be enough, you can always bake some (different) cookies!
By Tessa Vermeir