Confusion in the Netherlands #1

Living abroad is all fun and games until things get confusing. Every day I am hit by cultural confusion, as well as (and, the most common, actually) language confusion. Now, whilst the Netherlands is a wonderful country in almost every way, there are a lot of confusing things going down over here, and I am not just talking about the amount of dairy products the Dutch consume.

This will not be the only post concerning my confusion – hence the hashtag number one in the title, but let’s start with these three beauties.

1 – Time is confusing

Photo by Murtaza Vora

I remember back in high school when I had German lessons, I would always be left utterly flabbergasted that the Germans would dare to call ‘half past’ any hour, ‘half before’ instead.

I was so flabbergasted in fact, that I failed to learn it as a rule, which was certainly the wrong way to go about it because:

The Dutch do the same damn thing.

Half past seven in the morning is actually said in Dutch as ‘half 8’, meaning half an hour before 8am.

That means that when anyone asks me to meet them at, ‘half 3’, for example, my mind shuts down immediately, rather than processing the time normally. For all you lot with the same problem as me, they want to meet me at 2:30. Not 3:30. I know.

When my Dutch teacher informs me that my very important Dutch exam is ‘om half één’, I panic. My exam is at half past 12, not half past 1, and I probably shouldn’t forget that.

That’s not even the worst part. I was stood in the doctors once and the secretary asked me if ‘5 over half 4’ was a good time for an appointment. What do you think I did? I stood there, and forgot everything.

5 over half way to 4 is 3:35, by the way. I know. Why couldn’t she just say that?!

Numbers were never my strong point.

2 – Asking or telling someone how long something has occurred for is confusing

Photo by Jon Tyson

This was a hard section to name, I’m sorry. But sticking with the numbers theme we have this little ode to confusion.

If you ever ask how long something has occurred for: for example, “How many years have you worked at the clog factory Jan?” or, “How many years have you lived here, Joppie?”, you will receive an answer that sounds a little something like this:

“Een jaar of vier.”

Roughly translated to “A year or four”, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Jan has absolutely zero clue as to how long he has been working at the clog factory for.

And that, my friends, is apparently where the confusing saying stems from.

It’s used when someone isn’t sure of the exact time frame but has a rough estimate. Hence the beginning of the sentence: ‘een jaar of…’/’a year or’.

It would definitely be a lot simpler if they came up with a phrase that didn’t include another word that suspiciously looks a lot like a number, for all those number dyslexic folk out here learning Dutch!

3 – Saying your full name on the phone is confusing

Photo by Andy Art 

Ah, the horrors of using the phone to call people.

Believe me, if you think calling people in your own language is tough, wait until you have to try it in a foreign language, in which you have merely used the most basic of conversation skills.

It’s common curtesy over here in the Netherlands to always introduce yourself on the telephone, no matter who you’re calling.

It seems like the least British thing that I have ever heard of, which is probably why I find it confusing, and mighty embarrassing. Can you imagine any Brit answering the phone with enough vigour to introduce themselves at the start of the conversation? No, me neither.

Now, I understand why this might have been applicable in, say, 1960, when there was no such thing as caller identity. But nowadays, surely it’s not necessary?

Yet every time I have to call anyone here, I am reminded to remind them of who I am.

The conversation should begin like this:

Hallo, met Simone Kynaston” if I’m calling anyone to make an appointment.


Hallo met Simone” if this person is on more friendly terms.


Hallo met mij“, which is usually reserved for people who have…access…to…your…caller…ID.

I’m not saying that the Dutch are wrong, (in fact, I like the pleasantness of that last one for friends and family), it’s just strange. There’s always – always – an incredibly long, painful pause after you’ve said it too whilst the person on the other end of the line is seemingly thinking “yeah… go on then”.

Also, my three examples were pretty much lies, as I forget to do it pretty much every time I pick up the phone. No biggie, they just have to wait in suspense for a little longer to find out who’s delivering their message.


So, whilst being an expat is of course cool, and exciting sometimes, as you can see now, it’s not always the case.

I know that we Brits have a hell of a lot of things that would be deemed confusing to foreigners too, so I know I can’t be let off the hook either, but what do you reckon? Weird? Or just funny?

Until next time! Doei! xx


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  • Nikki says:

    The time will confuse me for ever I think, I still get it wrong every now and again and show up an hour too late.

    • Simone says:

      I really do have to take a moment of silence to work out what time anyone means ever in this country xD. Oh my God who did you last turn up an hour late for?!

  • Alejandra says:

    Thank goodness I’m picking up with the time, but I made one of my teachers explain it over … And over… Aaand OVEEER again, it’s not easy at all!

    And I say my name while picking up the phone probably 1 out of 10 times, it’s still too weird for me hahahaha

    • Simone says:

      It’s so funny how something drummed into us one way will forever be impossible to rethink isn’t it. I hate it when people ask me the time as well, I find the Dutch would never just use the numbers (like: seven thirty-five, for example) as well right??

  • Jo says:

    I still get confused with time and I find the saying ‘een uur of 4’ very vague, does that mean anytime before or after 4 o’clock or both before&after is possible ?Especially since the dutch are mostly very punctual and ‘afspraak is afspraak’.

    • Simone says:

      Haha ah I forgot about it being used with literally hours as well! That’s another thing that confuses me! Yes you’re right, that is a conundrum xD

  • Suzy says:

    Haha all three are seriously relatable, I’ve lived here for almost 13 years and STILL find the expression ‘een jaar of twaalf’ utterly confusing!