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9 Curious Things You Should Know About the English and the Dutch

Andrew travels extensively, contributing articles to newspapers and online sites. Recent trips: Brazil, the Amazon, the Pantanal, Bulgaria.

Dutch culture : how to eat raw herring.

Dutch culture : how to eat raw herring.

Introduction to the English and the Dutch Cultures

What is it about the English and the Dutch? They don't live far apart geographically, but that doesn't stop them from being poles apart when it comes to customs and pastimes. Let's take a closer look at the cultural nuances of these two great nations, England and the Netherlands.

First, the Dutch; a people that lives on yellow cheese, kale, and occasionally horse meat, and that grow more vegetables and tulips than most of Europe put together. The Dutch speak a loud version of Flemish, but sometimes look down on their neighbours in Belgium for stereotypes of stupidity and messiness. That doesn't stop them sending truckloads of flowers across the border every day though, and getting tons of chocolates in exchange. So I suppose they're really quite close friends.

Often outspoken, efficient, direct, and clean, the Dutch are natural architects who love things kept in order. Being squashed into a limited amount of space explains their need for tidiness, yet they also love to escape from the claustrophobic confines that Dutch suburbia can turn into. But some say if you want to see the future for humankind, go take a look at the Netherlands; someday we're all going to be living cheek to cheek and eyeball to eyeball.

You'll also come across front rooms that face stagnant water, more bicycle lanes than you can handle, and self-sufficiency techniques that are frighteningly ahead of their time.

As for the English... Well—they're English, aren't they? Both the Dutch and the English share a vast love of the sea and, let's be frank, a mild dislike of the Germans. No one can help that; it's just a fact. We're going to take a look at some curious and strange cultural things that happen in both countries.


Them Dutch, Those English

Visiting England? Going to Holland?

For hundreds of years, the English and the Dutch have been 'comparing notes', poking fun at each other over cultural differences. Though there are only 223 miles approximately between London and Amsterdam, and only 115 miles as the crow flies over the North Sea, what a world of difference culturally.

Despite the attempts of the Eurocrats in Brussels and Berlin to paint everyone in Europe with the same eurobrush, national traits and traditions persist. The English have embedded the Dutch in their most precious possession—their language—whilst the Dutch can speak English with exceptional flair and energy.


1. Canal Hopping

Just look how the Dutch get around the countryside—they use huge 30-foot poles to leapfrog ditches and other awkward stretches of water. No using footpaths and trails for them—they prefer the shortcut. In truth, it's a Friesian sport that developed out of a farmer's need to go sheepherding the route one way. Now it's something of a national pastime and taken very seriously by the Frieslanders (who call it fierljeppen ) or polsstokspringen in mainstream Dutch.

  • Rating: 7/10 An ingenious way of training for the Olympic pole vault competition.
The Dutch - polsstokspringen.

The Dutch - polsstokspringen.

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Morris Dancing

What do the English do whilst the Dutch are canal hopping? They gather in small groups in the middle of the street for a spot of handkerchief waving and stick bashing. Morris dancing has been on the go for centuries, its origins lost in the pagan mists of yore. Recently it's had something of a revival which goes hand in hand with the increase nationwide of the independent beer and ale brewers! Coincidence or not? Whatever the facts you'll find these intrepid, often bearded men (with their maiden wenches close at hand) out on balmy August evenings dancing, drinking, then dancing on into a midsummer night's dream.

  • Rating: 7/10 A great excuse to get out of the house for a beer.

2. Redhead Day

In the Netherlands, they celebrate red hair by inviting all the redheads to gather in one place at one time: the town of Breda. Every September the reddest of the gingers, the gingerest reds meet to compare shades of carrot and freckle density. This oppressed minority has been pushing for equal rights for decades, but the blonde, black, brown and bald heads are having none of it.

  • Rating: 8/10 Roodharigendag—where blondes feel out of place.


Meanwhile back in the northwest of England, strange people are pulling faces at their monarch. Or is that a case of vice versa? The uglier they can get the more prestige they gather until at the very peak of ugliness their mugs are snapped and immortalised. Gurning is the art of turning your face into an expression that says, I am a squashed alien, let me out of here.

  • Rating: 9/10 All passport photos should look like this.
Queen: This man looks ghastly. Is he ill? Man: Why pull such a face? I'm trying my best.

Queen: This man looks ghastly. Is he ill? Man: Why pull such a face? I'm trying my best.

3. Swallow A Raw Herring

My wife is Dutch. When we lived in north Holland she and her mother had a Saturday morning ritual that took place over the sink or just inside the kitchen. Yes, morning ritual. At 11 am-ish when normal people should be sipping tea and dunking a digestive they would gleefully swallow fish, like two seals in a circus or two gulls at the seaside. I was invited, once. 'Come and be Dutch! You're not a proper Nederlander unless you've swallowed a raw herring!' I see. And what's for dessert? Haddock's tails?

Kissing my wife was always an option on Saturdays.

  • Rating: 8/10 At least the herring is dead.
Maatjesharing - the dutch way to eat a herring.

Maatjesharing - the dutch way to eat a herring.

Addict spooning it in.

Addict spooning it in.

Spoon Some Marmite

Described by many as evil, vile and sickening, Marmite is one of the most popular foods in England. You either loathe it or welcome it to your breakfast table drooling at the mouth. Said by some to be the unwanted residues from barrel bottoms of an unknown Yorkshire brewer, Marmite has even affected pop star Madonna who said she would do anything for her kids except eat Marmite. Thick, rich and unbelievably tasty when spread on toast with butter.

For some reason foreign tourists tasting this dark mysterious product fall into one of two camps: some leave British shores immediately, vowing never to return. Others take one lick of a Marmite spoon and are instantly smitten, and never leave.

  • Rating: 8/10 Gives an instant vitamin B hit.
Dutch New Year Swim in Freezing North Sea

Dutch New Year Swim in Freezing North Sea

4. New Year's Dip In Freezing Water

Every new year the Dutch like to mass together in orange hats and little else in order to run and plunge into freezing cold seawater. The North Sea is cold and grim at the best of times but Dutchness is such that there's no way they can avoid the temptation of a cold free bath. Making it a social occasion is so typical of the Netherlanders.

  • Rating: 7/10 How to get freezing cold salt and sand in those awkward places you never thought you had.
Ashbourne Ancient Football Game

Ashbourne Ancient Football Game

The Oldest Ball Game In The World?

Ashbourne, Derbyshire, in the north of England, holds an annual 2-day football match on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday and has done since the year? Well, it was certainly around in the mid 14th century because none other than King Edward III himself wanted it banned as it was stopping his archers from practising! The origins of the sport are hard to pin down but rumour has it that the ball was originally a severed head tossed into the crowd following an execution.

It is best described as a mad mob sport as hundreds take part. But there are two teams—The Up'Ards and the Down'Ards - and the idea is to somehow get the cork filled ball to hit a post at either end of the village. A lot of time is spent in the local river, the Henmore, hence the cork.

Injuries occur and in 1878 one poor chap was drowned! Thankfully most come out of it intact but there is pressure on the organisers from insurance companies to buy protective gear. 'Health and Safety' is the cry from local ambulancemen who are kept on their toes watching from the sidelines.

Women do take part in this male-dominated sport. In 1943—when most men were away at war—a Doris Mugglestone kept goal for the Up'Ards and a Doris Sowter kept goal for the Down'Ards.

  • Rating: 9/10 The sleepy village turns into a war zone.
Action from the Royal Shrovetide Football Match

Action from the Royal Shrovetide Football Match

5. Dutch Humour

Is it something in the blood? Or is it just that comedy in the Netherlands doesn't really take itself seriously? Or are the dutch too mean to do comedy—to them it's a waste of good canal hopping time?

Perhaps we'd better ask the Belgians?

  • Rating: 7/10 The Dutch sense of humour—an endangered species.
Hey Cheesie Dutch comedian!

Hey Cheesie Dutch comedian!

The Python Phenomenon

Monty Python's Flying Circus hit the television screens in 1969, shocking and inspiring at the same time. The team who created the show were a bunch of highly educated young graduates, some from Cambridge and Oxford universities. Comedy as the world knew it would be changed forever.

Absurd, surreal, satirical, fantastical—the comedy was so radically different from what had gone before the English had to invent a new word to describe the humour—pythonesque.

  • Rating: 10/10 'I could be arguing in my spare time'...'no you couldn't'.
The English are very serious when it comes to humour. Just ask John Cleese.

The English are very serious when it comes to humour. Just ask John Cleese.

6. Speed Skating

The Dutch are crazy about this sport and skating in general. There's nothing they like better than a big freeze. If the second Ice Age hits us these guys will be out like a shot with their skates celebrating. Speed skating involves thick thighed athletes sprinting around a tiny oval track again and again and again, making it the most boring spectator sport you can watch.

  • Rating: 8/10 OK, snail racing may be just as boring.
You put your right leg out, your right arm in.

You put your right leg out, your right arm in.

Gravy Wrestling

Pay a visit to the town of Stacksteads in Lancashire in early summer and you'll be able to enter the World Gravy Wrestling contest. Bouts are 2 minutes long and scoring is based upon audience applause and fun, plus the wrestling moves! For those in the dark, gravy is a sauce that is usually used for pouring over food! It is made from water, stock, meat juices and cornflour. Most participants state that wrestling in gravy makes them feel like a piece of well-cooked meat. They are fire hosed down by firefighters after their exploits.

  • Rating: 8/10 What's next for gravy wrestlers? Soy sauce? Mayonnaise?

7. Cheese Hauling

These Dutchmen are doing what comes naturally to all Nederlanders, they're making off with the yellow cheese. Gouda. Old gouda and young gouda. Come back with that cheese!!

  • Rating: 7/10 The English roll their cheeses down a hill. The Dutch have no hills!
Yellow cheese carriers, Alkmaar

Yellow cheese carriers, Alkmaar


Worm Charming

Charles Darwin no less was a great champion of the lowly earthworm and soil scientists acknowledge its supreme work as the aerator of our topsoils. These people are charming the worms out of their dark channels and out into the fresh air. They use all kinds of wizardry and secretive language. When the worms pop up they are collected in glass jars and shown to a judge. People win prizes for the most worms.

NB This is not to be confused with the World Earthworm Flattering Competition, which is an altogether different kettle of fish.

  • Rating: 9/10 How To Charm an Earthworm in 5 Easy Steps.

The Burning of the Straw Bear

Nothing to do with strawberries. This ancient agricultural celebration is held in Whittlesea, Cambridgeshire, each January and involves the parading of a 'straw bear' by rope lead through the streets of the village. Every so often the bear is allowed to stop for a snack or a drink at a house. He might even be given money. Lots of people follow the bear to his final destination on the village field, where he is ceremoniously set on fire. Luckily the person inside has been released by this time so no one is accidentally sacrificed! Seems to be a renewal/purification ceremony from way back when.

  • Rating: 9/10 This should be made into a movie.

Dutch Cheese girls.

Dutch Cheese girls.

8. The Cheese Girl

What I want to know is, which is nearer the reality? Below is a German cartoonist's caricature of a Dutch girl on a day out in Amsterdam, whilst to the side is a classic cheese girl duo, out of a fairytale guide to discovering the Netherlands. Perhaps both are wide of the mark? The truth is you don't see the national dress worn nowadays—only at official touristy places—and at fancy dress parties. The other things are for real...the butter blonde hair, the smiles, the cheeses, the beer, the oversized cigarette.

  • Rating: 8/10 How others see us and how we see them.
A typical Dutch girl, making her way home after shopping for Granny.

A typical Dutch girl, making her way home after shopping for Granny.

The Blooming English Rose

The rosy-cheeked English girl comes skipping through the countryside, down the old farm lane, past the oak and apple trees to sit down under the shade of an umbrella to enjoy an idyllic picnic!

How delightful is the English rose? Now transformed into a modern-day punk!

  • Rating: 8/10 These roses look a bit thorny!
Two English roses - sorry, PUNKS!

Two English roses - sorry, PUNKS!

9. Dutch Surnames

Dutch surnames are a constant source of wonderment for English-speaking people. Check some of these out, they're all authentic:

  • Mr and Mrs Dikkeboom: Mr and Mrs Thicktree
  • Mr and Mrs Blaaspijp: Mr and Mrs Blowpipe
  • Mr and Mrs Paardeslager: Mr and Mrs Horseslaughterer
  • Mr and Mrs Kaasbergen: Mr and Mrs Cheesemountain
  • Mr and Mrs Oude Voshaar: Mr and Mrs Old Foxhair
  • Mr and Mrs Suikerbuik: Mr and Mrs Sugarbelly
  • Mr and Mrs Visbeen: Mr and Mrs Fishbone
  • Mr and Mrs Vliegendehond: Mr and Mrs Flyingdog
  • Mr and Mrs Poepjes: Mr and Mrs Littlefarts
  • Mr and Mrs Naaktgeboren: Mr and Mrs Born-naked

  • Rating: 10/10 Choose your favourite and change your name!

Now Take A Look At The Real Dutch

English place names.

English place names.

English Place Names

In England, you can come across many silly or rude place names. Not far from where I live for example is the town of Blubberhouses, the village of Crackpot, and the old parish of Shitlington. Here are a few more to entertain you:

  • Boggy Bottom, Hertfordshire
  • Fanny Barks, Durham
  • Great Cockup, Lake District
  • Lickers Lane, Merseyside
  • Spanker Lane, Derbyshire
  • Titty Hill, Sussex
  • Wetwang, East Yorkshire

  • Rating: 9/10 My new address is Titty Hill, Boggy Bottom.

More English and Dutch Culture?

OK, that's the end of the tour through the curious English and Dutch cultures. Hope you had fun. If you find out more about these two nations please let me know in the comments section.

Boerekool (Farmer's Kale) -  Mashed potatoe, cooked kale and smoked sausage with jus (gravy) and mustard.

Boerekool (Farmer's Kale) - Mashed potatoe, cooked kale and smoked sausage with jus (gravy) and mustard.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Andrew Spacey


Andrew Spacey (author) from Sheffield, UK on August 15, 2014:

Thank you for the input - always glad to learn from a native!

Arjan Van de Laak from Hong Kong on July 29, 2014:

Krom (crooked) Wijk (neighbourhood)

Andrew Spacey (author) from Sheffield, UK on June 19, 2012:

Many thanks for your comment - I have only just touched the surface! Trying to analyse the Dutch is a lifelong work...and as for the English? The French might be worth investigating. Mais oui, pourquoi pas?

Jay Manriquez from Santa Rosa, California on June 19, 2012:

Wow! What an interesting read and you have explained so much about the English and Dutch that I can now go back to bed and sleep soundly. I'm looking forward to reading more of your hubs, especially if you can explain the French.

Andrew Spacey (author) from Sheffield, UK on May 19, 2012:

Yes tis true but as always in Amsterdam with the so called 'laws' the policemen usually turn a blind eye (their eyes are often full of smoke) and life continues as normal. The only problems could be with licenses for bars that are tolerant toward certain kinds of herbal therapies.I suspect the unwritten laws of the market place will win through in the end.

Andrew Spacey (author) from Sheffield, UK on May 19, 2012:

Hey yes Mike. The only mountains I know in Holland - that's north Holland in the Netherlands - are sand dunes which rise up to heights of 10 metres in places and are permanently year round sand capped.

InTuneWithCooking from Australia on May 19, 2012:

Mike, they just passed a law in Amsterdam that they can't sell from their "special cafe's" to tourists anymore...just sayin' lol ;)

Michael Kromwyk from Adelaide, South Australia on May 18, 2012:

Thanks chef - crooked piece of land sounds great. My now deceased grandfather used to tell us that he was a mountain climber in Holland (joke!), but owning a crooked piece of land sounds more appropriate.

Andrew Spacey (author) from Sheffield, UK on May 18, 2012:

You'll have a great time Mike that's guaranteed. They mostly all speak beautiful English so no problemos there and after one or two swift ones in an Amsterdam bar you'll maybe want to try a little Dutch! What a language that is! As for your surname I'm told by the source of all Dutch knowledge (the wife) that it means something like Curved Area/Crooked Piece of land! something like that. Perhaps you'll discover more when you get there.

Many thanks for visiting. Appreciate it.

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