How funny are the Dutch? And what happens when a Dutchie translates a Dutch joke into English? And how do expats perceive this? Let me start by translating some very common Dutch sayings in English:
This time, I can see it through the fingers.
It’s dick black outside.
To participate for bacon and beans.
I shall let them smell a poopy.
There is nothing on the hand.
Nice right? And there is plenty more where this came from. Some things just don’t let themselves be translated as easily as they sound in their native language. Not just sayings, but what about jokes? Jokes combine a sort of national culture with customs, with “know things”, into something very specific, that does not translate easy.
Dutch people in general feel like they possess a pretty awesome dose of humour, and they are not shy about it. Since the platform Dialogue with the Dutch only exists in relation to other cultures, I thought it might be interesting to relate Dutch humour to that of other cultures. One of the things I always hear from non-Dutchies, is the lack of humour from Dutchies and the fact that if Dutchies joke, it’s either super crude or it includes a disease, or it’s just lame, or all of the above. So when I asked around, one of those Non Dutchies, and American guy, agreed to discuss the topic with me. Anonymously though, because he’s not sure the Dutch can take his honest opinion 😉
Before he will answer my questions, let me just say that I am not exactely the first one to tackle this subject, websites that focus on expats like Expatica have been writing about Dutch humour for years.
With such a strong assumption to start with, my first question had to be about the difference between Dutch and American humour according to my interviewee. When I asked him about the difference he said that Americans in general are more willing to listen and to participate in a joke. Even if a joke is stupid or silly they would still laugh just out of courtesy to the other person.
This gives the impression that Dutch people don’t respond to jokes. When I asked him about this he said most Dutchies just show me the “I don’t give a fuck face”. Doesn’t matter what type of joke it is, they don’t react to it. He said: “I don’t think I ever made a joke that made a Dutch person laugh.” After that remark, obviously, I had to ask if his jokes where any good at all? To which he replied saying that it’s not even so much about him, it’s a general complaint with the international community. Dutch humour just differs from the rest of the world. My interviewee has an American friend, a girl, married to a Dutch guy, and apparently she’s complaining about exactly the same. While her Dutch husband makes jokes all the time, she just looks at him questioning why he thinks he’s funny at all.
By now I’m curious, how would he personally describe Dutch humour? “So, the Dutch humour, most of it is like, if you are not from here you don’t get it. They are inside jokes. You refer to something all Dutch people know, except expats. Or something like making a reference to a Dutch movie.”
Is that something only Dutch people do? “Americans have that too though, but for example, Americans sometimes are very sarcastic. This is not really known in Netherlands. Dutch people just don’t get sarcasm at all. Dutch people try “dry humour”, like the British, but they don’t succeed. Which also might be the language barrier that it doesn’t come across. Also, Dutch people don’t really laugh out loud, like let go. They are so discrete with their laugh. I don’t think I ever heard a Dutch person laugh out loud in public. In the States people let go more and share what they hear. I don’t think I have ever seen this in Netherlands.”
The topic seems to hurt a little, so I asked him if he likes Dutch people in general. Then he just started to talk about something else, which made me ask if he was avoiding my question. I laughed, his response: “See this type of joke. You are laughing, I have no clue this was a joke. So that’s Dutch humour 95% of the time.”
So what does this American think of our Dutch humour? He bluntly said: “There is no such thing called Dutch humour, and I think a lot of internationals would agree with me on that, but I should not generalise with everyone. I don’t think I met a sarcastic person yet. The concept of being sarcastic is unknow. It’s mostly dry humour that only Dutch pick on. I just sit there. Probably the sense of the joke gets lost in the translation.”
So lots, of complaints on Dutch jokes, but when you make a joke, does a Dutch person get it? “No, they don’t. It’s just a different style of humour.” He continued: “See, most of the jokes that you laugh at, are not intended to be jokes. So I say something, 90% of the time when you laugh your ass off of something I say, I did not intent to make it something funny, or like a joke. You laugh, say it’s so funny. I use sarcasm, and sometimes you pick on it. Dutch just have their own style.”
What so you think about Dutch people joking about Germans for not having any humour? “I’m sure the Germans have jokes about you as well.” Why did I ask this question? Well, as the Dutch joke about German humour (or the lack there off), apparently other countries joke about Dutch humour (and the lack there off). See to me Dutch people, are hilarious, dry, harsh, but mostly hilarious. If you feel like making jokes about the Dutch may I suggest “The best ever book of Dutch jokes”. If you feel like getting to know and understand the beauty of Dutch humour, may I suggest “Fokke en Sukke” I’m guessing it will be a delightful birthday present for my American friend as well.