Expat Life
February 21, 2023

How to speak like a local in the Netherlands

So you’ve completed your first Duolingo lesson and now know how to tell someone “I am a woman”... but you haven’t had the chance to use that in an actual conversation. We’re here to help!

The Dutch language is known to be a difficult one, characterised by having several meanings to one word. Certain phrases in Dutch will often make no sense to foreigners trying to learn the language.

We have created a Dutch language guide to help you understand locals and to help you speak like one. This way, you soon will be able to impress your colleagues or friends with some typical Dutch words and saying.

Being in social isolation is the perfect opportunity to study up so you are ready for when face-to-face social activity starts up again!

Essential words that you should know when living in the Netherlands:


This word does not have a specific translation in English. It can be compared to different things such as:  cosy, sociable, snug, or homey.

Gezellig is probably the first word you learn when living in the Netherlands. You can call a situation or a location very ‘gezellig’. You may hear people using it to describe others: X person is very ‘gezellig’.


Yummy, tasty, delicious

In Dutch you can add lekker to every action to emphasize how nice it is.

Eg. You can eat “lekker” or you can sit “lekker” or sleep “lekker”


Bicycle lane

Cyclists either cycle on the right hand side of the road next to the sidewalk or on dedicated bicycle lanes, these are usually recognizable by their red, orange colour or bike symbol painted on the lane.



This word is used as “dude” among young adults in an informal situation. But it also means   guest.






Doing nothing

OV (Openbaar Vervoer)

Public transport

In Dutch you would pronounce these letters "oh-vay"

OV chipkaart

Public transport card




Slang for talking, usually used when to describe nonsense

Essential party slang, to impress people in the “kroeg”

There’s nothing like a ‘Vrijmibo’ with colleagues with some nice ‘pilsjes’ and ‘bitterballen’ and end up having a nice ‘patatje oorlog’ or a ‘kapsalon’.


pub, bar


An informal gathering where drinks and little snacks are served (such as bitterballen)

Vrijmibo (short for Vrijdag middag borrel)

Friday afternoon drinks

If you are working with local people you must have noticed that everyone looks forward to the Friday afternoon drinks, it is the moment of the week when most bankers loosen up their ties and the canteen turns into a bar full of ambiance.


Crunchy deep fried balls with meat ragu filling

The most typical of borrel 'hapjes' (bites), bitterballen really steal the show! Try them with a tiny bit of mustard. These days you can also get a delicious vegetarian alternative called 'Bieterballen' in some venues. Tip: the filling tends to be as hot as molten lava, so be careful not to burn your mouth!




A shop to buy cannabis



Vaasje or Amsterdammertje

Most common 'bierglas' it contains around 33cl (330mL)


A small beer glass containing 20 cl (200mL)


Literally translates to hairdresser

However, it is also known as a late night snack (after the borrel) which consists of kebab, french fries, lettuce, tomato, sambal, garlic sauce and cheese.

Essential sayings that you should know when living in the Netherlands:

Tikkie sturen

Dutch like to split the bill, one person will pay the bill and send everyone a payment request through ‘tikkie’ an application for online bank payments.

Een bakkie

This is a synonym for coffee.

Boterham - “lekker een Bammetje”

What the Dutch have for lunch, a brown bread sandwich normally with cheese.

Doe even normaal

This literally means “just be normal”. It can be used as a reaction to someone reacting in a silly/stupid way as well as a reaction to something unbelievable.

Je weet toch

street language for ‘you know’  


peanut butter

Helaas pindakaas

Literally meaning “too bad peanut butter”. In Dutch, people mean just “too bad” and they add the peanut butter because it rimes!

Kijken kijken niet kopen!

When you go window shopping, sure NOT to buy anything.

If you start to learn the Dutch language you will come across many different sayings and words that will not make any sense at all in the context of your mother tongue. However, this is what makes learning Dutch also very fun!  Good luck impressing your friends!

Written by Nadine, from our rental team