After all, you wouldn’t be the first tourist who, after ordering a beer, gets its served in a much larger quantity than you imagined — and at a much higher price.
There’s a funny book titled, The Undutchables. It is a highly popular caricature of the Dutch.1
Aside from over-the-top observations, the book (considered essential reading by Holland’s large expat community) includes useful information generally not found in tourist guides.
Consider the following insight into ordering beer:
How to order a beer in Dutch
Dutch beer (bier, pils) is sweet, tasty and strong. Ordering a beer can be confusing for foreigners who attempt to do so for the first time in Dutch.
No matter how you refer to a “beer” in Dutch, the bartender will respond by using a different term. Here, the obsession with dimunitives comes into play:2
Mag ik een biertje? (May I have a beer?) Een biertje? (A beer? Lit. “a little beer,” doesn’t refer to size)
Mag ik een pils? (May I have a beer?) Een pilsje? (A beer? Lit. “a little beer,” doesn’t refer to size)
For a small glass of beer, use the double diminutive: Mag ik een kleintje pils? (May I have a small beer? Lit. “May I have a small little beer?”)
Een kleintje? (A small one? Lit. “a small little one,” refers to size).
– The Undutchables
Fluitje, Vaasje, or just Biertje
Just to make things more interesting, different bars may have different customs for ordering.
For instance, if you truly want a small beer, in most bars it pays to ask for a ‘vaasje’ (lit. a small vase, in reference to the shape of the glass). In other bars you’ll get a ‘fluitje,’ (lit. a small flute).
Both a vaasje and a fluitje come in slightly different sizes.
But frankly, most of the time all you need to know is “biertje,” which will get you a small glass of beer. Don’t worry too much about it.
Besides, it is common knowledge that the vast majority of Dutch people are well-versed in the English language. Still, it pays to know your terminology, because all too often a tourist and his money are easily parted.
Incidentally, in most bars beer is served with a considerable amount of froth or head, which is trimmed flush with the rim.
Bars tend to have a small number of beers on tap, as well as a selection of bottles.
Is that really Heineken?
Several years ago the Heineken brewery discovered that much of the beer sold in pubs as Heineken is, in fact, not Heineken at all.
By secretly letting unbranded beer flow through their Heineken taps restaurant- and pub owners save 25 to 50 Euro per barrel — on top of the extra income derived from selling inferior beer at premium prices.
We have encountered switched-out beer ourselves. We’ve also been server watered-down Irish beer, admitted at a tourist trap on Leidseplein.
Heineken brewery investigators catch some fifty swindlers a year, and the company actively pursues legal actions against them.
Meanwhile, insiders in the drinks trade estimate that some 60 percent of the hospitality businesses are involved in the deception.
By the way, here’s how to visit an Amsterdam café
- Mind you, lots of Dutch people who don’t quite get caricature rather angrily denounce the book. ↩
- The Dutch refer to nearly everything in the dimunitive. Example: “Ik doe mijn schoentjes aan om met het hondje een blokje om te gaan” (I’m putting on my shoes to take the dog for a walk around the block — but literally: I’m putting on my small shoes to take my small dog around the small block. ↩
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