Introduction to Friesland

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  • 5 minutes (1017 words)


Past weekend Storm had its annual Sailing Weekend. This famous tradition consists of taking the train up north to a remarkable part of the Netherlands called Friesland, then getting on a few boats, load supplies (mostly beer), raise the sails and head off. For me it was the first real stay in this crazy province called Friesland and although in some ways it’s typically Dutch, in other ways it really isn’t. The landscape is quite Dutch, but the landscape is filled with un-Dutch people. The people are technically Dutch, but don’t feel so, don’t speak as if they are and don’t necessarily look so. In short, Friesland is remarkable and I’ll try to elaborate by giving a few examples.

Note: From now on, with ‘The Netherlands is meant the part of the Netherlands that isn’t Friesland and with ‘the Dutch’ are meant the people that are not Frisian.

In the Netherlands we use cars and bikes as our main modes of transportation. In Friesland this is totally different. Although they have cars and bikes, their main ways of transporting themselves are any of these, they use other forms. One of their main modes of transportation is by ice skates. Large parts of Friesland consist of water, which freezes every now and then. That’s when the Frisians get out their ice skates and skate away like the dyke just busted. This is not only for the fanatics, no everybody joins in. This is because Frisians can skate before they are born, it’s like breathing to them.

A strange occurrence that goes with freezing water and ice skating is something that is called the ‘Elfstedenkoorts’ (Eleven Cities Fever).  When the first minor below zero temperature is measured or just even predicted, Frisians lose their shit. They start fantasizing about what could take place when it really starts freezing, because when a freezing spell of a few days has been announced, the famous ice skating tour past eleven cities of Friesland could be possible, the Elfstedentocht (Eleven Cities Tour). This tour only took place three times in the last 50 years and the last time this happened is now 20 years ago and climate change is not really making it more likely to happen, but still the possibility turns them on.

Another mode of transportation is a pole. The Frisians move themselves from meadow to meadow by means of a pole, which they use to leap across ditches. They call this fierljeppen¸ which basically translates to ‘jumping far using a stick’. (And yes, they just put an r, an l and an j next to eachother in a word.) This is also something that’s in their DNA and which they can do even before they’re born. There are even myths of Frisians fierljepping out of the uterus they are born from. Whether or not this is true, it says a lot.

Another way of transportation is by sailing and this is a whole new world on its own. When out on the Frisian lakes everything that you are and stand for on mainland is worth nothing and a whole new hierarchy is in place. On mainland you can be a simple fisherman or worker on a ship, but out on the lakes you rule the waters. Because out on the water commercial shipping goes first, before any CEO of a bank on a valkje. This new hierarchy is fully based on what boat you’re in and what your purpose is. Commercial shipping goes before anything, and sailing ships go before motorboats. However this only goes for potential collisions between equals. With equals I mean two Frisians. When such a possible collision situation takes place and someone has to give way and there is a tourist (non-Frisian) involved, this tourist must always give way. A true Frisian will always try to out bluff the tourist by not giving way, even though rules say he should. When a tourist happens to know the rules of water transportation and does not give way to the Frisian, the Frisian typically responds by shouting ‘Opsodemieteren’ or ‘Idioot’, which can be translated to ‘F*ck off’ and ‘Idiot’, and at the same time emphasise how angry he is by raising his fist. As you can see, the modes of transportation and the habits that go with it are quite different up north and aren’t that easy to understand for Dutch people.

Then it’s on to the major and most clear distinction between Dutch people and Frisians, their language. As for myself, I’ve had some experiences with the Frisian language and so I can now understand the majority of what is being said. However, when this language is put to paper, I lose track of everything. Although Dutch and Frisian are related languages, one cannot necessarily understand the other. The most important thing to know about Frisian as a language is that it is in fact a language. Do not ever call it a dialect in the face of a Frisian, because then shit hits the fan and every possibility of a positive relationship with that Frisian is gone. Their language is quite sacred to them and that’s why there’s for example a Frisian politician in the European Parliament that started his speech with one minute of Frisian, although it wouldn’t be translated for all the other parliamentarians and it wouldn’t be in the minutes of the meeting. So when travelling to Friesland, it could be wise to learn some Frisian to start off on the right foot, that’s why I put some lines which you can practise for next years’ sailing weekend.







How are you?

Hoe is it mei dy?

My name is

Myn namme is

I live in

Ik wenje yn

You look lovely today

Wat sjochsto der hjoed wer leuk út






That was my lesson Frisian 101, sorry for the long post, here’s a potato in the shape of a pompeblêd.

Pompeblêd Potato

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