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Several decades ago, Dutch tegelspreuken (tiles displaying famous Dutch proverbs and sayings) were the epitome of bad taste. However, that has now changed and these fun wall decorations are currently enjoying a well-deserved resurgence in popularity. Indeed, many Dutch households now boast at least one tegelspreuken, typically in a traditional Delft blue design.
The history of Dutch tile sayings
Dutch tiles depicting famous Dutch proverbs and sayings actually originated from floor tiles that were favoured in the Netherlands during the sixteenth century. In those days, one or more tiles containing philosophical Dutch sayings, such as “Alle dinc heeft synen tyt” (All things have their own time) and “Die tyt is cort, die doot es snel, wacht u van sonden, soe doedi wel” (Time is short, death comes quickly, avoid sinning, and you’ll do well) were cemented to the floor. In the seventeenth century Dutch sayings could also be found on dinner plates, with texts such as, “Hooghmoet noit goet” (extreme bravery is never good) and “Myn tyd is kort” (My time is short), serving as food for thought during meal times. It wasn’t until the nineteenth century, however, that Dutch sayings began to be displayed on walls, albeit in the form of painted scenes created from multiple tiles. These so-called ‘spreuktableaus’ were often found over the fireplace in Dutch farmhouses, and usually contained religious words of wisdom, such as “De bouwman wacht van ’s Heeren hand een milden zegen op het land” (The farmer hopes for God’s mild blessing of the land).
The type of Dutch tegelspreuken now found in contemporary Dutch households first became fashionable at the beginning of the twentieth century and today the toilet is their preferred location.
Top 10 Dutch tile proverbs and sayings
Dutch tile sayings often contain an educational or biblical message, but love, domestic bliss and toilet humour are also popular topics. The 10 most common Dutch tile sayings and their (approximate) English translations are as follows:
1. Van het concert des levens krijgt niemand een program (No-one receives a programme for the concert of life).
2. Vader worden is een gunst, vader zijn een grote kunst (Becoming a father is a gift, being a father requires a lot of effort).
3. Denk niet bij het laatste vel, wie na mij komt die redt het wel (Don’t think that if you use the last sheet, the person who follows will be okay)
4. Kleine man, mag ik u bidden: niet op de rand, maar in het midden (Young man, please I pray, not on the seat, but in the middle)
5. Heren doe de bril omhoog, de dames zitten ook graag droog (Gentlemen, don’t forget to lift the seat, the women too wish to remain dry).
6. Hij die als vriend hier binnen gaat, komt nooit te vroeg, maar steeds te laat (He who enters as a friend, is never too early but always too late).
7. Wie niet als vriend hier binnen huppelt, wordt er een twee drie weer uitgeknuppeld (He who enters as friend, will be kicked out within a few seconds -often used as a parody of number 6).
8. Ook al hebt gij gene cent, bedenkt dat gij hier welkom bent (Even if you haven’t a penny to your name, know that you’re always welcome here).
9. Dik zijn is minder erg dan dik doen (Being fat is not as bad as showing off).
10. Als je meer wilt bereiken dan een ander moet je er ook meer voor doen (If you wish to achieve more, you’ll need to put in more effort).
Prefer to read this article in Dutch? Then visit our sister blog, Heimwee.info, specifically intended for Dutch emigrants.