- -  Day # 152  + +

EU > The Netherlands > Heeg

Fryslan Boppe

Heeg, NL (View on map)

The Netherlands is too small a country to have different languages on its territory - one would say. There is one province where people would certainly disagree with that. Friesland, in the north of The Netherlands and the local language is known as Frisian. Calling Frisian a dialect would a straightforward offence to most Frisians. The language has been officially recognised and most names of villages are marked in Frisian first, then followed by Dutch. What`s worth knowing about this curious language and province?

Jeltje (24):

`Hollanders usually don`t understand Frisian`
The Frisian language clearly defines the difference between a Frisian and a person from the rest of the country, who are referred to as Westerlingen or Hollanders. Frisian has strong links with Scandinavian countries. In both spoken and written form, it is hardly understandable for a non-Frisian Dutch person. Many words are completely different, and those that are the same are pronounced in a way a non-Frisian will hardly understand.

Strangely enough, many of the characteristics attributed to the Dutch seem more true in Friesland than elsewhere in The Netherlands. The love for ice-skating, cheese, cows, green fields, wooden shoes: there`s more of that in Friesland than the provinces referred to as Holland. Flower bulbs are the only Dutch symbols that are more common in the Holland provinces.

Although each of the 12 Dutch provinces has its own provincial flag, most people would have a hard time saying which of the 12 flags belongs to their province. With the exception of one: almost everybody knows what the Frisian flag looks like. Blue diagonal lines, with red heart-shaped leaves. The flag is reflected in the colours of the major provincial football club (SC Heerenveen), and Frisians will often be proud to display it to express that they are first Frisian, then Dutch.

Cultural heritage
Eva (25) thinks that Friesland is not more nationalistic, but has just remained closer to its cultural heritage. `Friesland is more conservative, people are nuchter, down-to-earth, and communities are much tighter. Everybody greets each other in the street and people have time for each other. If we look at the Randstad, the agglomeration of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht, we are happy about how much space there is in Friesland, how quiet it is and how green.

Immigrants from the West of the country can count on a tough immigration program. Eva says they will kept being seen as outsiders as long as they don`t learn Frisian. They are usually more dominant and noisier, neither of which is well-accepted in Friesland. Thijs (34) did not let the prejudices about Westerlingen hold him back. He tells me that he only moved to Friesland one week ago, from the much busier city of The Hague. `I got to know Friesland by coming here often for sailing. I like this part of the country: it`s much less hectic than the Randstad and this is a much better place to raise children.

Thijs is aware of the fact that some people from Holland think that Friesland is almost as far as the North Pole. `They also take Frisians for rigid and stubborn people, but I would call them down-to-earth, friendly and funny.` Like many people, Thijs got to know Friesland through his love for sailing. Friesland has many lakes and there`s always a breeze, which makes it a very suitable and popular place for water sports. `Going sailing with Frisians allowed me to learn some Frisian and get to know some people. Then when my employer could offer me a position in Friesland, I was happy to accept and take the jump.`

The easiest way to distinguish a Frisian is by looking at his/her first name and family name. Frisian family names traditionally end in ?ma or ?stra. First names often end in ?ke or ?kje, which is the dimunitive form of whatever it precedes. If you hear about a Baukje, Ofkje, Heike, Tjitske or Gauke, you can be quite sure you`re dealing with a Frisian person.

Jeltje (24, photo), who also has a typical Frisian name, tells me about some Frisian expressions that have made it to the general Dutch vocabulary. Frisian weerman, presenter of the weather forecast, Piet Paulusma, got all of The Netherlands to say `Oant Moan` (See you tomorrow). TV Commercials mocked about how Dutch and Frisians misunderstand each other saying `It kin nit`, which in Dutch would mean: `It`s only just possible`, whereas in Frisian it means `It`s impossible`. End result: a ship getting stuck in a lock and people fighting over not having warned each other.

Jeltje further explains that Frisian is only spoken between Frisians: `If I don`t know somebody, I will not start speaking Frisian right away. It`ll be Dutch first but if we find out we both speak Frisian, we`ll probably change.` Frisian is taught as a subject in primary school, and it focuses on oral rather than written use. We also get to speak a lot of German here by the way, because there`s so many German tourists coming here for water sports.

Friesland is known for its excellent facilities for sailors, but sailing is not the only sport that is held in high esteem. The Elfstedentocht might well be the best example of how much sport `lives` inside the Frisians. The Elfstedentocht is a speed skating competition along all of Frieslands eleven cities, which can only be held if the ice on all of the 200 kilometers stretch is thick enough.

The last edition of the Elfstedentocht took place in 1997, and many people are anxiously waiting for the next one. Each and every winter, when temperatures are approaching 0?C, people in all of The Netherlands are said to get Elfsteden-fever. Speculations about whether or not the Elfstedentocht will be held are a favourite topic of conversation throughout the winter months. Ice surgeons take charge of filling weak spots along the track and all needs to be organised to leave nothing to chance. When the event finally takes place, all of The Netherlands is focused on the Friesland province, or physically gets to Friesland to support the skating heroes.

In the disappointing situation that the Eleven Cities Tour cannot be held, people have to satisfy themselves with regular speed skating competitions. In the recent past, Ids Postma used to dominate international competitions. Nowadays, Sven Kramer is almost impossible to beat. Another famous sportsman is Wout Zijlstra, who joins more primitive competitions like The world`s strongest man or the Highland Games in Scotland.

Friesland itself also has some typical, local sports: Fierljeppen (ditch jumping with a stick) and Kaatsen (throwing balls as far away as possible) may be children games elsewhere; Friesland has made serious sports out of them. The Frisians themselves are usually the best at it, because they are quite smart at simple things ? and that`s what all of Friesland is about: combining smart and simple and not making a big deal out of things: `It is what it is, and that`s what it is.`

Enlarge photo | Link to this article