17 Dec


If you’ve ever been shopping anywhere in The Netherlands you have probably been asked the question, “Is het een kadootje?” It’s a common question, especially during the months leading up to Sinterklaas and Christmas. In fact, I hear it so often that I sometimes expect the checkout girl to ask me it as I do my weekly food shopping.

“Is deze melk een kadootje?”
“Ya, als kadootje alsjeblieft.”

If I were to translate “Is het een kadootje,” word for word it basically means, “Is it a gift?”. However, I have learned that it is a mistake to take this question at face value or to even assume that it is the question that is really being asked. It is not a question asked out of idle curiosity about your gift shopping habits. It has a double meaning, a silent question that is never asked but always understood (by the Dutch at least). “Is het een kadootje?” really means, “Would you like this wrapped?”

Once you are aware of this double meaning it probably sounds pretty easy to deal with the situation. However, the difference between the question that is asked and the question that is meant creates some problems.

Is het een kadootje voor uzelf?

Imagine that you are buying something for yourself and when you approach the counter to pay for it you are asked the question, “is het een kadootje?” You now have two options:

1) You can say no and admit that the My Little Pony action figure that you just bought is actually for yourself and it does not need wrapping or…

2) You let them wrap it anyway and have your own private gift unwrapping moment at home later.

Is het een kadootje voor iemand anders?

It does not get any easier when you are buying a gift for someone else either, especially if you want to wrap it in your own fancy wrapping paper (that compliments the Christmas tree decorations so well). This time when they ask, “is het een kadootje?” you now have three options:

1) You could keep it simple, lie a little and say no just so that they will leave it unwrapped, thus making it easier for you to wrap it later. However, this will now lead to them believing that the ‘Little Princess Tea Party Play Set’ you just bought is for yourself.

2) Alternatively, you could be honest, tell them it is a gift but that you would like them to leave it unwrapped so that can wrap it yourself later. However, this response first leads to a moment of confusion as they automatically reach for the wrapping paper upon hearing the word, “yes,” and then hurt feelings by what they believe is an insult to their gift wrapping skills.

3) Finally, it might just be easier to let them wrap it so that you can unwrap and re-wrap it later. However, while doing this you might discover that their gift wrapping skills were in fact better than yours all along and never be able to look them in the eye again.

It is a dilemma that never gets any easier.

Is het een kadootje van ons winkle?

Sometimes when picking the last option you might be lucky and discover that the wrapping paper the shop is using is actually quite nice. Maybe you don’t have to worry about re-wrapping it after all. Unfortunately they then place a great big sticker on the freshly wrapped gift, clearly advertising the shop’s name and showing everyone that you obviously did not bother to wrap the gift yourself.

If you are anything like me you might try to carefully peel the sticker off as soon as you exit the shop. This is probably why they make sure they press it on so hard. It’s impossible to get it off without ripping the paper.

If you’re quick enough you might just be able to stop them stamping it on but be prepared for some annoyed looks. Refusing the sticker is akin to refusing to acknowledge the selfless free gift wrapping service the shop provides (and that you just took advantage of). A better solution might be to put a bigger sticker of your own over their sticker.

Is het een kadootje?

Either way, answering the question, “is het een kadootje?” is not as easy as it might first seem. It’s possible that there is no correct answer. The best option is whatever you are most comfortable with doing… or shopping online. That way you avoid the question all together.

9 Dec

White Piet

I slowly crept up the stairs using all the stealth skills that I like to think I have but don’t. The sack over my shoulder made an awkward rustling sound as one of the gifts inside shifted. It struck me that burlap sacks are not the best option when you are trying to carry something quietly. However, they are part of the tradition. The Piet hat that I was wearing was also part of the tradition. I didn’t actually have to wear it since I would not be seen but I’d wanted to wear it anyway.

I reached the top of the stairs and slowly lowered the sack, placing it quietly against the front door of our upstairs neighbours (as asked). Slowly and carefully I drew my hands back from the sack but kept them just a few inches away for a moment, as if trying to mentally will the sack to stay in place. Once I was satisfied that it was not going anywhere I slowly stood up and began to turn around. At that moment the sack suddenly decided to make a break for it. It began sliding sideways down the door, threatening to send toys crashing down the stairs.

In a clumsy, frantic movement I quickly grabbed the falling sack just in time and froze. Staying as still as possible I listened. Had I been heard? Was my cover blown? Would I have to leg it? If I was caught in a position like this the neighbours would either have to explain the reality of the situation to their children or tell them that buurman Stuart had just been caught trying to steal toys.

When a moment had passed without the sounds of children running towards the door I quietly repositioned the bag, making sure it would not fall again and breathed a sigh of relief. I imagined this is what bomb disposal experts feel like when they are trying not to blow themselves up.

With everything in place I took a handful of pepernoten out of my pocket and got ready for stage two. I’d been asked to bang on the door as loud as I could to, “really scare the shit out of the kids.” Given the way the apartment building stairwell echoed I was probably about to really scare the shit out of everyone else in the building as well. Luckily, it was pakjesavond so they would probably realize it was a Piet delivering toys… hopefully.

I raised my free hand back as far as I could and then brought it crashing down on the door. Boom! Boom! Boom! Three times. Damn it hurt my hand. They have a hard door. I had no time to think about the pulsating in my hand. I had to get out of there before the door was opened by very excited (and maybe slightly terrified) children. I started running down the stairs, tripped, grabbed the banister and somehow managed used the momentum to swing myself around to the second set of stairs. It would have been graceful if it had not looked so clumsy.

From my new position I waited, out of view. My escape exit back into our own apartment was close but there was one last thing to do; The pepernoten! From above I heard the door open and I flung the pepernoten upwards in an arc in the general direction next to it. I couldn’t see my target so I could only hope that I didn’t accidentally take out a surprised child’s eye with a flying pepernoten. The lack of screaming told me I had not.

As the children gasped in amazement at the sacks of gifts (and the pepernoten that had just been thrown at them by a fleeing Piet) I slowly crept back into our apartment as my wife (Piet accomplice) quietly closed the door behind me. For a while we listened to the children’s reactions from behind the closed door and giggled.

“Dank u Sinterklaasje! Dank u Piet!” the children shouted from upstairs.

“PIET!” shouted our daughter from next to us as she pointed in excitement at the hat I was wearing.

It was the first time I had ever been asked to stand in for a Piet. I think this officially means I work for Sinterklaas now. At the very least it must mean that I am more integrated into Dutch culture now. What do you think?

24 Nov

Speculaas Kroket

“Oh no. No, no, no, no, no.”

“You have to try it. Otherwise you’ll never truly be integrated into Dutch society.”

“Are you going to try it?” I asked defensively, trying to find a way ouy..

“I don’t have anything to prove. I’m already Dutch,” she smiled.

I sighed, defeated, “I’m going to have to try it, aren’t I?”


My wife and I were looking at a news story that had just been sent to us by a friend. It announced the arrival of the speculaaskroket at Febo, a special seasonal kroket, shaped like the ‘S’ from Sinterklaas, filled with speculaas and topped with slagroom. It was even being promoted by Sinterklaas himself (or at least, one of his helpers). This was very bad news for me because I knew that the article had been sent to me as a challenged.

Ever since I confessed my crippling addiction to speculaas friends and family have delighted in challenging me to try every strange and bizarre speculaas product they have been able to find. Crunchy speculaas sandwich spread, speculaas hagelslag, speculaas Easter eggs, speculaas breakfast cereal, speculaas wine and more. I tried them all in the spirit of adventure and uncontrollable addiction. I liked all of them.

But even to a self confessed speculaas addict like myself the idea of warmed up speculaas wrapped in crunchy deep fat fried breadcrumbs, topped with cream did not sound good… But I knew I had to try it anyway. I could not back down from the challenge.

And so, on the day that Sinterklaas’ press conference had announced that the speculaaskroket would go on sale I did the un-thinkable. I went to Febo and ordered the speculaaskroket for lunch.

Speculaas Kroket Poster
No turning back now. I must be brave.
Eatting Speculaas Kroket
Yes. That is hot Speculaas in a kroket.

Oh dear god! Why Febo? Why? Why did you create this? Why did anyone think this was a good idea? Why did you endorse this Sinterklaas? Did you need the money? It is a crime against speculaas. It is a crime against kroketten. The two should never ever be put together. Febo has taken something I love and turned it into something that made me throw up a little in my mouth. It was not even shaped as advertised and there was no slagroom (although that might have been a good thing). In short, it tastes terrible.

It’s official. This is the one that broke me. I’ve met every speculaas/speculoos challenge you have thrown at me but this one… this one has beaten me. I am ashamed to confess that I could not finish it. Even worse; I did not want to finish it. Just one bite was enough to tell me that I never wanted to taste such an abomination ever again. I quickly threw the remains in the bin and I have been trying to forget the taste ever since.

Febo has managed the impossible. They have created a speculaas product that even I don’t like. The world does not make sense to me anymore. I only hope that by sacrificing myself I have saved some of you from trying it.

19 Nov
Sinterklaas Holiday
This cartoon first appeared in the November/December edition of DUTCH:The Magazine
14 Nov

The Sinterklaas Guide

November and December can be a very confusing time of year for expats in Holland, especially for those who have never heard the name Sinterklaas or seen a Zwarte Piet before.

Who is Sinterklaas?

If you were to ask a Dutch Person who Sinterklaas is the basic description you’d receive would be something along the lines of, “He is a very nice old man who has a long white beard, dresses in red and gives presents in December to all the good girls and boys.”

Sinterklaas vs. Santa

Whatever you do, do not follow this up by asking them how that makes him any different from Santa, not unless you want to seriously damage diplomatic relations between Holland and your own country. Santa and Sinterklaas are two very different people. They just happen to work in the same area of business. There are several very key differences for identifying them:

1) Santa Claus comes from the North Pole but Sinterklaas comes from Spain and saves money on his yearly heating bill.

2) Santa Claus dresses in red with a fluffy white trim but Sinterklaas goes with the slightly more fashionable gold trim and accessorizes with a staff.

3) Santa Claus delivers presents on the night of December 24th but Sinterklaas arrives in Holland in the middle of November, does some sightseeing, delivers presents on the 5th of December and returns home in time to enjoy a quiet Christmas.

4) Santa Claus flies to his destination but Sinterklaas arrives by steam boat. It is still unknown if this difference is because Sinterklaas is afraid of flying or Santa is afraid of water.

5) Santa Claus rides on a sledge pulled by 12 over worked reindeer but Sinterklaas rides a single white horse called Amerigo, saves money on animal feed and has to remember less names.

6) Santa Claus puts presents for children under a Christmas tree but Sinterklaas puts presents in children’s shoes regardless of how smelly they are.

7) Santa Claus has an elf equal opportunities program which has helped keep the fairytale creature unemployment rate down. Sinterklaas also has an equal opportunities program and employs Zwarte Pieten who suffer from A.D.D and regularly get their shoe polish mixed up with their face cream.

8) Santa Claus gives a lump of coal to children who have been naughty so that they might learn from their mistakes. Sinterklaas on the other hand has a zero tolerance policy and orders Zwarte Piet to throw naughty children into a sack and drag them back to Spain while beating them with twigs.

The Sinterklaas Guide
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All About Sinterklaas