Dutch clogs, wooden shoes, klompen… What is this typical Dutch thing?
As you know, we Dutch people live mainly in windmills, grow tulips, eat cheese and walk around in wooden shoes (which we call klompen)…
It’s stunning to see that some foreigners who visit the Netherlands are still surprised by the fact that this is, of course, not the reality. Well at least the windmills, tulips and wooden shoes part.
We do love cheese.
So let’s talk about what’s really the deal with wooden shoes and the Netherlands. Because it’s something you must have come across when you prepared for your visit to the Netherlands and it’s interesting to see why it is very Dutch, but on the other hand, not really.
Short history lesson about the wooden shoe
Let’s start by going back to the beginning.
The first interesting fact is that history shows the wooden shoe is not originally from the Netherlands. The wooden shoe goes back to the middle ages and comes from Central and Western Europe. In this large area the wooden shoe was mainly worn by workers and farmers.
The first wooden shoe was nothing more than a wooden sole with leather straps. Eventually they were able to make the whole wooden shoe out of one block of wood. This was then hollowed out and polished until a shoe was formed.
Wooden shoes proved to be ideal footwear for the muddy Dutch soil!
But what is it like? Walking around on these blocks of wood?
Living in wooden shoes
In the Netherlands we only see people in the countryside walking in wooden shoes. Traditionally these are painted yellow, although there are many variations. People who walk in wooden shoes find them warm, safe and comfortable. But if you are wearing them for the first time, you will not likely experience this pleasant feeling
Most new walkers get blisters!
For me, I never reached the point where a wooden shoe fitted me perfectly.
It felt like…. very uncomfortable -mmm how should I say- wooden shoes?
Why is the Netherlands known as a wooden shoe country?
Well, actually, we don’t know this.
Some people think it’s because of another famous trait the Dutch are known for, our tradesman’s instinct for commerce. The Dutch are a trading people and ventured all over the world. And of course, also in wooden shoes, and while on the job maybe we could sell some shoes.
Wooden shoes were usually thrown into the fire when they were worn out. Making this not only an ideal footwear but also extra fuel to warm your house. Again, we are an economical people. The drawback of this is that it makes it difficult for historians to trace our origins.
Wooden shoes in Dutch language
If you look for information about the Netherlands, I’m sure wooden shoes are mentioned everywhere. There are also some expressions in the Dutch language about clogs. Here are my two favourites.
- Iets op z’n klompen aanvoelen (Feeling something on his clogs)
Feeling/understanding something obvious
- Nou breekt mijn klomp (Well, now my clog breaks)
To be surprised / not expected
Sorry for the disappointment!
Sorry, we don’t really wear them anymore. I hope I didn’t crush your image of the Netherlands as a clog wearing, windmill inhabiting people. For most Dutch people the wooden shoe is just an image that is used to promote our country.
You want to know more (and do a Dutch listening exercise)?
If you want to learn more about the clogs, and at the same time learn some Dutch, you can do this listening exercise. First you watch a video from Dutch television about the clog museum in Drenthe. Afterwards you can do the exercises.
Bart de Pau
online Dutch teacher & founder of the Dutch Summer School & Dutch Winter School