Dat was niet de bedoeling

An incredibly handy Dutch phrase to know is ‘dat was niet de bedoeling’. This phrase is most commonly used in the Netherlands during the Sinterklaas season but can be heard all year round actually.



intention [noun] what a person plans or intends to do
intent [noun] purpose; what a person means to do
purpose [noun] the reason for doing something; the aim to which an action etc is directed
Dat was niet de bedoeling is a negation of the above. In other words, the purpose of what was just said, or of any actions were not intended to be negative.

1. Individuals

1. The off-colour ‘grapje’

‘Dat was niet de bedoeling’ is often used by individuals after they’ve said something offensive and insulting. Often meant as a joke. Once told by the recipient of an insult or offensive remark that they’re not happy about it, this phrase is used as a sort of ‘get out of jail free card’.  Never confuse it with an actual apology as here in Holland, people choose to be offended.
During the Sinterklaas season, it’s often used in the following circumstances.
a dutch woman telling a black man dat was niet de bedoeling

2. During intellectual anthropological discussions

Dutch person: “You Americans are all fat and racist”

Kut American expat: “Oh my god! I can’t believe you just said that. That’s really rude”

At this point, the person who made the insult has two choices:

  1. Claim that they’re Dutch and are direct, not rude
  2. Say, “are you offended? Dat was niet de bedoeling! My god, nowadays you can’t say ANYTHING without people being offended”.


Two women having an argument

Just because you spent a week in New York once doesn’t make you an expert on the country


2. Organisations

When caught red-handed discriminating against individuals due to their background, religion race etc, always when interviewed by the press the response is ‘dat was niet de bedoeling’. For example, the case of the apartment for rent in Amsterdam whose advert said that it was only for people who cook the western way.

Or the woman who was recently told there were no places available at a school for her Moroccan daughter, but when she applied using a Dutch name was told that there was a place available. Of course, dat was niet de bedoeling. 

Or the incredible number of room rental ads for students where ‘no internationals’ are clearly stated.  This, of course, has nothing to do with xenophobia or discrimination. Once more dat was niet de bedoeling.

So to summarise, if you really want to integrate successfully into Dutch society, make sure that when with a group of Dutch people that you say something clearly offensive and then when they object reply, ‘dat was niet de bedoeling!’. Don’t whatever you do admit that you’re wrong and apologise.



No Americans were hurt during the writing of this post

Until next time: ‘Je mag tegenwoordig niets meer zeggen in dit land!’