Painting the Town Red – Zet de Bloemetjes Buiten!

Dutch idiom, ‘zet de bloemetjes buiten’ literally translated means, put the flowers outside.  Painting the town red is the best translation, but please let me know if you have other ideas as expressions are sometimes so hard to translate directly.

Another flower-related expression in Dutch is ‘achter de geraniums zitten,’ which means retiring and sitting at home watching the world go by from behind the geraniums. Unsurprisingly, it is often used in the negative when people stop working, retirees saying they’re definitely not planning to sit behind the geraniums.

The more traditional Dutch love to fill their windowsills with plants to prevent nosey neighbours looking in. Often elderly people position their chair by the window and watch streetlife from behind the plants, enjoying life vicariously, one assumes. Two roughly equivalent expressions I can think of are; being put out to grass, and going to seed. Being put out to grass has some positive connotations though and ‘achter de geraniums zitten’ only has a negative meaning.

Inspired by fellow Writers Abroad member, Vanessa Couchman and her blog post on Life on La Lune, I too have put the annual red geraniums on the balcony. Or rather the hub did as he is the green-fingered one in the family. Vanessa’s flowers, in terracotta pots in rural France, are in a much more picturesque setting I admit but even so, a few flowers can make a world of difference to a plain apartment building.

The biggest garden centre in Amsterdam is Tuincentrum Osdorp, where we go for the annual Christmas tree argument, it’s also the most expensive and has a dubious sideline in tacky garden accessories. There’s a nice café though and as I’m rather partial to a slice of cake and coffee it’s my garden centre of choice. Not my other half though! He always goes to Bakkers Kwekerij in Nieuw Sloten. Cheaper and a lot less busy. It seems the geraniums will have to come in tonight though as it’s going to freeze!


About susancarey

Angela writes using pseudonym, Susan Carey. She has dual nationality, GB/NL and lives in Nijmegen. Susan has had short fiction published on multiple platforms and was a runner-up in the 2018 and 2017 Casket of Fictional Delights Flash Competitions. Her writing has also been published and performed by amongst others: Mslexia, Liars’ League, Reflex Fiction, the Casket and of course the wonderful Writers Abroad. In 2020 she published her short story collection, Healer. Tweets at @su_carey
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7 Responses to Painting the Town Red – Zet de Bloemetjes Buiten!

  1. Jany says:

    I wonder if the retirees in Holland still have those little mirrors at their windows,with which they could see both ends of the street, all comings and goings. I know my elderly relatives in Arnhem did in the 50s and 60s.


  2. susancarey says:

    Yes, Jany you do see those little mirrors still occasionally in the Jordaan and in other traditional neighbourhoods. Not many though, as the newer yuppies move in and the old traditions die out.


  3. ginandbooks says:

    Lovely! I adore red geraniums, so bright and summery.


  4. nessafrance says:

    Thanks so much for the link. Geraniums really do brighten up even a small terrace or corner. It’s great to see you can put them out now in Holland – even if you might have to take them in at night for a while. Summer’s on the way, although it’s a bit sporadic.


  5. pfornari says:

    Just lovely. The Dutch keep their houses so neat, and each window is a picture. I had a few disasters putting geraniums out in April in Belgium…more success when I could resist till May! But as Vanessa says, you can take them in if it’s a bit chilly.


  6. Sally Robinson says:

    Nice pics of your geraniums Susan.
    Sitting ‘achter de geraniums’ reminds me in English of ‘twitching the net curtains’. But then it’s slightly different in the sense that anyone can do it. There’s quite a lot of net curtain twitching in my street!


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