• Hans Faber

Grassland conversations



Being at the grasslands might lead to encounters with farmers or other wanderers and, of course, with ‘birdwatchers’ (see also note at the end). These encounters go in slow motion, and in clearly defined phases. These phases should be observed strictly if you have any ambition to mingle with locals, or to receive any help from them in case you are in trouble.


This post contains valuable instructions on how to communicate with locals during encounters that might take place while hiking the Frisia Coast Trail. Day and night! Maybe, this post might be useful even for government officials and politicians too, if they want to restore the communication between the rich and poor parts of the country and The Hague.


The best way to learn it, is by illustrating a typical encounter. Before we start, whatever you do, never never laugh. Give a grin at best. And, if it happens to be a farmer you meet, never ever contradict him. You will find this warning also in our Manual Making a Terp in 12 Steps. Promised?



You are walking in the grassland, desperately and surely, in vain looking for peewit eggs, when from afar you see someone slowly walking toward you. Important. You keep doing what you were doing. Do not stop, do not change directions or, worse, walk toward the individual. Act as if you do not notice him. After a while he, because that is always the case, is close enough for you to stop. Then it is time to give each other a very quick glance.


Classically one opens with: “Goeie”, short for ‘good day’. Do not reply with: “Ah, goeie.” This is reserved for someone you know well, and leads to confusion if you do not. Just say “Goeie” back. It will suffice. Both stand their ground and both say nothing for a while. The other can place a remark, but only after a while. No questions please at this stage! Not even if you need medical help urgently because you broke your ankle and is bleeding heavily. For example you can say: “It wurdt hieltiid minder mei ‘t aaisykjen” (the egg-seeking-thing is getting worse all the time). Silence. In average, between every sentence minimal ten seconds.


For some city people silences might be uncomfortable, but in the north of Germany and the Netherlands these are part of the conversation. The silence of the tides, as they say. But still, do not look at each other. Instead, look into the sky or around you, as if observing birds or the weather. The other will do the same. After this the conversation may start. You reply his remark with another remark. With remarks, both indirectly show their expertise of nature and their knowledge of the area. Do not talk rubbish therefore. It is a way to assess each other. If all goes well, you place your feet firmly in the clay and grab your tobacco to light your pipe, or else light a cigarette. Even if you do not smoke. Do it! No but, please.


Now it is time for questions. Please, use the formal address of jo pronounced as ‘yo’, meaning ‘you’ in formal form, and not the informal do pronounced as ‘dough’. Things run terribly bad if you do do. Now you also understand why rap music with all the “yo!, yo!” did not do well in Frisia.


A question can be: “Jo sykje sels ek?” (You seek -eggs- yourself, too?) or “Hawwe jo hjoed al wat fûn?” (Have you already found something -eggs- today?). Do not mention ‘eggs’ in the sentence, because it would give away you are a beginner. Stay looking in the far distance and obey the silences between every question and answer. Breath in, breath out.


The next phase is asking personal questions, like: “Binne jo der ien fan…?” (Are you family of…?). The Frisians love to boast about who they know, their knowledge of nature, landscape and ancestry. In case you need urgent medical help because of your broken and bleeding ankle, now the time has come to ask for help. Show no emotions. You could ask: “Witte jo faaks wêr dat in dokter wennet?” (Do you happen to know where a doctor lives?). Make no reference to the terrible pain you are suffering, and be prepared for some more conversation before you can take off to the doctor.


Then it is time to say goodbye. That goes as slow as the tiding of the Wadden Sea. You give a hint by saying what your plans are for the rest of the day. Wait a while. Extinguish your pipe by hitting it at the toe of your rubber boot. Put the pipe in the pockets of your long coat, straighten your cap or hood, and say: “Ik sil ris fierder. Seach sakrekt noch in mantsje in roek oanfalle” (I should take off. I just saw a male attacking a rook). Like the eggs-thing, do not mention it is a male peewit. Just male, if you do not want to give away you are a beginner. After this, for the second and the last time, you look the other in the eye and say: “Oant sjen” (See you again). Turn your back and walk, or limp, away.


Keep your hands low, do not shake hands, smile or wave. Keep it cool. Walk away as if the conversation never happened. What happens at the grasslands, stays at the grasslands.


If you meet again continue the conversation where you left off the last time. As if no time has passed since the last time.


If during the conversation it turned out both of you were as kids on the same elementary school, it does not affect the conversation a single bit. It stays exactly the same.



An identical encounter at the grasslands might take place when you are out there in the middle of the night. Your are not seeking for peewit eggs, of course, but placing and emptying your illegal fish pods. Be careful with standing in and wading through the water. Know that swimming in ditches in province Friesland is tricky and nearly impossible. Not because of the massive numbers of the invasive species Chinese mitten crabs and red swamp crayfish. No, because you get entangled in fish pods all the time. Do not rely on Greenpeace cutting you free.


It must be at night, since there is no hiding at the flat, near treeless grasslands during the day. In other words, it might be crowded at the grasslands during the night.


But also then, the interactions and conversations are identical, including the subject of seeking peewit eggs. Both of you will not, of course, admit doing something illegal at night. The Frisians are masters in avoiding sensitive topics. What else, after centuries of being washed away regularly during great floods? They know how to bury emotions deep in a shallow sea. Besides that, can you trust the other that he will not empty or steal your fish pod? Only the way you lighten your pipe or cigarette goes with much more care, in order not to be noticed.


Good luck, and you know, it is learning by doing!


Note: 1 When you are curious why ‘birdwatchers’ are so abundant at the grasslands, yes even outnumbering birds itself, read our blog post What’s hip and happening at the grasslands.


Note 2: The real pro would not say mantjse ‘male’ but âld for denoting a male peewit. Literally translated it means ‘old’.

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