The Easily Amused Expat

Franse Fries
It’s usually the fresh-off-the-boat expat who finds fascination with every little new thing, but even when you’ve been in your new country for years, little things — even things you’ve seen on a regular basis — can suddenly jump out at you and remind you that “we’re not in Kansas any more, Toto”.

I’ve been having one of those moments recently as I’ve been passing some of the local McDonalds restaurants. There’s one on the main street through town (the street that seems to change names ever three meters, but that’s another post) and one on the Oudegracht. The picture is of the one on the Oudegracht, but it was the one on the main street that first caught my eye recently.

Sure, we get the occasional market-specific dish, which is usually something to do with kip saté, but it’s not that kind of poster that stood out this time. This time, it was something as simple and normal and ubiquitous as the French fry. In Dutch, fries (or chips, for my British readers) are usually known as patat or friet (or patatjes or frietjes, because the Dutch love adding the diminutive to everything. It’s adorable.) The choice of word tends to be more regional, with patat seeming to be more northern and variations on friet are typically more southern. As an expat, I say both, because I don’t know where I live any more.

French fries is a fairly American term, resulting from American troops eating fries for the first time in Belgium but associating them with the French language they heard at the time. Or so the story goes. In fact, here in the Netherlands, I don’t really remember seeing the “French” addition to the name. I’m sure the occasional restaurant might use it, such as an American-style diner or something, but otherwise, the only place you’re more likely to see “Franse Frietjes” is at McDonalds.
Franse Fries
And that’s what is amusing me. The posters for “Franse Frietjes”. Perhaps it’s standing out since I don’t see the “Franse” addition often, or maybe it’s just amusing to see such an American term translated.

Or maybe it’s because subconsciously it reminds me of this scene in Better Off Dead:

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8 thoughts on “The Easily Amused Expat

  1. To my knowledge McD have always used this term, ever since they first arrived in the country in the 1980s. To us (or mabye it’s just me) the “Franse” stands for “thin” and “delicate” where as “Vlaams” (Flemish) or anything you’d get in a ‘normal’ fries shop is “thick”. A bit similar to our pannekoeken (pan cakes: thick and big) and the French crêpes, which are very thin and much smaller. So to me Franse Frietjes are something else than patat! And I prefer the latter. (Oh yes and you’re right about the North/South division. The rivers are the border so you’re just in patat area and I’m just in friet area now. But I refuse to order that, because it simply doesn’t sound so tasty! So I always say patat and then they repeat friet? which I then have to acknowledge.)

    • McD has been around in the US for a bit longer, but they’re not the only ones to use the term “French fries” in the US. Still, the idea of thin French/thick Vlaams seems a sensible way to define them here! Mmmm. Patat met. 😉

  2. Yeah, they’ve always called it that way. Funnily enough, Franse frietjes, patat/friet or vlaamse frieten denotes what size the fry is in my mind. It pretty much goes from thin to a somewhat thicker and more home made variable size. Does it make any sense? Nope. 🙂

    • Same for me, the French ones are the thin ones, the Flemish the bigger, more roughly cut ones. I prefer the latter, in a paper cone with tartaarsaus :-p

      • Nope, that makes perfect sense. Even in the US, we do have thicker cut fries that are sometimes called by other names, rather than “French” fries. Country fries or home fries are two of the names that come to mind for the thicker ones, more similar to the Vlaamse frites.

  3. I always have that small freak out moment when ordering fries where I don’t know if I should say patat or friet. I never knew why there were two words for it until now 🙂

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