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Holland Urban Legends

The recognition of urban legends as a modern folklore genre in Holland had its beginning with the 1978 publication of a collection titled Broodje aap: De folklore van de post-industriĆ«le samenleving (Monkey Burger: Folklore of the Post-Industrial Society) compiled by Ethel Portnoy, an American living in the Netherlands. Portnoy, as she explained in the preface, had heard the stories in the United States, France, and England, as well as in the Netherlands; even the title story, she admitted, was told to her in the Bronx, New York. According to this account, when trucks entering and leaving een hot-dog fabriek (a hotdog factory) collided, it was discovered that the bodies of zoo animals—gorillas, monkeys, and bears—were being turned into hot dogs.


The American source of her version of this contamination legend did not stop the Dutch from adopting the term broodje aap as a generic label for urban legends. A “Monkey Burger story” became such a common concept in the Netherlands that since 2005 it has to be officially spelled as one word: broodjeaapverhaal. Portnoy’s book went into six printings before appearing in a revised and expanded edition in 1980, followed in 1992 by Broodje aap met (Monkey Burger with Mayo). Portnoy’s emphasis, as can be appreciated easily just from her books’ illustrations, was on the gruesome and the sexy, with such familiar legends included as “Spiders in the Hairdo,” “The Hook,” “The Decapitated Cyclist,” “The Nude Surprise Party,” and “The Stuck Couple.”

A broader selection of urban-legend themes was represented in the collection of broodjeaap stories published in 1992 by the Dutch writer and publicist Peter Burger of Leiden. His title story in De wraak van de kangoeroe: Sagen uit het moderne leven (The Kangaroo’s Revenge: Legends from Modern Life) is easily recognized as a variation of “The Kangaroo Thief,” in this instance involving Dutch tourists in Australia.

Burger’s book contained a good cross-section of urban stories told in Holland and attributed to een vriend van een vriend (a friend of a friend) along with sources, comparative notes, and a bibliography. Besides such international favorites as “The Microwaved Pet,” “The Hook,” and “Superhero Hijinks,” the book contains some legends that seem more specifically Dutch, or at least European, including “Het wandelende dekbed” (“The Contaminated Comforter”). Burger’s concise text of “Old versus Young,” titled Parkeerproblemen (Parking Problems), can probably be understood—even when quoted in Dutch—if one knows that the two quoted remarks are those of the drivers of a small versus a large automobile following the usual crashing dispute over a parking place:

Op een volle Amsterdamse gracht glipt een Mini net voor een Rolls-Royce een parkeerplaats in. De bestuurder van de Mini stapt uit en zegt tegen de man in de Rolls: “Dat kun je doen als je een Mini hebt.” Zonder een spier te vertrekken rijdt de bestuurder van de Rolls door en duwt de Mini de gracht in. “En deat kun je doen als je een Rolls-Royce hebt.”

In another Dutch version of the story, “Small versus Big,” the angry owner of a large Mercedes Benz, when beaten to a parking place by a tiny Citroen 2 CV, simply pushes the smaller car into a canal, saying, “This is the advantage of having a big car?”

Peter Burger published a second collection of Dutch urban legends in 1995 titled De gebraden baby (The Roasted Baby), and his third book published in 2006 is called De jacht op de Veluwepoema (The Hunt for the Veluwe Puma). Veluwe is the nature reserve where the phantom puma was spotted). In his latest book, Burger presents another urban legend that may have originated in the Netherlands, one in which a child is bitten to death by a dog, whereupon a policeman is forced to shoot the seemingly mad dog. Later a veterinarian finds that the dog had 17 (or more) staples in his ear so it was “maddened” by the pain caused by its torture.


Dutch Folklorists Theo Meder and Eric Venbrux submitted a distinctively Dutch modern legend to close scrutiny in their study “The False Teeth in the Cod,” first presented at the 13th annual conference of the International Society for Contemporary Legend Research in San Antonio, Texas, in 1995. The researchers traced the multiple tellings and printings of a story about a Dutch fisherman who in 1994 lost his false teeth overboard during a fishing excursion on the North Sea. Three months later, it was said that another man caught a large cod that had the missing teeth inside it. However, the folklorists remarked, “For those of you who think there’s something fishy about this ‘False Teeth in the Cod’ story, let us assure you: there is!” It turned out that the story had been circulating in Holland for some years previous to the alleged 1994 event, and it was based on much older traditional motifs. Eventually an Amsterdam taxi driver admitted that he had planted the false teeth in the cod and that the prank had been inspired by the existing folktale.

Meder and Venbrux have continued their study of the urban legends of the Netherlands as well as of Flanders with a survey reported in the journal Volkskunde (vol. 100, 1999: 73–95). Reporting on the results of a questionnaire that asked about stories “from guardian angels to concrete furniture” (quoting from their article’s title), they found that many such legends were well known in rural as well as urban areas, among Catholics as well as Protestants, and among the elderly as well as the younger population. Among the best-known subjects of Dutch urban rumors and legends were those about contaminated food, burglary, hospitals, and automobile accidents; the favored themes seemed to be health, safety, good fortune, and salvation.

In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States, Meder and Burger both published articles on crime and terror legends in the Netherlands in a special issue of Western Folklore. Meder’s essay illustrated how “fact and fiction often mingle” in legends and media reports about Muslim residents in Holland being perceived as “dangerous ‘others.’ ” Burger demonstrated how the “Smiley Gang” crime legends developed in Holland into atrocity stories referring, again, to Muslim residents.


In 2000, Theo Meder published a collection of all kinds of Dutch folk stories selected from the Meertens Institute archive. This institute is the major center for folk narrative collection and study in Holland and has a useful website. The Dutch urban legends contained in this archive are organized according to the system suggested in the “Type Index of Urban Legends” included in The Baby Train (1993) and given sequential numbers. I have taken it from there to expand the type index for use in this encyclopedia.

The title of Meder’s 2000 book was De magische vlucht (The Magic Flight), and the collection included 40 urban legends. Twenty-six urban legends in English translations, mostly taken from the aforementioned book, are included in Theo Meder’s The Flying Dutchman and Other Folktales from the Netherlands published in 2008. These stories are cited in the appropriate entries in this encyclopedia. Both books repeated the “BRUN” [i.e., Brunvand] numbers from the Meertens Institute archive. In 2010, the annual meeting of the International Society for Contemporary Legend Research was held in Amsterdam, hosted by the Meertens Institute.

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