A Dutch Guide to American Lingo

TransferWise content team
3 minute read

Approximately 4.5 million people who were born in the Netherlands or who have Dutch heritage currently live in the United States.

Even though the Dutch are famously well-educated in English, there's sometimes a word that pops up in conversation that simply doesn't seem to make sense.

So, to help those who've crossed the Atlantic to live in the U.S., we’ve called around and pulled together 9 of the most confusing words and phrases that might come up in everyday conversation.

Going Dutch


“Going dutch” is a popular expression in English that's used to describe when each person participating in an activity pays for their own portion.

You're most likely to hear it when figuring out who will pay the check at a restaurant. It can even become a source of contention when on a first date.

Passing the buck

In America, “passing the buck” means evading or shifting one’s responsibility by passing it on to someone else.

Couch potato


A couch potato is someone who spends a lot of time relaxing on the couch and watching TV instead of doing more useful things, including exercise. The expressions is also often used as a synonym for lazy.


In America, if you “razz” someone, it generally means that you’re teasing them playfully. In sports, however, it can also mean heckling.


If you want to bail on something, you're simply going cancel your plans to go out. The term comes from when someone has to post bail to get out of jail.

Drug store

When your new American friend says that they “need to stop by the drug store quickly” before meeting you for dinner, they don’t mean that they plan on purchasing party favors for a big night out.

Instead, drug stores in the U.S. are just shops where people go to purchase cold medicine, band aids, vitamins, etc.

The cold shoulder

Giving someone “the cold shoulder” in America has little to do with turning down the actual temperature.

Instead, it means that you’re being particularly unfriendly or ignoring someone on purpose.

“Has Sarah spoken to you since you bailed last minute on her birthday party?”

“No, she's giving me the cold shoulder.”

PDA (public displays of affection)


PDA stands for public displays of affection, and it's most likely being said in a humorous tone.

The U.S. is pretty liberal when it comes to physical contact in public. But it can depend a little on who you ask and in what context as to whether it's being said as a positive or negative.

Shoot the breeze


If an American tells you that they don’t mind you being late because they took the opportunity to “shoot the breeze” with their neighbor, they don’t mean that they went to the shooting range in the meantime.

Instead, “shoot the breeze” here simply means that they were killing time with idle chit-chat.

The term comes from the olden times, where cowboys in the Wild West had nothing better to do than shoot at random targets for no particular reason.

Do you send money back to the Netherlands or over to the U.S.? Don't let your bank use confusing language to hide their fees.

Your bank might say "free" or offer a "fixed fee" to send money home but they hit with you as much as 5% on the exchange rate mark-up they use.

TransferWise charges just 1% or 0.7% over $5,000 with no mark-up - far less than that wire fee your bank offers.

What do we mean by a mark-up? Take a look:


Want to see how we calculate this? Click here.

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