Typically Dutch

There’s a Reason the Dutch Word for Stairs is ‘Trap’

I was reminded yesterday on Twitter that Dutch stairs are legendary for being steep and dangerous. The stairs in our current house are absolutely normal navigable stairs. The ones in our first house however were not. The Dutch and their stairs warrants a discussion. If you have ever seen a typical steep Dutch staircase you will understand exactly why the Dutch word for stairs is ‘trap‘. The only word missing is death.

There's a Reason the Dutch Word for Stairs is 'Trap'

Why are the Dutch Notorious for Their Steep Stairs?

The answer is simple. Some stairs in old Dutch houses are ridiculously steep. Smoke. Fire. It all fits.

The rumour is there because it’s true. I can vouch for that firsthand.

Our first house in Den Haag was an old worker’s house. Tiny bathroom on the ground floor (originally the toilet was outside). No windows at the back of the house at all. No garden. It was one of the houses built for the workers at the Eerste Gemeentelijke Gasfabriek. There was history all over the street and the house.

There was also a deadly ‘trap‘.

Our stairs were basically vertical. The incline was so slight it’s hardly worth mentioning. In essence it was a ladder. Standing in the middle of the living room.

We went up and down the ‘stairs’ holding onto the sides with our hands. We came down backwards. No exaggeration, it was a bloody ladder, but fixed.

Why Do Such Steep Stairs Exist in the Netherlands?

You will not be surprised to know it is money related. In the olden days (think seventeenth century) you paid tax based on the width of your house so the clever tax avoiders built narrow and tall. Death-defying-steep stairs take up much less room than normal-regular-wide-safe stairs.

So this is why you see so many narrow, tall houses in the bigger cities such as Amsterdam. There you go, I aim to educate too…..

However, this lovely little nugget of history doesn’t explain the ladder stairs in our home in The Hague. It was built in 1923. It isn’t a particularly narrow house and there was certainly plenty of room for a proper staircase.

Did the Dutch just become such masters at ladder climbing the trend continued unnecessarily? I have no idea but one of the first things we did was put in a ‘proper’ stair case. We wanted it moved from the middle of the room so it ran along the wall at the side of the room.

But even when our new stairs were fitted it remained a death ‘trap‘.

Dutch Workmen. You Gotta Love ‘Em

If you want the low down on Dutch workmen read How to Survive Renovating Your Home in the Netherlands. My opinions are based on a long history and much experience of hiring in Dutch workmen.

My first encounter with Dutch workmen relates to the new stairs we asked to be put into our house in The Hague.

Through a colleague of my husband’s we heard about a stair maker. He came to see us and together we determined what we wanted made and fitted.

Fast forward a few weeks. He came back with a colleague, the stairs and some tools.

We were heading off on holiday the next day so we left the workers to it to get some last minute supplies for our trip.


By the time we got back the workmen had left the premises. All the tools had gone. Their van was gone. Verdwenen.

We checked out our new stairs.

And stopped dead in our tracks.

My husband called the stair maker and asked if they were planning to return to finish the job.

“Wij zijn klaar!” was the answer. They were done. No intention of coming back. Job finished as far as they were concerned.

Except our stairs were now even more of a death trap then the ones that had been removed. The hole at the top of the new stairs had not been filled in. The new stairs were attached to the wall and to a floor beam at the top but then there was a drop down to the living room. The new stairs were unusable. Without safety lines and a bravado spirit in any case.

The stair maker/fitter stated that he had done his job. The staircase had been placed. It wasn’t his job to make them useable. And that was that. He refused to come back and finish the job.

Thankfully my husband is a klusmeister (that’s a made up word I’m sure) and whipped up a new floor before we left to go on holiday. It was truly an insane experience.

It left me with the conviction that it’s an ingrained Dutch belief that climbing stairs must involve an element of danger.

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