9 nationality / ethnicity idioms – Online English Lessons

to go Dutch – when people go Dutch, each person in a group activity or on a date pays for their own expenses, or the expenses are divided and shared equally.


My boyfriend and I always go Dutch when we go on a date.

Dutch courage – confidence or courage acquired by drinking alcohol.


I had a glass of wine to give myself some Dutch courage before I met my girlfriend’s mother.

a philistine – a philistine is a derogatory term for someone who is ignorant about or who does not care about intellectual and cultural values.


1. She’s only interested in money and fame – she’s such a philistine.

2. I’m too much of a philistine to enjoy a visit to the National Art Gallery.

a Trojan horse – a Trojan horse is a hidden enemeny: someone or something that seems helpful or harmless but whose real and hidden purpose is to trick or harm.


1. We don’t think she should be allowed to read our confidential files – she could be a Trojan horse.

2. News headline (from Sofia News Agency novinite.com): Bulgaria is not Russian Trojan Horse in EU.

This expression comes from the ancient story of the Trojan war. A small group of Greeks entered the city of Troy hidden inside an enormous hollow wooden horse. They crept out of the horse at night and opened the gates for the Greek army who defeated the Trojans and ended the war.

the English disease – (sometimes the British disease) refers to the official and unofficial calling of strikes without a good reason.

strike (noun) a stoppage of work usually arranged by members of a trade union to try and force employers to agree to their demands.

The English disease is also sometimes used when referring to England’s unfortunate reputation for football hooliganism.

to take French leave – is to leave a place or an event without permission, or without telling anyone you are leaving.


A. Does he have permission to be away from work?

B. I don’t know. I think he might have taken French leave.

spartan (adjective) if something is spartan it is is very simple and frugal, with no luxury or comfort.


1. He lives a very spartan life. He doesn’t have a television, telephone or computer, and his house has no heating or hot water.

2. Her diet is spartan.

A Spartan (noun) is a person of great courage and self-discipline

This expression has its origins in the Spartans, people born or living in the city of Sparta in ancient Greece

when in Rome, do as the Romans do -when you are visiting a new country or place you should behave like the people from that place.

People often use the shortened version of this expression – they say ‘when in Rome’.


1. When people from other cultures come to live here they should have the attitude of when in Rome

2. When we lived in Japan we adopted their customs and traditions wholeheartedly – as the saying goes, when in Rome, do as the Romans do.

a Tartar – a Tartar (or Tatar) is a person who is fierce, frightening, and bad-tempered.


My English teacher is a real Tartar!

Can you think of any more English language examples?

What similar examples do you have in your native language?

 Images © Zeep van der Kist  (Trojan Horse) and Annie Mole (Tube strike)