Het is vechten tegen de bierkaai

it’s a lost cause, fighting a losing battle
[Dutch phrase of the week]
[het is vech-ten te-gen de bier-kaai] 

“Vechten tegen de bierkaai” translates as “to fight against the beer quay” and dates back to the time when in Amsterdam the names of the canals (or quays) were indicative of the goods stored or transported. The men working at the ‘bierkaai’ were strong and tough and one had better not pick a fight. Although ‘kaai’ is closer to ‘quay’ than ‘kade’, it is the latter form that is used nowadays.

You can also use the expression by conjugating the verb ‘vechten’, e.g. “zij vechten tegen de bierkaai”. A variant of the phrase is: ‘het is een gevecht tegen de bierkaai’.

– “Ze wil graag promotie, maar in dit mannenbedrijf is dat vechten tegen de bierkaai.” 
(“She wants to get a promotion, but that is a lost cause in this male dominated company.”)

– “Je kunt je tegen muggen insmeren, maar zonder klamboe overnachten in de jungle is vechten tegen de bierkaai.” 
(“One can protect oneself against mosquitos, but spending the night in the jungle without a mosquito net is fighting a losing battle.” Note that ‘insmeren’ is ‘to rub with’ or ‘to put on (a lotion / cream)’. It’s a common construction, e.g. “je moet je insmeren tegen de zon”.)

– “Hij heeft moeite om orde te houden in de klas, maar met 30 losgeslagen pubers vecht hij tegen de bierkaai!” 
(“He has trouble keeping order in the class room, but with 30 wild teenagers he is fighting a losing battle!”)

– “De strijd tegen de kleine criminaliteit is voor de politie vechten tegen de bierkaai.” 
(“The police are fighting a losing battle against petty crime.” Lit. “The fight against … is a losing battle for the police.”)

Related words:
– Vechten: to fight [verb] [vocht, gevochten].
– Bier: beer [noun] [het bier, de bieren].
– Kade: quay [noun] [de kade, de kades/n].
– Gevecht: fight [noun] [het gevecht, de gevechten].
– Zinloos: pointless, useless [adjective].