I’ve always thought that one of the best things of moving to a foreign country would be to have the chance to learn a new language. Then I moved to the Netherlands. Guess what? Here they speak Dutch.
To me, the Dutch language is a sort of German from the fields. Nothing to do with the language of the philosophers to be fair. It’s more like “an idiom made for sailors and adventurous people”, fast and direct, in order to go straight to the point and not wasting time with beauty. Practical, with an easy grammar structure (compared to other languages I know), but challenging at the same time for the amount of exceptions that you have to be aware of.
I LIKE it because it reminds me of the nature.. of the salty water of the oceans and for its secret inner codes.. and I HATE it because I don’t enjoy to speak it. I know, my bad, I blame myself.
I admit that if I would put more effort into speaking it more often, or going back to school again and taking it to another level, I would probably appreciate it more. But no. Not now at least. Although I passed all four the Staatsexamens at the first try..! So – according to the Dutch government – it’s my second language.
The necessity of speaking Dutch
You can always say: “Fuck you, you’re in the Netherlands, you have to speak Dutch”. Well, not really. Not if you live in Amsterdam and you work for an international company as I do.
I speak it when I have to. With the Belastingdienst for instance. Or an old lady in the tram willing to have a conversation about the weather. Or in the elevator when some of your colleagues say shit about you ~ sure that you don’t know a word of Dutch ~ and you answer them back with a complicated structure of sentences, which will make them feel like they would rather turn to ashes than look you in the eyes for a whole week.. At least.
Learning process, awkward situations & mistakes
I have to admit though that I had fun when I went to school in order to learn Dutch: it was for free, good teacher, classmates from all over the world, a nice environment that made me greedy and willing to learn, to give something back, to accept the challenge and work my ass off.
Unfortunately the system now is changed and you have to pay quite some money in order to do what I had the chance to do for free. Too bad, honestly.
Another fun thing during the learning process, was putting myself in very awkward situations for the mistakes I made while I was speaking Dutch.
At the time I was manager in an Italian restaurant and contemporary art gallery, hosting the works of Italian artists. My Dutch clients had some good laugh (thanks to my awkwardness) while I was trying to communicate with them, showing the results of my efforts as a student of the Dutch language.
A few examples:
– I remember when I was explaining to a family with kids that the room downstairs wasn’t available because we were having troubles with the blowjobs. I have no clue how that came out.
– Or when I was inviting a nice lady to try our home made ravioli served with a sauce of something that sounded like “shitty fart”. A warm one. I really just wanted to say warm butter with sage, nothing more.
– How about the classic “I haven’t paid the slut this month, yet”.
– Or when, instead of telling the client that “I would have been back soon”, I made clear that I was going to die soon.
– Yes, I made a slip of the tongue sometimes and said something like: “my friend is looking for bananas” when I actually meant that he was seeking for a job.
– Oh, I have another good one: for a whole week none of the tables I served ordered any fish as main course. That happened till my Dutch colleague heard me saying that the dirt of the day was served with potatoes. In my mind I was sure I was saying fish, I swear.
The awkward mistakes you make when you learn a new language, let’s face it, with the benefits of hindsight, are hilarious and an experience you cannot miss. Yet, it’s strange how the mind can be selective.
I cannot recall the faces of the teachers I had during Dutch class, but I remember all the wrinkles around the light blue eyes and the bright red lipstick of an elderly lady that was working at the McDonald’s in Rembrandtplein. The first months in Amsterdam I went there to have lunch every Monday, after my first Dutch basic course, before work.
I was ordering my meal, with the few sentences I was able to say at the time. She was repeating my sentences correcting the grammar or the accent or suggesting a better answer to her questions. She wasn’t a haughty old bitch as some of the others customers might have thought (it was clear from their eyes). She was kindly playing with me and there is no better way to learn than with playing. It was our secret game and unconventional weekly date.
I learned more from her than all the people that told me: “You’re in the Netherlands, you must speak Dutch”.
No honey. I live in Amsterdam, it’s way different. I really don’t have to.
Kindness and feeling welcome is the only trick that would turn my will and make me speak in this language, made for the sailors and for the sea waves.
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