Today was another dynamic day at The Language Institute TaalTaal in Scheveningen. One of my students made an amazing cake for the whole staff (which we ate gracefully, no not really, more like monsters), there was the mystery of the missing whiteboard markers and I jumped up and down in my chair when I found out that we were going to have our annual Office Christmas Party again. I’ll tell you, the movie has got nothing on that one! If diaries could talk…shush, you little blabbermouth!
No, actually one of the reasons for my childish excitement about this Christmas Party is that I really want to meet all the other teachers in person. TaalTaal offers 20 languages, so dear diary, you can do the math. Some of them I see every day, the others I have never even met! The down-side of having so many international co-workers is that there is the tragedy of saying goodbye, or in some cases: adios. Two great Spanish teachers are going back to Spain next year and I couldn’t help saying these final last words to both of them: “whatever you do, don’t forget the Dutch Language! You have worked your asses off to learn these G’s and Ui’s, so don’t let go of them just yet!” I don’t know why I get so worked up about this, I just do. Religiously.
Indeed dear diary, it’s a shame, but obviously it’s the risk of being an expat, or being married to one. I always admire their courage. I mean, I love-love-love to travel, getting to know other cultures, but the constant moving around, saying goodbye to newfound friends, leaving your family, finding a routine. And then, the cherry on top of the cake, there comes the weird new language. Even though we all know that you can get far with just speaking English, a lot of expats mention that ‘they don’t want to stay in their expat bubble’ and at some point, they do decide to learn some Dutch.
As a Dutch teacher, I have met a lot of expats over the years. Some of them have moved away eventually, but most of them stayed and I have some examples of people who started out with zero Dutch and are now working and blossoming in a complete new Dutch environment! Maybe they still skip the bammetjes met zweetkaas and prepare themselves a good solid lunch, but the vergaderingen, functioneringsgesprekken and chagrijnige maandagochtendgesprekken are now part of their daily work routine. They have one thing in common: they have all started quite early with learning Dutch. Ba Dum Tss!
Oh yes, I have to say that with at least a basic level of Dutch at an early stage, you’ll feel much more badass and independent. You can read certain scary letters e.g. Income Tax forms from the government by yourself and you will avoid an ass you from the cashier who’s trying to say ‘here you are'(alsje is short for alsjeblieft) in English. I kid you not, my dearest diary.
So, how ugly can this get? What are the real dangers of not knowing any Dutch? I came up with seven stories, straight from the teacher’s mouth.
You don’t want to kill anyone
One student almost killed her husband with a pepper, thinking it was a bell pepper, which is paprika in Dutch. She told me the horrific story: “The salesman didn’t speak any English, so I just went for it and I prepared it in the oven. My husband took a bite and he almost died. It was a habanero pepper and sooo spicy!” Nobody has ever heard from this husband again.
You don’t want to embarrass His Majesty
“Daar loopt de konijn!”, one of my students yelled out when she saw the king (koning) passing by at the City Hall. Let’s all hope it was a white rabbit in a hurry and he didn’t hear it.
You don’t want to upset your in-laws
Who doesn’t want to keep their in-laws happy? Nope, that’s not a rhetorical question. Let’s say that nobody wants a pissed-off schoonmoeder, just because you refuse to learn some Dutch words. She will blame herself too for her roestige Engels and you will always be the sigaar or de sjaak die geen Nederlands spreekt.
You don’t want to hear filthy language in normal words all the time
There is nothing wrong with a dirty mind, but it can be quite shocking to hear the word ‘hoor’ all the time. “Ja hoor!” is a very normal response to a question, without calling anyone a prostitute, In fact, adding a ‘hoor‘ is even more polite than just ‘ja‘ or ‘nee‘. But please, learn how to write these words properly. From another student, I once got a birthday card and she wrote:’gefeliciteerd, hoer!‘
You don’t want to ruin someone’s appetite
Once I asked my student what she ate the night before. She said:”Ik heb vies gegeten.” Say what? Oh, you ate fish!” Je hebt VIS gegeten! Vies means that it was disgusting. Another student said:”Ik heb vogel gegeten.” Since when are we grabbing little birds out of the sky to eat? “Nee, ik heb FOREL gegeten!” Ah, that’s trout. Other confusing food ‘creations’ are kapsalon (a mess of fries, meat, cheese, some pieces of salad and a lot of greasy sauce), which also means hairsalon and patatje oorlog (‘fries at war’ with mayonaise, peanut sauce, and onions).
You don’t want to be a cold-hearted ass
Warning! If you ask a Dutch person ‘hoe gaat het?‘ (how are you?) and the answer is ‘het gaat wel‘, it doesn’t mean that he or she is doing well. In fact, it’s not going well at all! Maybe he or she even feels like crap on toast, but most people are not that honest. ‘Het gaat wel‘ means they are doing ‘so-so’, but they don’t necessarily want to get into the gory details.
You don’t want to waste your singing talent
Imagine this: you are the ambassador of a neighboring country and you have moved to The Netherlands recently. Now you’re invited to a New Year’s reception with King Willem-Alexander. Groovy, but that also includes the part that you have to sing the Dutch national anthem (Wilhelmus) as a group and look a little patriotic while doing so. You just don’t want to stand there like a douche bag who doesn’t know how to sing, now do you? Diary, can I please take credit for this one? This was one of those YOLO moments where I sang the Wilhelmus as a duet with the ambassador at 8 a.m. during our morning coffee.
Well, dear diary, let’s face it. Sometimes it can also be very convenient to not speak any Dutch at all. When I read another dreadful online discussion about wanting to change the word ‘bemanning‘ (‘to man’ as in ‘to man a ship’) into ‘bemensing’ in order to avoid the gender discussion, I pretend to be Oost-Indisch doof (as deaf as post!).
Can’t wait to make your own language memories? Join the TaalTaal club! TaalTaal offers group courses in small groups (starting again from January 20th), immersion groups, exam training for Inburgering or State Exams, free intakes and much more in over 20 languages.