Going Dutch – The stupid foreigner

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I’ve decided to start writing about a new subject, which is my experiences of ‘Going Dutch’. My first update is living life as the ‘stupid foreigner’.

By that I mean we’ve all been there, in that situation where we are completely out of our depth in a place or with people that we can’t connect with because they share (with each other) the common interest of being from the same place or simply speaking the same language. In this situation, you’re the odd one out, and it is so obvious to you that you cant ignore it.

We’ve also all been on the other side of this: either in a social gathering or in public. There is always that person, usually ‘not from around here’, that doesn’t really have a grasp of your language and it’s frustratingly hard work to communicate with them. Or you’re in public and you chance upon the clueless tourist who is lost and is often simply in the way of those who have a better understanding of the local surroundings.

So here I am what I consider to be, on occasion, the stupid foreigner.

I’ve been living this way for about a year now, since last August, when I moved to the Netherlands. There have been some good, bad, and many more awkward moments (with a few truly awful experiences in there) but on the whole is has been positive. I would say this is loosely related to my easygoing attitude to most things unimportant, and my tendency to laugh at myself and the awkward moments I find myself in.

An example would be one of my pet hates that many English-speakers perpetrate; assuming that those around them speak English, or at least speak it well. It isn’t always the case even in England that the average person has a good grasp of the subtleties and nuance of the English language, so it amuses me that some get so impatient when in a foreign country.

I, of course, have been guilty of this myself as I’m sure everyone has at some point regarding someone who doesn’t speak their own native language well.

Now let me say this much, Dutch is not the easiest language to learn.

Its very confusing, and I would advise anyone (Especially English-speakers) to possibly try something else that may be easier to absorb, like German maybe…
As an English person, Dutch sounds similar in speech to English but is also fiendishly difficult to learn for the same reason. Of course there are some obvious differences, such as the pronunciation of ‘G’ (And sometimes ‘sch’), which essentially translates to the sound British make when ‘clearing your throat’. Its something that is common, because it basically replaces ‘G’ and makes pronouncing place name such as ‘Scheveningen‘ (A nice seaside town of The Hague) into a difficult task to the untrained Dutch speaker.

Next there is of course the seemingly backwards grammar which catches me out regularly and without remorse.
Remembering to say ‘I will here sit’ (Literal translation) when indicating my seat preference is backward, if a simple example of what I’m talking about.
Language word logic is also somewhat of a confusing thing to get used to and when describing this problem I have often used my own example of the fact that, In English, there is a unique word for nearly everything.

What I mean by this is that you have an apple, orange, pear, cherry, potato, etc.
In dutch you have an apple, sinasapple, peer, kers, ardapple, etc.
These are very simple examples, and show my somewhat simple understanding of ‘Nederlands’ (Dutch). I’m improving though, and my understanding is growing with it.

Of course, this isn’t to say that Dutch is a bad language, its just ‘different’.
Also, this isn’t an indication of what this series will be about, but I do digress so bear with me in those moments.
Something I do want to describe is the various aspects of my own Dutch integration experiences and hope that someone out there will find it useful, or in the least, amusing. I hope I can infuse some of my own feeling of confusion into this, and not seem too much beyond help.

So to conclude this rambling on my struggles with Dutch, I’d like to describe one such experience I had just the other day at a local hobby store I sometimes go to for supplies for my painting/modelling hobby.

On my way to the hobby store, while riding my bike, I practised how to ask for something. Navigating the streets, idly wondering how I should follow up the starter of “heb je” (Do you have). Upon arriving I thought I had resolved my opening sentence, and perhaps even a follow up before it would start to get out of my comfort zone and I would present a sample I brought with me to see if they have one like it. “This is simple…” I thought to myself, and smiled thinking I’ve got it all figured out…

So it is that my struggle with Dutch is such that at this point of my learning I feel I’m at a bit of a ‘twilight moment’ whereby I find that I have learned enough that people don’t (immediately) laugh at me, and also that I can get around, shop, travel, read signs and generally ‘live’. However, I’m not quite there where the language makes sense in a grand scale yet, which makes conversation difficult. I’m at that point that I need to seek lessons as I feel I’m near the limit of what I can learn purely socially.
This experience catalyses through moments, which often happens to me, where I will completely and utterly have no idea what to say. This is not that I don’t know words or the basic composition of a sentence to make my point, but that I am so unsure that I am able to it effectively and such the processing time required to form a usable sentence takes too long.

It was that I walked into the hobby store and saw the the owner who I often have spoken with in the past was busy, and I was instead required to speak to (who I think is) his wife… At this moment, I realised that I’ve never spoken to her before, but there was nothing I could do about it at this point. Of course, my words escaped me as she kindly asked (In Dutch, naturally) how she could help me with that expectant look that people give you when they expect you to not be a complete idiot. It is in this moment that I personified that which I hate most, after standing there awkwardly staring back at her, uselessly trying to compose a sentence in Dutch. Its as if my carefully constructed sentences and words were now some kind of difficult child who refused to cooperate. So I spoke in English, but not simply English, but instead the ‘Denglish’ sub-language I’ve often seen employed by other non-natives. This was, for some obscene reason, the best I could do after apparently losing my words.

I stood there, nervously smiling back at her.
There was a short pause as clearly she was not expecting this and after an almost imperceptible brow furrow, proceeded, in Dutch.
This was now a little awkward and we proceeded this way for a few minutes where I cheerfully presented the sample of the item I was looking for.
Its at this point that she switched to English, most likely seeing it as too much hard work to understand me.

Luckily, I have a fairly good relationship with these people, as I regularly go there and shop and have on occasion special-ordered things from their establishment.
The owner recognises me as an English speaker, and usually treats me accordingly, or speaks Dutch possibly to test me… Or because he feels like it. I cant blame him.

And so I endure, getting there slowly, and practising.
I find there is a somewhat misleading assumption in the Netherlands that Dutch isn’t ‘that hard’ to learn, but in reality it is a very confusing language to non-natives.
Something also taken for granted, and much appreciated by me, is the abundance of English in the world and in this country. There is something to be said for the exposure to English that a typical Dutch person experiences (Especially in the West of Netherlands), but outside Netherlands there is zero exposure to Dutch. It’s a real shock, let me tell you, how different the culture and language is.

As time goes on, I hope to record my musings on my interactions with Dutch culture.

So I’ll end my nonsensical bran-dump with this: Dutch is hard.

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