I have come to the conclusion that the Dutch have a very special ability. It might even be possible to call it a super power. I am not sure if it is a skill that they are born with or one that they develop naturally over time but it is something that I have encountered a lot.
Every time I try to talk Dutch with an unfamiliar Dutch person they are able to detect, analyse and identify my accent before I’ve even fully formed the first syllable of the first word of my sentence. It is entirely possible that the Dutch can hear my accent as I breathe.
“Ohhh. You,re English,” they will often interject as I stand there with my mouth open having only muttered the sound ‘umm’ or ‘err’ or simply having coughed. They even managed to say it with a hint of surprise that suggests they should have identified my accent sooner (before I entered the room for example).
It is either a form of super human hearing that allows the Dutch to do this or they have just had a lot of practise hearing people mangle their difficult language beyond recognition. The second option seems more likely because it is probably something that happens so often that they have been able to fine tune their accent detection instincts. Maybe they have even learnt to identify certain mistakes with certain countries (thus aiding the identification process).
“Oh. You pronounces the ‘ei’ sound as ‘aaa’. That’s a classic English mistake.”
Wherever I go in Holland it is almost impossible to say anything in Dutch without being immediately identified. This must make life very stressful for any spies who are trying to lay low in the Lowlands. They must be in constant fear of detection just from having to have a casual conversation with a passer by.
Even at an early age Dutch children seem to have this special power. Have you ever attempted to speak Dutch to a small Dutch child? It rarely goes as you expect. In my experience they might not be able to identify your accent yet and they might not even be able to fully understand that there is such a thing as a non-Dutch person but they will know something is wrong. They know it just by hearing your attempts to speak the language that, they themselves, have not even fully mastered yet. Then they will just stare at you in an awkward silence (awkward for you, not for them) as if waiting for you to stop being strange and start making sense.
No one can hold up to that kind of pressure for long and if you are a spy there is no dignity in having your cover blown by a three year old.
I should have seen this coming. It was obvious really. I could only claim to be ‘Invading Holland’ for so long before Holland decided to retaliate. I guess declaring myself the new king of Holland was the final straw. Now Holland has invaded England.
The Dutch store Hema has opened its doors in London and things will never be the same again!
This might sound like an overreaction at first but anyone who has visited one of their stores in Holland will know how dangerous shopping in one of them can be. They sell everything and at low prices too. You might go in only intending to buy some printer ink but before you know what is happening you’ve exited the store again having just bought; some new oven gloves, a usb stick, a packet of Stroopwafels, an orange t-shirt (for next King’s Day), some storage boxes, an inflatable rookworst (that can not be eaten), super glue, a Jip and Janneke story book and a new bicycle bell. You didn’t even by the printer ink you went in to buy because why would you need to when you were just able to by a new Hema printer so cheaply. Hema is a very dangerous store.
And who knows what affect the influence of Hema will have upon the English culture.
1) Will Queen Elizabeth start having Stroopwafels with her afternoon tea?
2) Will the British public start whistling the famous Hema whistle everywhere they go, unable to get it out of their heads?
3) Will the iconic British red buses, telephone boxes and letter boxes all be repainted orange?
4) Will Hyde Park and Regents Park be closed to the public and converted into tulip fields?
5) Will Jip and Janneke start making appearances on Children’s BBC? Will Miffy suddenly change her name to Nijntje?
6) Will Big Ben be converted into a windmill?
7) Will London be taken over by bicycles?
8) Will the Themes river be reclassified as a canal and will people start skating on it if it ever freezes over?
9) Will England expand its landmass by flattening all of its hills and using them to reclaim the sea around it?
Only time will tell.
The following is a dramatic re-enactment of how I spent part of my holiday.
It is day two of our voyage across the Waddenzee. We are returning from a small island just off the coast of Friesland that we discovered the day before. I have decided to call this island Vlieland (because that is what it is called). We are sailing back with the many exotic and wondrous goods that we discovered on this tiny island (in the small harbour shop). Even though we only departed from its shores a short while ago land already seems like a distant memory and I wonder if I will ever see it again (within the three hours of estimated travel time).
Communicating with my fellow crew mates has proved to be a challenge. I am the only Englishmen on board and I find myself surrounded by a crew of Dutch and German men and women. However, over time we eventually found a way to understand each other (they all spoke English to me).
I am now accepted by the Germans who insist that I join them for a traditional drink of beer (at eleven in the morning). Likewise I have been accepted by the Dutch (who are all my family-in-law and already know what I am like anyway).
Through our fragmented conversations I am able to piece together that there is talk of a traitor on board, a would-be mutineer, someone who has eaten all the wine gums out of the Haribo Star Mix and left only the drop. No one on board knows who the guilty party is yet but the accusations have already started. I remain silent and nervously push the remaining wine gums deeper into my pocket in the hope that my confectionary based guilt goes un-noticed. I do not wish to walk the plank.
Luckily for me there are bigger concerns occupying the minds of the crew and our captain. We have sailed directly in to a storm, an ever present danger during the Dutch summer months. The boat lurches (slightly) from side to side as we attempt to navigate the treacherous sandbanks that lay hidden just beneath the surface of the water. No one says anything. We have all heard the stories of those poor souls unfortunate enough to run afoul of these dangerous obstacles and become stranded on them, lost forever (until they were safely towed back to open water or until high tied came along). We can all hear sand scrapping across the bottom of the hull as we get too close. No one says anything but we all fear we might be next.
Waves crash against the side of the old ship and salty sea water sprays over our waterproof jackets (which most of us have bought especially for this trip). Wearing shorts suddenly seems like a bad idea.
Even without the dangers of the storm conditions on board are harsh. We have been forced to leave behind the comforts and luxuries of life on land. Life at sea requires a tougher resolve but some of us are having trouble adapting than others. Out on the open sea we only have a 3G network connection, not the fully high speed 4G connection we are all used to. Without a fast connection to Twitter or Facebook I fear that it is only a matter of time before cabin fever sets in and we all lose our minds to the sea.
Some of the crew are already talking about areas of sea where there is no network connection at all. I pray that we do not find ourselves in such bedevilled waters.
We sail on. Towards land. Towards Friesland. Towards hope. Towards the harbour we left so long ago yesterday. With any luck we just might make it (before I run out of dry clothes).
It’s time once again for the annual Invading Holland summer break. I’ll be taking a short break from writing to rest, recharge, catch up on a few things and spend some extra time with the family. But fear not; in a few weeks I will return to share more of my crazy adventures in Holland.
Until then, have a great summer and see you all again soon.
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I had spent the last ten minutes shouting similar words of frustration at the Dutch football team each time they had kicked the ball at the goal in front of them only to miss, have it blocked or bounce it off a goal post.
“YOU’RE SO CLOSE!”
I was not shouting these words at them directly of course. It wasn’t as if I was sitting next to the coach in the stadium (even though he seemed to be shouting similar words in Dutch). In reality I was sitting next to my beloved Dutch wife, in our front room, shouting at the Dutch team via our television. It didn’t seem to be helping much, probably because they could not actually hear me. My wife seemed deeply amused by my actions nether the less.
“And I thought you were not that into football that much,” she says with a sly smirk.
It is true. Normally I have no interest in football at all. In fact, under normal circumstances I have about as much interest in football as most people have in the study of agricultural crop rotation. I just seem to get sucked into it when the world cup starts, more and more each time… Although I still was not going to admit that I have no clue what the outside rule means, especially to my wife who is the football expert of the house.
“Yeah… Well… I’m not but this game is really tense,” I offer as a shorter explanation as I sit there wearing my orange t-shirt and little Dutch flags painted on my cheeks. Maybe she has a point. Maybe I do get a little too enthusiastic for someone who claims to have no interest what so ever in football.
But I am quickly distracted once more as the Dutch team suddenly gets the ball again and starts running like crazy towards the other team’s goal as if they just stole the dinner of a particular hungry, fast moving pack of wolves.
The ball is suddenly kicked and it sails through the air towards the goal.
The members of the defending team try desperately to knock it off course. Each one of them fails. The ball continues its journey towards the goal until…
“YA… COME ON! COME ON!”
… it bounces harmlessly off a goal post and flies off in a random direction.
“You do know you’re not actually Dutch right?” My wife asks, just to make sure. I get the impression that she is no longer watching the game and is instead transfixed by my out of character football enthusiasm.
“England is already out. I have no one else to support. Don’t take this away from me.”