My Dutch Father-In-Law is extremely enthusiastic about speaking English. He’ll dive into an English sentence with the kind of fearless confidence I wish I had when speaking Dutch. It’s the kind of fearlessness where sentence structure, past/presence tense and pronunciation do not matter. They are minor details of little importance. The important thing is to just say the thing you are trying to say in the way ‘you’ think it should be said and let someone else work it out. This has resulted in a lot of unintentionally hilarious language mistakes and conversations (so many that this might have to become a new series) that often leave us more than a little confused.
A good example of this was earlier this year while we were helping to put away my parents-in-law’s Christmas decorations. My Father-In-Law had set up a model train track around the base of the Christmas tree, complete with a set of scenery.
As he packed away the individual pieces into their boxes he proudly showed off each one; a miniature snowy tree, a small phone box, a tiny bridge. They were all pieces he was planning to use later when building his real train set (once we move out and he got his spare room back).
More model houses and scenery were lovingly packed away. Suddenly, while holding up a tiny street lamp (itself decorated with a Christmas bow), he unexpectedly announced, “You can only get these when shopping with Christ.”
“Hu?” my wife and mother-in-law exclaimed in unison. Had my father-in-law just confessed to having a religious shopping experience? Could he have been on a shopping trip with the savoir of the Christian faith?
Luckily I am usually able to puzzle together the true meanings of my father-in-law’s sentences pretty quickly (probably because of years of playing around with the language myself). I’m sure Jesus would make an excellent personal shopper but I know that was not what he was implying.
“You can only buy them at Christmas time.” I translated for my confused wife and mother-in-law.
My father-in-law smiled. Who says you need to be able to speak a language correctly to be understood. Besides, language mistakes are sometimes more fun.
Knowing my luck it will now freeze enough for there to actually be an Elfstedentocht this year since I’ve drawn this cartoon (which, by the way, first appeared in the January/February edition of DUTCH:The Magazine).
We’re already three weeks into the New Year which means we are passed the point where you can comfortably still wish people ‘Happy New Year’ without them giving you a strange look in return. It’s also far enough into the New Year that I can already look back at my New Year’s Resolutions and see how well (or bad) I am doing so far. Here are my expat related resolutions for the year 2016.
New Year’s Resolutions Checklist
1) Recover from my oliebollen overdose.
2) Master the Dutch language.
2) Get better at speaking the Dutch language.
2) Learn to speak Dutch better than a three year old.
2) Learn one new Dutch word a week.
2) Learn one new Dutch word a year.
3) Introduce Hagelslag and stroopwafel in England and become rich.
4) Alternatively, become rich by holding The Netherlands supply of Mayonnaise for ransom.
5) Find a way to use the word ‘schommel’ in every Dutch conversation. It is my new favourite Dutch word (and my new word for this year).
6) Pimp my bike with plastic flowers so that it looks more Dutch.
7) Invent a new kind of stamppot.
8) Invent a new kind of Speculaas product.
9) Possibly combine the above two ideas.
10) Learn the Friesian anthem (hopefully it is not as depressing as the Dutch one).
11) Find an English translation for the word ‘gezellig’.
12) Alternatively, invent a new English word that means gezellig.
13) Speak in Dutch conversations in exactly the same way Google Translate would translate English to Dutch.
14) Get myself on to the Dutch television show ‘Wie is De Mol?’
15) Break the world record for the largest Dutch Circle Party ever.
16) Reclaim some land from the sea and create a new Dutch province just so I can say I did it.
What are your expat related New Year’s Resolutions? How well are you doing?
This week I found myself suddenly trapped in Friesland as snow and ice descended upon the province, transforming it in to Freezeland.
Our first warning of the approaching winter weather had actually happened on the Sunday, a full day before there was any sight of even a single snow flake or the slightest drop in temperature. Lights had started to mysteriously flicker around the house which I would normally take as an indication of an impending paranormal event (a haunting or the development of my three year old daughter’s telekinetic powers perhaps). However, we later found out the storm approaching from the North East was causing over head power cables in that area to ice over and ‘dance’ (it’s a real technical term) in the wind, thus disrupting the power grid and our lights.
On the Monday the snow came and by Tuesday the deep freeze had set in.
My attempt to drive to the train station that morning was a very slow and interesting one. The freezing night time temperatures had covered the roads in a thick layer of smooth ice. As a side effect my drive was starting to feel like I was taking part in a badly organised and ill conceived car based version of the Elfstedentocht. Even while crawling along at 10 kilometres an hour (which was all that was possible) my car was sliding more than it was driving. Even the slightest steering correction or application of the break was causing the car to disagree about which direction we should be going. However, if I was extremely careful and very slow the drive didn’t seem completely impossible. In the winter darkness of 7am I could not see the faces of the oncoming drivers but I imagined they had a look of mild terror as they slid passed in the opposite direction with a similar illusion of control.
I was convinced that everything would be fine as soon as I reached the main road but I was wrong. After twenty minutes of car skating I had reached the same distance that, under normal conditions, would take me less than five. The radio started to announce the issuing of a code red weather warning and advised drivers to stay home and give up all thoughts of motorized transport for the day (unless absolutely and positively necessary).
Shortly after discovering that the conditions on the main road were not much better than the roads I had come from I decided to follow the radios advice. I turned the car around (extremely slowly to avoid any unfortunate accidents with the nearby road side stream*) and started the slow return journey home.
For the two days that followed I was forced to stay home. The ice would melt a bit during the day but re-freeze at night. This caused the weather warning to bounce back and forth between code red and code orange like a defective disco light until the ice was finally gone on Friday.
However, it was a bit of a shame to see the ice go. Even though it had caused a lot of problems the Friesians had made the best of it. All over the province adults and children (the schools had been closed) had started ice skating in the streets. It’s little a surprise that the Dutch win so many ice skating medals. In Groningen students started curling with beer crates and youtube got a few additional Friesian inspired ice fail videos.
Who knows if there will be more ice in the next few weeks or if we have to wait another year for it to strike again. All I know is next year I might try ice skating to work instead of driving.
((*Whose bright idea was it to dig so many car sized watery ditches next to roads in The Netherlands?))
((**Credit to my friend VallyP for the Freezeland joke. I sort of stole it.))
It’s been a busy year with a lot of changes. I moved to the country side of Frisland and made it official by getting a Frisian passport. I committed my first criminal offence. My three year old daughter taught me the kind of Dutch words they don’t teach you in language school. I learned to queue like a Dutchman and how to go camping like one too. I discovered unicorns at Rotterdam zoo and had an encounter with a Frisian swan. I survived a Dutch heat wave and a children’s circle party (luckily not at the same time). I learned how to spot tourists in Amsterdam and finally discovered how truly intimate a bike ride in Holland can be. It’s been a busy year but I wouldn’t change anything.
Next year will be even busier with all the surprises that are coming up later… but those are all stories for next year. I’m sure I’ll have lots to share.
I hope you all had a great year too and will have an even better 2016. Thank you again for reading the stories about my weird expat life and laughing along with me. See you in the New Year.