After a few more takes of crossing the road and dodging traffic it was time for the next setup; demonstrating the difficulties of learning Dutch when speaking to Dutch people.
After giving me my directions for the scene the camera crew left to get set up out of sight again… Quite far out of sight in fact, at the end of a very busy street… A very busy street full of people. This was going to be more embarrassing then the previous scene.
After what felt like a very long time I finally saw a hand waving in the distance over the heads of the crowd. I couldn’t be sure that it was the signal and not just some random person waving to some other random person but I decided to risk it anyway. I started walking.
“Learning Dutch is very important when you live in Holland. Ask any Dutch person and they will tell you so.”
I get the same reaction again as nearby people simply looked at me, baffled by my behaviour. This time I really wanted to point towards the camera and explain but that would have done no good since I couldn’t even see the camera myself.
“But this is not made very easy by the way Dutch people like to help.”
In fact I could not even be sure that the camera crew was actually there anymore.
”The moment a Dutch person detect any hint of an accent in your attempts to speak their language they will automatically switch to English.”
Maybe they had simply left and I really was just a crazy person talking to himself now.
“And then you get into this whole bizarre situation where you are refusing to speak English and they are refusing to speak Dutch.”
Other people obviously seemed to think so and start to part in front of me like the red sea (if the red sea was a crowd of people trying to get away from a crazy Englishman talking to himself). At least I finally catch a glimpse of the camera crew in the distance.
“It’s enough to drive any expat insane!”
Suddenly, without any warning, I turn to a man standing directly to my left and ask him for directions, “Wat je de weg naar Leidseplain?”
The idea (which the producer had come up with) had been to demonstrate a random member of the Dutch public automatically switching to English when faced with an expat speaking their language. In reality it demonstrated how having the attention of an insane lunatic suddenly thrust upon you is enough to scare the living daylights out of any Dutchman. He jumped out of his skin.
“Ik heb geen idea,” he quickly replied in a startled panic and scurried away. I think he might have even raised his arms in self defence.
Not only been unable to answer my question but his fearful response had been in Dutch. I return to my starting position at the far end of the busy street and start again.
“ Learning Dutch is very important when you live in Holland…”
This time when I reach the end of my rant I wait for a moment before I approach anyone. I don’t want to scare the crap out of some poor random person again any more then I have to.
“Wat je de weg naar Leidseplain?” I cautiously ask a nearby gentlemen.
“Natuurlijk,” he calmly replies and in an extremely cheerful manner continues to give me a full set of very helpful directions in Dutch… This is extremely unhelpful because it instantly disproves the whole ‘switching to English’ point I’m trying to make. Also, once he is finished, I realize I might not have actually understood everything he said.
We start again.
“Learning Dutch is very important when you live in Holland…”
This time I approach a group of four ladies. I purposely over exaggerate my difficulties with the Dutch language, miss pronouncing words and adding in extra ‘ums’ and ‘ers’ where they is no need for extra ‘ums’ and ‘ers’. It makes me look like a simpleton but it works. After a few confused glances the ladies take pity on me and give me what I am after; a full set of directions… in English. They are brilliant. They even continue to reply in English when I ask follow up questions in what I can only describe as a bad impression of an Englishman speaking Dutch. I want to hug them but decide not to because then we would be back in to the crazy Englishman territory again.
I return to the camera crew, smiling, triumphant. The take is deemed a success even though the viewers might not actually be able to tell if I am speaking Dutch or Klingon but I don’t care, I am saved from farther embarrassment.
Then I find out what is going to be filmed next…
It is an normal Amsterdam evening. The city is alive with people rushing around from one place to another. I am standing at a zebra crossing surrounded by a small group of unsuspecting pedestrians, all of us waiting to cross the busy road in front of us. Time pass, cars honk their horns, trams rattle along their tracks and cyclists cycle by. We wait. Eventually the green light gives us the signal that it is safe to cross. I take a breath and as we all step forward I do something that no one around me is expecting. I start talking to myself… very loudly.
“Attempting to cross any street or road in Holland provides a unique set of challenges for the average expat!”
My sudden and loud outburst catches everyone off guard. It’s not the kind of thing most people expect to suddenly happen when crossing the road. At first (after the initial jump) their reaction is to simply stare at me, confused and nervous, trying to make sense of what is going on.
“Not only do you have to avoid cars but you have to look out for bikes and trams as well!”
Having then decided that my behaviour is clearly not ‘quite normal’ the surrounding crowd slowly starts to edge away. I continue to narrate our journey across the road like a story teller who’s had a nervous breakdown.
“And if you do successfully make it to the other side alive you have to be careful you don’t over shoot the target and walk directly into the nearby canal. It makes the whole thing like one giant game of Frogger!”
By the end of my strange monolog everyone is avoiding eye contact with me. Perhaps they fear that doing so will result in me following them around for the rest of the day while providing a running commentary on whatever they are doing.
None of them have noticed the small, two person camera crew with the tiny camera set up on the other side of the street or the small microphone I am wearing. They all think I am mad. I don’t blame them.
“That was great,” the producer tells me when I finally reach the other side and my fellow pedestrians have dispersed as quickly as they can in a bid to get away from me. “We just need you to do it a few more times. Then we can move onto the next scene.”
To be continued…
As I quietly sneak into the bedroom I carefully close the door behind me, slowly, gently, desperately trying not to make a sound. It is late, my wife is already asleep and I do not wish to disturb her from her peaceful rest. I tip toe across the room with all the stealth of a ninja while constantly checking that she is still sleeping. I have almost made it to my side of the bed when a quiet voice suddenly creeps out of the dark, the voice of my beloved.
“Did you find the bicycle frames?”
It’s the sheer randomness of the question that catches me off guard. It’s not the kind of thing you expect to be asked at 1:30 in the morning while sneaking through the dark. I run the question through my head again in case I simply miss understood it. I come up blank.
“No?” I reply in a tentative whisper. It seems like a reasonable response since I have not actually located any bicycle frames recently.
“Oh.” My wife replies with a sound of sleepy disappointment.
That seems to be the end of it and for a moment it almost is but I’m so confused by this line of questioning that I simply have to know more.
“What bicycle frames?” I ask.
I really don’t but I let her continue. It seems rude to interrupt.
“… the ones the school children use.”
School children? What school children? I’m not familiar with any school children and I’m even less familiar with their bicycle frames. Maybe my wife is not actually aware that she is still asleep.
“I think you are talking in your sleep my dear.”
“I’m not. I’m really not.” She informs me, dismissing my theory.
Now I am even more confused than before. If she is not sleep talking then what in the hell are we talking about. Did she give me some kind of task involving bicycle frames that I simply forgot about or ignored because I was too busy playing computer games.
“But… bicycle frames?” I exclaim.
“Bicycle frames.” I repeat, trying to keep her focused.
“Yes! Bicycle frames!” My voice has reached the volume of a loud whisper now which in reality is not a whisper at all, just an impression of one. I am determined to get to the bottom of this mystery now.
“What?” she responds in annoyed but sleepy confusion, “I’m trying to sleep. Why are you asking me about bicycle frames?”
”But you….. Oh.”
The fog of confusion suddenly clears as I realize what has happened. My wife who was indeed talking in her sleep when she started us upon this strange subject has since woken up during the course of the resulting conversation. She is unaware that she brought the topic up herself. In fact, as far as she is concerned she has just been woken from her peaceful slumber by her husband randomly repeating the word ‘bicycle frame’ over and over again. Suddenly I seem like the insane one.
I try to think of the best response to this, the best way to explain the situation in a mature and logical way. I come up blank again.
“Yeah…Well… you started it.” I tell her and go to sleep.
“Cabin crew to landing positions please. Cabin crew to landing positions.”
I sit up suddenly, snapped out of my day dreaming by the unexpected announcement. What? Landing? How can we be landing now?
“Ladies and gentlemen this is your captain speaking. We will shortly be arriving at Rotterdam central.”
Rotterdam? I don’t even know if Rotterdam has an airport? How can we be landing there? What is going on?
“The local time is 11:16pm. Weather conditions are good with a temperature of -2.”
I am deeply confused, not because we are making a sudden and un-expected landing but because we are making any kind of landing at all, because I am sitting on a train, a normal, regular train that does not have wings and is not capable of flight (as far as I know it).
“We hope you have enjoyed your flight with the Dutch railway service and we hope to see you again soon.”
Maybe the train driver is having a nervous breakdown…
“Dames en heren. Excuuses voor mijn alter-ego, de Engelse Kapitein. De volgende stop is Rotterdam Centraal.”
…or has a split personality.– – – – –
Translation = “Ladies and gentlemen. I apologise for my alter ego the English captain. Next stop is Rotterdam central.”