Ten Awkward Situations for Expats Living in Holland

1) Getting the words gefeliciteerd and gecondoleerd mixed up. One means congratulations. The other means condolences. You can get away with the mistake at a birthday party but not at a funeral.

2) Accidentally buying vla instead of milk and only discovering the mistake when you are serving tea to guests (and the resulting splosh lands in their laps).

3) Returning to your home country and confusing the shop workers there by unintentionally speaking Dutch to them.

4) The moment you accidentally use a Dutch word in an English sentence without realising. Even worse; the Dutch word just happens to sound like an English word, resulting in a completely nonsensical sentence.

5) Spending ten minutes searching amongst the bicycle racks for your bike, convincing yourself it has been stolen when you can’t find it, informing the police and then suddenly remembering you left it at home today.

6) Spending ten minutes trying to unlock your bike, cursing the useless thing, kicking it then suddenly realising it’s the wrong bike.

7) Angrily telling a Dutch person that they have to speak Dutch to you (not English) so you can learn their language. Then, when they finally comply, you realise you cannot understand a word they are saying.

8) Spending ten minutes nodding and smiling along to a Dutch conversation you do not understand. Then suddenly realising that they just asked you a question (and think you have understood everything they have said so far).

9) The awkward hesitation of saying goodbye to a female acquaintance when you are unsure if you are at the cheek kissing or handshaking phase of familiarity. Cheek kisses might be too forward but a handshake might be seen as unfriendly.

9b) Both being within a group of people you do know well (and usually give cheek kisses too) when the above situation happens.

10) Suddenly realising that you have been over familiar with everyone by using the word ‘je’ instead of ‘u’ when refer to them in conversation.

16 responses to “Ten Awkward Situations for Expats Living in Holland”

  1. PapaVanTwee says:

    I’ve done #8 while visiting the Netherlands. Usually when they see me confused, they restate it in the best English they can.

  2. Carla Verkoren says:

    We are Dutch people living in the States, and I occasionally use Dutch words at my work in sentences, even if we’ve been here for 6 years now. But the biggest hilarity is when I use ‘Dutchisms’. Like when I tried to explain my boss’ total lack of any sense of direction by saying he the sense of direction of a strawberry (richtingsgevoel van een aarbei). Trust me, lots of laughing followed.
    On the other hand, when we are in the Netherlands and we speak Dutch to our kids, but our (young) kids answer us in English we also get many strange looks… The life of expats!

  3. CaptainKirt says:

    I do #8 with English, especially when my wife is talking to me.

  4. Cvapatient says:

    Love these mistakes! Nothing serious though. I really appreciate english speaking folks trying to speak Dutch. Loved #2, never heard of that before, but it must be quite awkward.

  5. AQK1982 says:

    You have to explain #2 to me….. How do you mistake Vla for Melk??? I am genuinely baffled

  6. Alison says:

    I’m currently speaking a fantastic melange of Italian, Dutch, and English and regularly confusing my mother-in-law. Even I’m getting confused about what I’m trying to say. That said, I understand spoken Italian so much more after just a few days here than I did after eight years in the Netherlands. I just don’t have the ear for that language, unfortunately.

  7. raafje says:

    Like using the Dutch word for shower in an English conversation (#4)? Yeah…

  8. Alison says:

    The move has gone well, but we’re still trying to get our energy back from all of the madness. Today’s trip to Ikea may have set our energy reserves back a day or two. :)

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