When Speaking Dutch Goes Wrong

Bald Stu

If you spend any amount of time living in the Netherlands people will tell you that there are several very good reasons why you should learn the Dutch language. For example; they might suggest that it will make it easier to meet people and make friends, or that it will help you fit in and understand what is going on around you.

But they are wrong. These are not the reasons why you should be learning the Dutch language. There is only one reason that really matters and it is very, very important one… It is so that you receive the haircut you were intending to get when visiting the hairdressers.

“Oh my god! What happened to your hair?” my wife asked while trying to hold back her laughter. Something she had been unable to do when I had first walked through the door a few seconds earlier.

“There was a communications mishap,” I replied.

“What did you do?” She asked, because in these situations she knows it is usually caused by something I did… she was right.

“I tried to talk Dutch,” I replied, defeated.

When I had arrived at the hairdressers half an hour earlier I had been determined to speak Dutch. My hair had been getting quite long but I only wanted it trimmed a little. So I sat down in the chair, looked at my hairdresser in the mirror and confidently told her in Dutch how I would like my hair cut… Unfortunately there is a big difference between saying, “Ik wil het een beetje korter,” and what I had accidentally said; “Ik wil het kort.”

For the English speakers amongst you that is the difference between saying, “I’d like it a little bit shorter please,” and, “I’d like it short.”

Unfortunately I did not realize that I had made a mistake straight away. When the hairdresser reached for the electric hair trimmer I had been slightly puzzled but I had not really thought to ask what she was planning to do with them. Out of English politeness I thought it best not to bother the nice lady and point out that this light trimming only required scissors. I assumed that she probably knew what she was doing… But then one side of my head had suddenly been shaved off and I found myself rapidly reassessing the situation.

As my hair fell to the ground in great big clumps my English politeness took control of the situation and told me to keep on smiling and act like everything was going to plan (It’s an English survival instinct). Meanwhile, my inner English panic was doing what it does best and discovering several new swear words to describe the situation. Before my sense of politeness and my sense of panic could reach a consensus on how best to handle the situation it was too late. My hair was gone. I suddenly realized my earlier mistake.

To fully grasp what this looked like it is important to remember that in real life I have a beard. This meant that I now had more hair on my face then I had on my head. I think if you take a moment to visualize that we can all agree that that is a very strange look. My hair was now short enough that I could easily enroll in the army or be mistaken for a mob bosses henchmen.

And that was why my wife had been unable to control her laughter when I had first returned to our apartment (and for the several hour that followed that).

“Why didn’t you say anything?” She asked after I finished my story.

“I… don’t… know,” I replied.

“Didn’t you learn from last time?”

Oh… yeah. I should probably mention this was not the first time something like this had happened. I really should improve my Dutch.

32 responses to “When Speaking Dutch Goes Wrong”

  1. Marike says:

    hahahilarious! I’d like to see you soon!

  2. Shennie says:

    I guess next time when I see someone with longer facial hair than hair on their head, I would not be able to help myself to give him a sympathetic look and recall this story. :)

  3. Ivilina says:

    Thank you Stu, you made my morning! :D

    I had a similar experience with my hair and a hairdresser who didn’t speak very good English… nor did I speak very good Dutch…

  4. I have had a communications issue at the hairdresser’s before (http://www.unexpectedtraveller.com/Blog/a-cut-above-the-rest/) but thankfully, it wasn’t related to my hair style.

    So now that you’re aerodynamically efficient, is your biking improving?

  5. Niclas says:

    I guess you will have to fix the beard to a goat’e instead of a full beard, will look better with the polished head :)

  6. Rouke Broersma says:

    If it makes you feel any better, I’m Dutch and manage to give my hairdresser the wrong instructions. And then don’t dare to correct her.

  7. Ian says:

    Don’t be too hard on yourself. I had a similar experience with a dutch hairdresser but I actually said don’t touch the top and she went right at it. I think it may just be a dutch hairdresser issue. Wife still laughs at me for it even now that it’s mostly grown back.

  8. Redditor says:

    I am not a native english speaker, but ‘I tried to talk Dutch’ seems like a dutchism to me. Isn’t it ‘I tried to speak Dutch?’

    I agree with Ian in that it is probably a hairdresser thing and unless you bring a picture they will never get it right.

  9. Oh, man…vive les malentendus. I think your confidence when you stated that you wanted your hair short is what made the difference. A French hairstylist would have questioned your choice, just to be sure. “Are you certain you want that hairstyle? I would advise against it because it would not go with the shape of your face.”

    It’s not as dire as having your hair sheared off, but I once went out to a French sports shop to purchase some handheld weights. Once I arrived at said sports emporium, I realized that I had NO IDEA how to say “handheld weights” in French. The sales attendant had a very odd expression when I asked him where “les poids” were. :P

    On another note: Cartoon Stu actually looks quite good with short hair and a beard.

    (P.S. I’ll be returning to the Netherlands in time for King’s Day. Take heart that you may have considerably longer hair by then. :P )

    • Invader_Stu says:

      I hope my hair has grown back by then or I am in trouble :p Cool to hear you will be back.

      Did you ever get you ‘les poids’? :p

      • With the help of mimicking a bicep curl, I did… only I learned that they were called “les haltères.” No way I could have figured out that one on my own. –.–

        And, come to think of it, due to the similar pronunciation between the words “poids” and “pois,” the guy probably first thought that I had been talking about peas.

        “Les pois? No, ma’am, you find those in a supermarket. You’re in the wrong place.”

  10. donna ( arnhem) says:

    I had similar experience. I’m English but teach German to Dutch kids. After one trying lesson, i told the class to behave and ended with the comment ‘ i have enough’ ( ik ben het zat). I was referring to their behaviour. Due to a grammatical error, i told them ‘ i am drunk’ ( ik ben zat). Let’s just say that the class doubled over laughing. But in the end, they behaved and i learnt a new sentence in Dutch !

    • Invader_Stu says:

      Hehe. I can imagine that was very fun. I’ve done something similar where I meant to say I was busy but I accidentally said I was drugged (more or less).

  11. amsterdamian says:

    Hahahaha! That’s why I always show a picture of the desired haircut :)

  12. Annabel says:

    Haha, bad luck! I have had a fair few similar situations!! Check out my run in with a particularly horrid check out girl in the Netherlands in my ‘Great Expectations’ post!

  13. Perovskia says:

    lol.. oh no! Well, I’m glad you recovered unscathed.

  14. Ana says:

    Just found your blog and spent the last 20 minutes reading posts and laughing.

    Wow. Love it.

    I hope your hair grows back soon.

  15. Simon says:

    Something similar happened to me at a barber’s in Brighton once – I asked for my usual hair cut, but the barber misheard me and thought I wanted not just the back and sides shaved but the top as well. By the time I realised what was happening it was too late, and being British I said nothing, blamed myself for the mix up, and pretended to my friends that I was trying a different hair style for a change.

    Getting your hair cut in foreign parts can be quite an adventure, unless you’re fluent in hairdresser speak – something that few textbooks or phrase books cover.

  16. Christine says:

    This reminds me of all the years when I only got haircuts on visits home to my parents – or with a friend to Malaysia. Yes, better luck getting a haircut in Malaysia than in Holland. Sigh. Have found a wonderful girl to cut my hair in Nijmegen, so if anyone needs a tip…!

  17. Eliana says:

    Sorry, I laughed! The same situation happened with my husband and he is a “nederlander”hahaha He said…”ik wil kort”. But now he knows what he have to say! “Kort gedekt” It’s with a electric hair trimmer, short but you have the hair!

  18. Konrad says:

    It’s not to cut at all. ;D

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