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.