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…