Dutch vs. English Language Mix-up At The Dentist

Language Mix-up

“You are irritating.”

“Excuse me?” I ask, puzzled by the sudden opinion of my character.

I was very surprised by this. It was not something I was expecting… That’s not to say that people are not allowed to find me irritating. I’m sure there are people who do. However, it’s always surprising when they say such a thing to your face. Especially when it comes from your Dutch dentist who has just spent the last ten minutes cleaning your teeth in total silence. I’d heard of Dutch directness before but this was taking it to a new level.

“Your gums are irritating.” He added, somehow managing to make the earlier statement even more confusing.


It was not a question. It was more of a confused ‘should I be apologising about this’ apology attempt.

I had not been aware of anything my gums had been doing to offend people or even that gums could be offensive to some people, especially dentists. And if it was possible… well… maybe he had made the wrong career decision.

“You’ve not been brushing properly. They are irritating.”

That made a little more sense I guess… in a strange sort of way. It must be pretty irritating as a dentist when people don’t brush and floss properly. Every day must bring a new level of frustration as cavities and infections that could have been prevented slowly chip away at his soul piece by piece. At night he must go home, infuriated by the insanity of it all, not knowing how he can possibly face another day of drilling and root canals. And when his wife finally breaks the silence by asking him how his day has been he does the only thing he can do. He screams out in an anguished reply, “Why can’t these damn people take oral hygiene seriously!”

I’m suddenly snapped out of the imaginary scenario by the sound of my dentist (the real one) saying something.

“You have to look after your gums better. Otherwise they will become more irritating.”

I blink. I’m suddenly confused again…

There is something strange in the way he is using the word…

It does not actually sound like he is annoyed with me or my gums…

And then suddenly, as if from a great height, the penny drops…

Oh… He means ‘irritated’.

6 responses to “Dutch vs. English Language Mix-up At The Dentist”

  1. Yes, he means irritated :D Also, have you “learned” your dentist to speak proper English? Sorry, I am just being irritating. These things that happen to you are funny!

  2. Yvette says:

    See I think the difference between you and me is when something like that happens to me I just roll with the punches and don’t notice it. In my defense I spent all my childhood correcting my immigrant mother’s English (as well as that of her friends) so I just tell people what the correct thing to say is and move on.

    Though there are a few Dutch mistranslations I will never point out. The fact that my adviser always addresses his emails to the group as “Dears…” for example, because I find that translation adorable even if it’s not something an adviser should say in English!

  3. VallyP says:

    Haha, Stu…but I often find this confusion of participles among my Dutch students. A favourite one in response to something is “Yes, I am very interesting.” Again, if you replace the ‘ing’ with the ‘ed’, then it makes a lot more sense and sounds much less smug!

  4. Alison says:

    An irritated dentist sounds kind of scary!

  5. Terri says:

    When I first moved to Scotland, a neighbor lady told me I was homely. I kept a calm outside face, but inside I was just crushed, and slightly appalled at her rudeness. I told my husband about it later, and after he was done laughing, he explained that homely, rather than meaning plain and/or unattractive (US), actually meant I was down-to-earth, and cared about my home (UK). ;D

  6. Invader_Stu says:

    Olga – the strange thing was his English was perfect apart from this one thing. That’s why it through me off so much.

    Yvette – I don’t know if it’s that I pick up on things like this more or I’m just more easily confused by them :p

    VallyP – They were not going for smug? :p

    Alison – That is very true. It’s never a good idea to upset the man with the drill.

    Terri – Hehe. I can see why that would come as a shock.

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