Living in The Netherlands without speaking Dutch, it’s a bit like… like willingly trying to swim without using your legs : it’s not ideal, but you can do it.
Most people will understand that you are trying your best, not only to avoid drowning, but to go as fast as you can. But from time to time, you will encounter someone who will simply ask you to move out of the way ; you just don’t fit in this line, so take your weirdo swim elsewhere. This has just happened to me … again. This post is for all the « fit or leave » people out there.
I’ve got a message for you : DUTCH IS BLOODY HARD TO LEARN !
I love living in this country, and I love the fact that with Dutch people, you kinda always know where to stand. They are so honest and direct, not to say abrupt, that some people see this as rudeness. I see it more like a « let’s not waste our time with bullsh*t » kind of mentality. And it’s refreshing.
However, the Dutch can also be very proud of their culture and their language. And this combination mixed with the wrong people and mentality can turn what started as a nice conversation in a true trial, in which you will find yourself defending your lack of language abilities.
I am so sorry I’m stupid. I’m gonna bang my head against this wall until I can pronounce « muur ».
I do agree 1000% that learning the language of the country in which you live is crucial to integrate into society, and turn the « one of them » into « one of us ».
But let’s be honest : Dutch is one of those languages that is not taught at school in many countries (there are actually 23 million dutch mother tongue speakers in the World… yep).
Thus, if you want to learn it, you have to learn from scratch. And it is also a known fact that the oldest you get, the hardest it is to learn a new language. Especially when said language does not have the same grammar, the same alphabet or the same pronunciation than your own language. Being French, Dutch is to me what Italian is to Germans : a language that has nothing in common with my mother tongue.
It is also a fact that Dutch people are particularly good with languages. Well, with English at least. It simply never ceases to astonish me : almost everybody you will encouter in this country can speak English.
Just imagine living abroad but being able to go to work, to the supermarket, to the doctor or to any shop and have a conversation in English. Just try to do the same in France, or Spain, or any other European country really (really, go ahead, try!).
That’s a blessing for tourists, but also for expats who get an actual chance of building a life abroad.
But that might also just be the problem : because the Dutch are so good with English, they tend to think that anyone else who doesn’t just does it on purpose. I have stopped counting the amount of times when I have heard « French people just refuse to speak English to you », or « French people just think everybody else in the World needs to speak French like them ».
It would be like Cristiano Ronaldo not understanding why some people are not good at football.
The reason why the French don’t speak English, is because they cannot speak English. Not by choice, but because of, well, lots of things really : education, culture, movies being doubled in French. And when they can, they are most of the time too insecure to dare replying to someone in English.
So there, you have it. It is not because we are particularly arrogant or proud. (I mean yeah ok, we’re proud of our culture and our food, but who isn’t ?).
Personally, my main problem with the Dutch language is the pronunciation. A common sentence that I learnt before even arriving in the country was the obvious “Sorry, I don’t speak Dutch”. “Ik spreek geen Nederlands.” To pronounce the « geen » just imagine that you have something stuck down your throat and you’re trying to get it out… yep that’s it, you’ve got it.
Well, I have actually never managed to find the comfidence in pronouncing that sentence to anyone. I did think that writing it down on my hand and simply showing it would make it a bit of an awkward situation.
But thankfully, the large majority of Dutch you meet here are nice and friendly, and they totally understand that Dutch is a very difficult language to learn. They will actually enjoy very much teaching you a word or two when they get the chance.
It goes from the friendly cashier in my local supermarket asking about my life story before telling me how much I need to pay in Dutch, very slowly and with a winky face, to the work colleagues who enjoy teaching me the most random words they can think of, before bursting out laughing.
Thanks to them, I now even know how to reply to these people who don’t understand why the hell I am living here for. Houd je bek !