Learn the local language, always strikes me as a sound tip for expats, and so every time we move I attempt to learn the local language.
As a result, my Mandarin is serviceable, my Cantonese is shit and, after an intensive course, my Dutch is A2 level certified.
So what does A2 level Dutch mean practically speaking?
In my experience, A2 level Dutch means that I:
1. Still speak English with Dutch people, because they are all language protégés and bloody show-offs.
A sample conversation:
shopkeeper: Goede morgen.
me: Goede morgen. Ik wil graag een kilo koffie alstublieft. Mag u …. [I ask for a kilo of coffee beans and I want them ground but I can’t remember word for that.]
shopkeeper: [Big smile.] We speak English here!
me: Yes, I know you speak English. You all speak lovely English, but I need to practice my Dutch.
shopkeeper: Oh! You are studying Dutch. Dutch is a very hard language to learn. Do you want me to speak in slow Dutch? I learned English from watching Friends but I think Dutch must be very hard for you to learn. Do you find the sounds hard to make? Do you find it hard to learn Dutch?
me: Yes, I do find it difficult to learn because none of you will ever speak Dutch with me!
2. Think I can read German.
Because I can grasp a lot of written Dutch, I fool myself into thinking I can similarly comprehend written German. For example, last month I only realized half-way through ‘reading’ an Austrian website, that I understood absolutely nothing.
3. Know why the postman says 83 in English when he means 38.
A week into my Dutch course a lightbulb went off when I suddenly understood that the postman was asking me to take in the mail for house number 38 and not for number 83, which doesn’t exist on my street. (Thirty-eight in Dutch can be literally translated to eight-and-thirty in English.)
The postman, by the way, is one of the few Dutchmen whose English is on par with my Dutch and yet he still defaults to English with me.
4. Was happy to discover that my children were merely calling their father a ‘fatso’ and not a ‘dick sack.’
On the holiday of Saint Martin, children in Utrecht go door-to-door singing for their neighbors in exchange for candy (like Dutch Halloween). I tittered inwardly as my children and I were taught this common song by the neighbors:
Sinte maarten mik-mak
Mijn vader is een dikzak
Mijn moeder is een dunnetje
Geef me een pepermunetje
Are we really calling fathers dick sacks? Did we just scream-sing ‘dick sack’ to that smiling white-haired couple?
Then I looked up the lyrics and saw that the song means:
Saint Martin mik-mak
My father is a fatso
My mother is a thin-y
Give me peppermint-y
‘Fatso’ seems a rather lamely tame by comparison.
5. Think I am learning hip slang when really I’ve just completely misunderstood something.
“Yeah, I found her to be a very tightening corpse! <wink, wink>“
Is what I understood the bachelor-farmer to say about the lovely blonde on the Dutch TV program, Boer Zoekt Vrouw (Farmer Seeks Wife). I looked up the word I’d written down from the sub-titling, aantreklijke, and thought, Now this is why I watch Dutch TV: to be exposed to super cool slang!
I was completely wrong.
I had simply left a ‘ke’ out of the middle of the word that I had jotted down. He had actually described her as aantrekkelijk (plain old ‘attractive’) and I’d written aantreklijke (‘tightening corpse’).
Or maybe Google Translate is playing sick games with me. Do the Dutch really have a compound word for ‘tightening corpse’? If they do, then I am very glad to have signed up for the next course (A2 to B1) in anticipation of getting to meatier and more obscure vocabulary!