If you have ever traveled to the Netherlands, you must have seen pretty complicated words, expressions, and/or even sounds uttered by Dutch people. This complication creates certain problems in the life of expats in several areas. This includes work life, shopping, and social interactions. For the last couple of years, I tried to tackle many of them as good as I could. I welcome you to my pessimistic expat challenge with an eye on language learning.
“Nothing is impossible. The word itself says I’m possible”
With all due respect to the lovely Audrey Hepburn, I’m going to argue that this quote is inaccurate even though it is nice and inspiring to read.
As someone born between the 40s and the 70s or someone who is just a classic cinema fanatic, you may have heard about one of the most charming British actresses of all time, Audrey Hepburn. Her quote, which is quite encouraging, however, seems to be a bit unrealistic when it comes to actual things in life. Of course, it depends on how you interpret it and how positively you look at things but there are things in this world that seem to be almost impossible. Below, I discuss some of them, such as the impossibility of spelling Dutch words and other issues in more depth.
The language of the floor
At work, the language of the floor in the Netherlands is mainly Dutch. There is a worldwide conception that Dutch people speak good English (which I think is true) and maybe they easily switch to English to make you understand the main points of a conversation. However, in order to completely know what the whole team is speaking about, you must know Dutch.
The number of letters in a word
Speaking of Dutch words, one thing you may find very challenging as an expat is the number of letters you can see in a word. Take the word ‘beroepsaansprakelijkheidsverzekering’ (See? If you are a Dutch speaking person you don’t even bother reading it completely), which means ‘Professional liability insurance’ and has 36 letters. It is literally impossible for an expat to read/write this word in one go. Or perhaps I am a bad learner, but my point is that the majority of Dutch learners know English words and these words tend to be separated by a space. However, in Dutch, you can find many words that are written without any space between the letters such as ‘Arbeidsvoorwoorden, Branchevereniging, Overheidsmaatregelen, etc.’. Generalize this fact to encountering street signs, government letters, and contracts and see how complicated this could be.
The time I have spent in supermarkets
Another problem for expats arises when you go shopping, especially for groceries. You might notice that the majority of the products in a supermarket are covered by Dutch words and information. Interestingly enough, some of them have information in other languages such as German, French, Italian, etc. but not English. So basically, as an expat, you either have to rely on the pictures on the package or buy something totally different than what you initially intended. This problem can be a reason for people spending more time at the supermarket or similar places.
It is impossible for a Dutch person not to have an agenda
There are many more impossible things I’ve experienced in my expat adventure:
- It is impossible to find a Dutch person eating 3 hot cooked meals a day.
- It is impossible for a Dutch person not to call ‘Cake’, ‘Taart’.
- It is impossible to find a sink in the toilet big enough to wash your hands in a Dutch house.
- It is impossible to find a room to rent as an expat student in the Netherlands.
- It is impossible to write ‘meervoudigepersoonlijkheidsstoornis’ correctly as an expat.
- It is impossible for a Dutch person not to have an agenda.
- It is impossible to find a mountain in the Netherlands.
- It is impossible to book a flight from Amsterdam to Nijmegen.
- It is impossible for an expat to carry a huge box of beer in one hand while riding a bike.
Keep on going!
In conclusion, I should restate that there are many things that feel like impossible when it comes to learning the Dutch language and culture. Please keep in mind that this article is meant to entertain you and give you a short sense of my expat life in the Netherlands. All the problems mentioned above are also logical parts of adaptation to a new lifestyle. My Dutch vocabulary is growing every day and I’m still convinced that one day the struggle gets less. Sometimes it’s difficult but don’t lose hope in learning Dutch. Keep surprising yourself!
Inspiring side note: Audrey’s mother was Dutch and Audrey spoke the language pretty well.
I would like to hear from you
If you have any questions in this regard, contact me at my lovely office at Elycio Talen. By the way, we have great Dutch language courses for expats too!
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Article written by Sina Afshar