I thought I would share some thoughts about the language situation. A couple of them are borne out of experiences over the last few days. We spent the day in Amsterdam yesterday. It’s an amazing city and it was great to be there again and experience some new sights. This time I was struck by the number of tourists and the sound of English being spoken everywhere — in the museums, on the bus, in restaurants and on the street. I was obviously a tourist also, but after experiencing some immersion in Nederlands I have a slightly different viewpoint. We don’t hear English spoken very much in Limburg (outside of work, of course) and we can’t assume that everyone knows how to speak it. This may be weird, but it made Amsterdam seem less authentic not hearing Dutch spoken.
Dick speaks Dutch and it’s wonderful that he speaks the language of his birth country. It’s been very useful as we’ve transitioned to life here. As I said, English is not readily spoken in our neck of the woods. All the bills, instructions and signs are in Dutch. I’m very thankful that Dick can interpret all of this — I just want to get that straight before I complain. 🙂 Our neighbor may not speak English well and the butcher may not speak English at all, BUT most people who deal with the public speak and understand basic English. Dick loves being able to speak Dutch so much that he’ll address the waiter or the person at the ticket counter or the clerk at the store in Dutch, which affectively leaves me out of the conversation and in the dark. I know that if he addressed them in English, they would reply in English. Sometimes midway through the the conversation, he’ll tell them that his lowly wife speaks only English and I’ll be brought in on the final details. Thanks.
A case in point was our visit to De Haar Castle today. It’s located just outside Utrecht and is one of the most well known castles in Holland. We walk up to the ticket counter and Dick addresses the woman . . . in Dutch. So, of course, she replies in Dutch and I can tell that, like many people, she comments that he’s American and speaks Dutch (yes, we know it’s a novelty). He asks whether there is an English guide . . . while speaking Dutch which, as is typical, confuses the person and then they reply “yes of course.” Swell.
I navigate just fine without knowing the language, but it can be awkward. People in Limburg assume you speak Dutch, which is fair of course. When I’m addressed in Dutch, I have a few moments to figure out whether I should indicate that I don’t understand, say something in English or just nod my head and smile. The head nod and smile has got me through many brief interactions at the store or with a fellow bus rider! At least I know enough Dutch to say “Spreekt u Engels?” (Do you speak English) or “Ik begrip het niet” (I don’t understand). “Sorry?” also works. I really want to learn more Dutch, but so far I’m just picking up a word here and there. I have a difficult time taking correction from Dick, so I’m hestitant to practice in his presence. I plan to take a full course in the fall when the next class is offered at the library. I don’t have high expectations for anything near fluency, but I’d love to be able to read signs and understand more of what I hear . . . and perhaps be able to comment on the weather to the woman sitting next to me on the bus.