Learning Dutch

By Sara Toscano


If you are a Mediterranean and believe it is enough to change your accent to communicate with the locals in Holland, forget it! To fill in the gaps of your speech with a loud Ciao, a tapas and tequilla or a vague oui oui is not enough to be understood. Dutch language is stiff and fast. And let me tell you something else...Translating the sounds directly from English it also doesn’t work.


My first acquaintance with a Dutch boy was a disaster. i was at a night party with my glass shaking from the loud electronic music from the 90’s, the “newest” fashion in the city, when a boy presented himself with a Ik heet Hans which in strong Dutch accent seemed to me a clear I hate Hans. It wasn’t a good start! Who is Hans and why the hell do you hate him? I asked. But he just meant I (ik) am called (heet) Hans.


So I said my name and run way.


Next day in a small groceries shop I asked for cheese. The lady behind the counter asked me with a big smile: Wat voor? My Dutch-English translator immediately suggested me that she meant, in clear English “What for?” so, like a good Mediterranean, I replied: “well, I will have a party tonight and I’ll make this expensive recipe my grandmother taught me once when we were in the summer house of her sister…not the one that has married with an artist, the other one who married a sailor from Spain whose cousin was the chef of the royal family...” She looked me weird. And repeated: “wat (what) voor (kind)?”


So I said Gouda cheese and run away.


On a different occasion, I asked a friend the fastest way to get to the central station. She smiled and replied: take the “Snail Tram”. I started laughing: “How ironic is the Dutch sense of humour, HAHA! Fastest way! Snail Tram!, it’s hilarious… HAHA!

She lifted her eyebrows in surprised. Her accent had tricked me. She meant the Snell Tram, which in Dutch means the “Fast Tram”.


So I said goodbye and run away.


The opposite also happens, when you start learning Dutch but you just can’t believe you have understood the words correctly.

The other day a lady told me her name loud and clear: Michele Naaktgeboren, which means “Michele Borne Naked”. Naturally, I though I had just understood her wrong. But no!

Dutch people have the most curios surnames you will ever come across. During the French occupation, the Dutch were forced to choose surnames and they decided to make fun of the situation, and this is the result!  So if you meet any Mr. Mountain of Wine or Mrs. Rotten People do not doubt your Dutch knowledge or your translation skills. It is very likely that you got it right so just don’t run away!


A good tip is to know that most of the Dutch living in Amsterdam not only speak English but also they love to practice their language skills. To break the ice and be kind is enough to know how to say Goedemorgen (goodmorning), Dank Je (thank you) and Tot Ziens (see you later).