Monday, July 7, 2008

Living in the Netherlands without knowing Dutch

It has been more than a year since we moved to the Netherlands. I still remember those days last year this time we were walking around towns to look for signs of "Te Huur (For rent)". Once in a while, we got the interest to study the language, and for a while, we stopped learning, and all those we learned was slowly forgotten later. When you got the interest again, most of the things have to be learnt from the beginning again. We even paid for a computer software, Rossetta Stone, to learn the language. However, since Mr. Aawarra's boss paid for the cost of the software, we are not self--disciplined enough to being persistant in learning either.

So why not learning? My excuse most of the time when talking with people is that, most of the Dutch speaks English well. It is true. Almost everyboy you met on the streets, a shop, secretaries, doctors, all speaks good English. As long as you ask, you most of the time get your answers. Ture, there was once, we tried to ask the direction on the street to an old couple, we had trouble communicating. We tried hard to explain, still failed to get their answers. The frustration we found of not knowing the language is, we are some of the time excluded from knowing about what is happening. Once we passed by a synagogue, a group of people were listening to one person talking. We stopped, and not wanting to disturb them. So we didn't ask questions, and we didn't know what happened that time.

It is true that Dutch is not that difficult for English speakers to learn at all. It shares many similar workds, at least similar pronounciation. You could easily guess some of them if you pay attention. But I have to say that this country is not that English friendly country. Many website has both English and Dutch webpages. However, the information behind those clicks are highly varied. The Dutch website information are much more comprehensive and complete than the English version. It is not only in the website, but also in some service platforms, things like the train ticket machine in stations. You have to know Dutch to buy some certain kind of ticket.
I got to know this when I consulted a colleague about how to get the cheapest train tickets for a months' travel between two cities, which is like a train monthly ticket. She told me the name of the ticket she bought on NS ticket machine, and I only found the information in the dutch version of the website. Then I browsed through the website and there are quite a lot of information lack in the English website. It is really a disvantage of living in a country without knowing their language.

In your work environment, it might be also a frustration when others talking in Dutch around you. It is the most often instances that you feel yourself being excluded. Mr. Aawarra sometimes during the lunch time felt he was only physically present there, since his colleagues talking in Dutch. He can tolerate it well since he has been used to this kind of situations. After I worked, I started feeling a little discomfort when others came to talk with my officemate in Dutch. It is a feeling that you were kept out of knowing something, although this is already a very English friendly environment. The good part of this is, you got less disturbed by an unknown discussion while you are working on something important. You tend to be staying focused on your work.

The picture is from here. Dames means ladies, and heren means gentlemen. For lage, and Grote, try to think some similar English words.