By Mark van Engeland

Tactical Linguistics

If you came here expecting to uncover whether our intrepid Agent Double-0 PS survived his mission to the heart of a 'supermarkt', I'm afraid you're going to be disappointed.  That will hopefully be continued soon, after I've tried out a few more of the dishes which have been recommended to me since last week's column.
A little dramatic tension won't hurt the story, now, will it?

Today, we make a start on tactics for learning the language.

One of the more fun things of moving to another country is that nobody understands a bloody word of what you're saying usually.  For most people this is a problem, because they are used to being understood.  I'm a special case, in that I can rattle on for hours and hours without making the least bit of sense to whoever is listening (anyone up for a chat about particle physics?); which leaves me in the position of not minding if someone does not understand my meaning on my first attempt.  I just re-phrase.
This worked fine when I went to live in Italy.  I would cobble together a sentence, out of the few Italian words I knew, and work my way around (often a looooong way around!) to what I wanted to say.  The people I spoke to; in shops, or wherever; would make guesses at my meaning, and interject the words or phrases that I was really trying to say, in my roundabout way.  This meant that every time I spoke to someone, I learned something new a word, or a way of phrasing so I 'absorbed' the Italian language in no time flat.
Now, you may have noticed that I added a 'usually' at the end of the first sentence, above.  Yes, I did that on purpose.  That there is a 'usual' case means that there must be an 'unusual' case.
The Dutch are nothing, if not 'unusual'!

My intention, on moving here, was to learn the language as I went along; much as I did in Italy; using anyone and everyone as 'sounding boards', who would reflect the right words when I bounced my cobbled-together statements off of them.  No problem.  Too easy.
The Dutch, however, pounce on the same idea, the moment they catch wind of the fact that I'm English.
So, what has been happening is that I will start speaking to people in pidgin Dutch, in order to hone my ability to speak their language; but they then reply to me in pidgin English, in order to hone their ability to use my language!

That's Cheating!  No Fair!

<Blackadder mode on>

    Blackadder :  The Dutch swine!  They're using me as a pawn, to learn the Queen's English obviously so that they may carry out some fiendish plot against Her Majesty!
    Baldrick :  But Sir, no-one in England can ever understand a word you're saying, anyway!
    Blackadder :  Don't be a fool, Baldrick!  If they can learn to be as incomprehensible as me, then not only will they pass as native Britons in any area of English society, but my idea of learning Dutch well enough to carry out a fiendish plot against their king will fail miserably!
    Baldrick :  {His eyes glase over} Aah.  I see what you mean, Sir.  If they all speak English the same way you do, then no-one will be able to tell that they're not English.
    Blackadder :  Precisely, Baldrick!  We have to stop them before they can bring harm to my beloved Elizabeth!
    Baldrick :  But, Sir!  Wait!  I have a cunning plan!
    Blackadder :  Oh, very well, you pimple on the third nipple of the udder of my prize cow.  What pathetic idea has your disease-warped little mind come up with?
    Baldrick :  Well, Sir, if you teach them all to speak English the same as you do, then they will not be able to tell that you are not Dutch; so you will have complete freedom to carry out your plot, because they will think that you're one of them!
    Blackadder :  {Sighing} Baldrick, Mrs Meadows down the street has a large bull.  Take this candle, stick your head up its arse, and wait for it to fart!

<Blackadder mode off>

Actually, I do have a cunning plan!
I tried it out the other day, buying stamps...

<Dramatic Reconstruction mode on>

    van Engeland :  Buongiorno, ho bisogno di francobolli.
    Counter clerk :  ???

<Dramatic Reconstruction mode off>

*Heh heh*
I wish I'd thought of that earlier I'd be speaking Dutch a lot better by now, if I had.
Instead of asking for stuff in terrible Dutch, being replied to in English, and continuing the negotiations in very toned-down English, I just come straight out with Italian, and work up from there!
Since I needed to buy stamps for letters to different countries, I had to work at it a little; we had to say several sentences each.  Had I not pretended to be Italian, the discussion would have ended up in English.  Hey, if offered a lazy option, who won't take it?
There again, I say 'lazy option', but it's not, really.
To ask the cost of sending a letter to {country name} in an English post office, I would say something along the lines of: 'Whadduzicosttasendalettata{country name}?'.
That's normally-spoken, rapid-fire English, for: "What does it cost to send a letter to {country name}?
Hopefully, the postmaster/mistress would reply in an Indian dialect I could understand, and it would go on from there.
In Holland, I have to speak English a lot more slowly than usual, and use phrasing that will be understood that is, I have to think, before I open my mouth.  That's hard work (when you've got a mouth like mine it is, anyway).
What I actually asked; in Dutch, whilst pretending to be Italian; was:
(holding up letter) Voor Engeland, wat is de prijs?
That's pronounced: 'For Engelund (with a soft 'g'), Vut is de price'!
It was easier than trying to ask in English!  Hell, I may as well have just slurred 'For England, what is the price?', in English!
Ok, so it was not the right question to ask I should have asked 'What does it cost?'; which, perversely, is how I would have asked in English but the lady immediately replied to me with the correct question; so I now know how to ask in Dutch, next time I need a price.
That's how it's supposed to work!  Not with me searching for English words and phrases that shopkeepers will have in their vocabulary, but with them giving me Dutch words and phrases to add to mine!

So now you know.
If you come to Holland with the intention of learning the language:  Pretend you're not English!

Eakspay igpay atinlay, or just make random, gibberish noises!
The Dutch are extremely helpful and giving people; unlike some French-spoken races I could mention (it wouldn't feel right if I didn't get a dig in at the French, somewhere in the column); and they will try very hard to understand you and help you find the right words.
The way I see it, it would be an insult to refuse that help so make the most of it!



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