Pillow Talk: The Best Way to Learn a New Language

The Dutch are an enigmatic race. On the one hand conservative to a fault, on the other broad-minded, tolerant and objective. A confusing mix for the outsider – you think you have the culture sussed then something goes and blows your preconceptions away.

One thing everyone thinks they know about the Dutch is their perceived tolerance to drugs and sex. Not necessarily.

Every Dutch person I’ve spoken to on the subject has had the same response – a slight puckering of the forehead, a considered intake of breath and a resigned explanation of the drug and brothel policy. Happy with the situation? Not entirely. So why the apparent tolerance if they don’t agree with it?

The Dutch are a pragmatic nation. The best definition of pragmatic I’ve found which epitomises their attitude is, ‘ …solving problems in a realistic way which suits the present conditions rather than obeying fixed theories, ideas or rules’ (Cambridge Dictionary – the OED definition was too convoluted on this occasion).

Along with the official attitude to drug use, the Netherlands consistently has one of the lowest teen pregnancy/ abortion rates in the world, and, according to UNICEF, Dutch children are the happiest in Europe and rank highly when rated against the rest of the world.

Hmm, food for thought then, especially when the drinking age is sixteen for wine and beer, eighteen for spirits. And the legal age for sex, sixteen.

No wonder just-arrived-American–moms-of-teens turn pale in horror when they are informed, gently, of what their teens are legally allowed to do. It’s only with time, acclimatisation and observation they appreciate the country is not overrun with drunk, high, sex-crazed teens round every corner. Generally they are responsible, mature and very well-adjusted but it does make mom’s house rules a bit harder to enforce.

These open attitudes aren’t confined to one age group either as both Missy and I have discovered.

I often run into a Dutch neighbour while we’re both dog walking and we walk and talk together. P’s English is excellent, not surprising as she worked in New York for ten years. When I first met her I apologised haltingly for my limited, spoken Dutch. She laughed brightly, said it was a waste of time as all the Dutch were such excellent linguists and we chatted on the subject for a while. She is also fluent in French and Italian.

Half-way through our chat she suddenly paused, turned to me and said, ‘You know, if you’re serious about learning the language the best way to learn is to take a Dutch lover’.

I was about to roar with delight at her sense of humour, when fortunately I turned to her, looked at her face and realised she was totally serious. Seeing my expression she shrugged her shoulders in that almost French way, smiled, and replied in her flawless English, ‘How do you think I’m so good at languages?’

I don’t remember the rest of the conversation. In my world this is not something you would drop into the conversation on a first meeting. We think P and her husband have been through a troubled time of late and it did cross my mind she’s perhaps been learning a new language. Her husband was seen hurling items of her clothing from a window during a rather heated row.

I put P’s comments down to their being her personal philosophy on linguistics until the other week, when our daughter, Missy, arrived home from work, agitated, with a slightly manic expression in her eyes.

‘I don’t believe it mom, I really don’t believe it!’ She’s only been here a month and is still in the throes of major culture shock. She spent the majority of her life growing up in the American South, but even the perceived lurid sexuality of New Orleans is pretty parochial compared to the Netherlands.

It seems after strolling to Albert Hein for a sandwich in her lunch hour, she got into conversation with an elderly woman in the check-out line. ‘Mom, she was at least 80, I’m not kidding.’

It seems the delightful woman was discussing my daughter’s lack of spoken Dutch – all in English of course. Missy explained with an easy intimacy gained from having grown up in the Deep South, that she’d only been here for a few weeks but was already picking up a few words and wasn’t as intimidated as she had been when she first arrived.

The old woman smiled sagely, nodded her head and said, ‘The fastest way to learn the language, my dear, is to take a Dutch lover.’

Missy is still in total shock – such a public exchange of this nature with a total stranger, particularly one over the age of 30, is completely alien to our southern belle and the conservative background she grew up in. Apparently, the visual of this elderly Grande dame having such thoughts at her advanced age was just too gross for Missy to compute.

I had to smile.

Just goes to show, ‘ …solving problems in a realistic way which suits the present conditions’ can have its upside and has given me a whole new respect for Dutch womanhood.

About wordgeyser

Our anglo/american family used to live in four countries (USA, Canada, UK and the Netherlands) on two continents, separated by distance, time zones, circumstance and cultures. It has been a scary, enriching, challenging place to be. The only things guaranteed to get us through were a sense of humour and the amazing people met along the way. . . This year everything changed with a move for us from the Netherlands, – and a move along with us for our son and his wife from the UK – to Houston, Texas, the same city as our daughter. With our youngest in Vancouver, Canada, we are now all living on the same continent. How this happened, and more importantly why, will be the subject of this ongoing blog...
This entry was posted in Dutch Culture, Family Life, Learning Dutch, Personal challenges, The Netherlands, Women and Female Related and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Pillow Talk: The Best Way to Learn a New Language

  1. I had a good laugh reading this 🙂 Can just imagine your poor daughter – enough to traumatize any teen

  2. Jane says:

    We had fun discussing this at bookclub today… 🙂

  3. Heidi Lein says:

    Jane, this had me in stitches. Great networking tips from our fellow Dutch women!

    • wordgeyser says:

      Thanks Heidi, appreciate your comment! Was talking with Missy about the Dutch Lover learning program last night and she said the same thing had been suggested to two non-Dutch colleagues (female!) at work. Perhaps this really does explain why the Dutch are so multilingual . .

  4. Jane says:

    You must both take this as a compliment! You are obviously perceived as having the potential to:
    a) learn Dutch
    b) attract and maintain a Dutch lover long enough to progress past the pleasantries to verb conjugations, subclauses etc

    Nobody has suggested this language course option to me….

  5. Ellen Worling says:

    Who knew it could be so simple? Kudos to the grande dame at the AH, I’m sure she enjoyed shocking Missy.

  6. Sareen says:

    What to say?

  7. I laughed out loud at your supposition that G is learning a new language! (Unfortunately I startled the dog, which set off a barking spree.) All this time I’ve been plugging away, looking up verbs, stumbling along making a daft fool of myself, and there was an easier way all along…

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