Friday, 24 January 2014

Great Expectations

So I had a major breakthrough last week... I had my very first, fully fledged, legitimate conversation -  entirely in Dutch! Just a simplistic 'Hello, Can I get a hot chocolate please', then some idle chit chat with the person serving me, but at this point I became convinced of the fact that I'm pretty much bilingual now. I'm pretty sure that the guy who worked in the Italian coffee shop (an actual coffee shop, not a 'coffee shop', don't worry, Mum), was Italian and therefore probably not able to initiate the usual 'swap to English for the struggling foreigner' manoeuvre. But that doesn't mean you can scoff at this small achievement of mine! This is a major hint that my Dutch speaking skills have magically evolved into something more elevated than the hacking and spluttering I have previously been sporting these last few months. Mark Twain describes the Dutch language as 'not so much a language as a disease of the throat'. I think I have finally managed to harness the former random choking noises into something discernible and I could never agree less with Mark Twain; to my ears Dutch has taken on a whole new melodic quality that I could listen to indefinitely. Almost. I mean it still sounds like the noises I imagine the soldiers to be making when reading Wilfred Owen's descriptions of the gas attacks in Dulce et Decorum Est.

So it was safe to say that my confidence was pretty high, that is, until I had a run in with the girl at the supermarket checkout a day later. I see her at least once a week and somehow always manage to be cornered into the queue to her till despite my best efforts to avoid her odious face. The epitome of pubescent vileness with a penchant for making my foreign self feel about as welcome as a fart in a small aeroplane. (No that is not appropriate, man in seat 17B and yes, despite your nonchalant staring out of the window, I do know it was you). A smile means the same in every language you know? My only consolation is that she looks terrific in her pale blue, nylon, till girl tabard. After asking me some undecipherable question in a way that I can only describe as the Dutch equivalent of a British sketch show parody of common youth, she did something that brought on my most regrettable episode of Obsessive Politeness Disorder to date. It's something I think most British people suffer from and a condition that is only heightened when pushed outside of our comfortable cultural boundaries. After asking me at least 4 times in an increasingly slow and patronising manner she decided to just ignore me and proceeded to serve the next person in the queue. After apologising profusely and leaving the shop bemused as to what just happened, it wasn't until I got outside that the reality of the situation dawned on me. She was asking if I wanted my change. Considering I had handed over a 5euro note for an 89c packet of biscuits; YES, yes I do want my change, why would you even feel the need to ask?! Cue my revenge plot. Until next week, Chantelle of the Plus.

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