Amsterfans! I know, it’s been too long. What have I been doing? Well, I’m glad you asked! You always ask the right questions at the right time. It’s a skill you have. I don’t know how you do it.
You might remember, if you are as dedicated as I believe you to be, (for, why else would I be writing? I mean, I’m not talking to MYSELF! It’s not as if I follow MYSELF on WordPress and Facebook! Although actually I do, just to make sure it’s working; not to ensure that I have at least one reader, albeit my most critical reader, but you know – haterz gonna hate!) IF YOU ARE THE DEDICATED READER THAT I ASSUME YOU TO BE, THEN I – er, I mean YOU – WILL REMEMBER that I was inappropriately questioned/hard-of-hearing during an intake interview for a Dutch course not so long ago. Well, I passed the intake interview with flying colours; whether that occurred through linguistic brilliance or reluctance to lodge a formal complaint remains to be seen. Either way, a confirmation email appears in my inbox, telling me that I have signed up for a two week intensive Dutch course. Every day, whilst the kids are at school, I will be speaking DUTCH ONLY. For TWO WEEKS! HALF A MONTH! FUCKING TEN DAYS!
No, YOU thought it was only a week when you signed up. I wouldn’t make that mistake. I’ve been learning Dutch for two years. I know the difference between een and twee.
I’m assuming you are me, of course. Dear Reader.
Goddammit. Two fucking weeks.
Here I am, then, meeting my fellow students on Monday morning. We are a band of seven; more women than men, as all my courses have been. I wonder how all the non-Dutch men are learning Dutch? Perhaps they are all learning under their own steam, studying Rosetta Stone, forming underground support groups in which they discuss – in Dutch far superior to mine – what they might do about the suffocating prevalence of women in the learning sphere. Perhaps they make it as far as the door to Dutch school, and then, seeing the sea of women – the flood, the infestation, the rabble, the Old Girls’ Club – are overcome with imposter syndrome. Here is an impenetrable comradery of mutual vulnerability. Here is a glass floor they just can’t break through. It is the same at writers’ groups; more women than men. Apparently. I’m not in any writers groups. Christ, no. I read enough shit with this one blog I’ve subscribed to.
We are: Austrian Lady, Austrian Man, Irish Man, South African Lady, Maltese/German Lady, Spanish Lady and British Lady. Three have recently finished studying, one is on a career break, one is self-employed, one has just had a baby and one is an unemployed, stay-at-home mum, qualified for nothing.
I mean, I suppose there’s a chance that all the non-Dutch men are just at work.
Our mornings will be spent in Dutch conversation and our afternoons will look at grammar. After one week of this, there will be another week, which was entirely my intention. I actually slightly judge people who only sign up for one week intensive courses. It smacks of lip service, doesn’t it? God, I’m glad I’m not that crew!
Our first task is to introduce ourselves to each other in pairs, and then, in the larger group, sharing what we have learnt about our peers:
“This is…” I look apologetically at Maltese/German Lady, who fills in the name that she has already told me twice.
“Yes,” I confirm, nodding sagely. “And she was in a job working with things so as an office…”
“Hotel management,” says Maltese/German Lady.
“Yes,” I nod again. “Also, she has a man.”
The group look at Maltese/German Lady for clarification, as they have reasonably concluded that I am an unreliable information source.
“Indeed have I a man,” she says. “A Dutch man.”
He’s probably at work, I think. And he’s Dutch, the lucky bastard! Oh, to be a Dutch Man in The Netherlands! Not a fucking care in the world! Walking around, saying the right things in the right order, really high up!
“Is your man a Dutch one?” the teacher asks me.
“No, he is an English one,” I say. “We are all of us English in our family.” I pull an apologetic face.
“This week, learn we the Dutch political parties,” says the teacher.
We all nod; we should, of course, understand the political system under which we are living.
“And also, thought I,” she continues, “you could to each other the political systems of your own countries describe.”
At this point I slip into a deep depression.
Meeting new people on accidental fortnights such as this is always, of course, great fodder for the blog, especially if the people involved are total bastards, but it is with great sadness that I am forced to report that by the end of the first day, this exotic collection of potential assholes prove themselves to be nice. And even if they weren’t nice, I wouldn’t be able to write about them and their assholery now, because my blog is too popular, what with my being Tulse Hill’s Greatest Export in Amsterdam. The only way to write the absolute truth without direct personal consequence is to write an anonymous blog, which I wouldn’t get any credit for, and it should be obvious by now that the only reason I write a blog is for the credit. I am an unemployed stay-at-home mother who is qualified for nothing; before I started writing this blog, nearly three years ago, no-one had said “well done” to me since early 2009, in a university administration office in Bloomsbury. There, I had a older guy boss who, for the first few weeks, I had assumed was partially-sighted, but it turned out that he had something of a nervous disposition which meant that he couldn’t look women in the eye; rather, he focused a little to the south of the ocular area. More in the titular area. IT WAS A DIFFERENT TIME! Fortunately, now I’m a mother, I am more or less invisible, so I don’t get so much of the titular attention these days. But I also don’t get any “well done”s anymore, either. SWINGS AND ROUNDABOUTS!!!!! Oh, to be a Dutch man.
By the end of the first week, we are all sick to the back teeth – or verstandkies – of political chat. I actually have a conversation with Austrian Lady about verstandkies, in which I, inexplicably, go to some trouble describing the sensations, duration and after-effects of having my verstandkies removed in a Dutch hospital last year. Admirable linguistically, but perhaps, given that Austrian Lady started the conversation by saying she needed to have the same procedure, unnecessarily detailed.
Our group is notably dedicated to the cause. We form a Dutch Whatsapp Group. During the lunch break, we carry on speaking in Dutch. Our teacher tells us that even the group above us doesn’t do this, and we go into the weekend smug as fuck, Dutch as fuck. But then I have to speak English for two days because my stupid family is English, and I note that, whilst my Dutch hasn’t improved markedly, my English is spectacularly shitter. Huh.
I return for the second week, which was always part of my plan, entirely intentional and 100% expected. It’s harder, the second week. I’m tired; we have an hour and a half of homework each night, which I can’t start until the ten year old is in bed at around nine. I hit the hay each night with smoke coming out of my ears. The house is a shithole and we eat a lot of fish fingers. Really, this is the worst that happens; I had a whole thing ready about hard it was, but honestly, the cleaner still came, no-one puked, I only missed two afternoons of the course because Dutch schools punish parents by kicking out early on Wednesdays.
“This is what it would be like if I worked!” I exclaim to My Lawyer.
“Imagine,” he says.
“I can’t,” I say. “I really can’t.”
On the last day, my classmates and I celebrate with prosecco. During a short and unexpected ceremony, we are presented with certificates. I am the third recipient, and I prepare for the hand shaking and excessive Dutch kissing by releasing an extraordinary amount of sweat from my palms and envisaging myself kissing my teacher directly on the lips. We are instructed to go forth into the Dutch wilderness and build upon our recently fortified foundations! Now is the time to put it all into practise! We came to this country, let us speak its language! We have made our beds, let us lie in them in comfort!
My classmates go back to their lucky Dutch men and their Dutch friends; I go back to my English family and immediately return to London for half term. Not a Dutchie in sight for an entire week.
The closest Dutch equivalent to, You’ve made your bed, now lie in it:
Wie z’n billen brand, moet op de blaren zitten.
He who has burnt his buttocks must sit on the blisters.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go brush up on my English with a bit of reading. In fact, I’m expecting a blog post to fall into my inbox any moment now.
I hope it’s good.