13. Juli 2015 § Hinterlasse einen Kommentar


Dutch is really easy to begrijpe, isn’t it?

I usually don’t book overnight accommodation ahead, because I never know how far I get on any given day. Today I decided to do at least 100 km, and take in the mouth of the Rhine, the river on whose bank I now live. But the westerly wind carried a nasty fizzling rain with it, and I would have had to ride straight into its face for my little detour to Hoek van Holland. I caved in and said to myself I’d seen what I wanted to see about the final miles of the Rhine (here known as Waal) on my Rotterdam harbour cruise yesterday. 
I cycled through the urban thicket of the port city for half a day until I hit the landscapes I had dreamed of unter the rubric of the Netherlands: dunes grown over with grass and sturdy trees, winding bike paths with jolly pensioners and families. And there they were, the dark clouds had dried up and the wind propelled me up the sandy inclines at a steady 25 km/h.

I decided to check into the first hotel as soon as the bike computer would show 100 km.
So after having sailed through Vogelenzang I plumped down onto a soft bed in Bloemendaal. Birds, flowers, don’t the Dutch have a sense for the poetry of the every-day? 

Which brings me to my linguistic point for today: after five days in this country which clings to its unique Germanic variety, I can understand quite a bit of Dutch, but only really when I see the language in print. In today’s paper I read that „De burgemeester huilt dikke tranen, maar de bewoners van Drama halen de schoulders op over het naderend onheil ond de terrassen zitten vol“. It helps of course if you have a sense of the context. The article was about the Greek drama, and the word in capitals is a place name. The piece is a short reportage from the town of Drama in northern Greece, where I had spent a night on my Balkans tour exactly two years and a week ago. The text immediately called up a handful of pictures and memories.

I didn’t meet the mayor then, only sad fat men in the cafés twirling their chains of beads. So now the mayor wept copious tears, the Dutch journalist reports, but the inhabitants shrug their shoulders about the approaching misfortune and the terraces are full. As I translate the Dutch sentence, it strikes me how much easier it would be for English speakers to understand Dutch (just as we Swiss Germans do), had they not loaded their language with French colonialist lexis such as misfortune, inhabitants and offer: onheil is Unheil in modern German, bewoners are Bewohner or Einwohner. Later in the text, she talks about begrijpen, which is begreifen in German, while English people might use comprehend, anbied is anbietet as different from offer, ernstig in Dutch is easily understood if in English you think of earnest, not serious.

Well, this comment is not meant to be read as a critical comparison. The relative ease with which I understand words in print contrasts with my inability to crack the code of the spoken language. Perhaps my antipathy against the sounds of it is a handicap as well. However, the real irony of the article was that in an interview with a Drama businessman he revealed that he was building the first five-star hotel with a spa and a wine bar in this depressed dusty town. I for one would not have coughed up 120 euros for this dramatic luxury. Well, 120 drachmas maybe.

The Dutch dunes

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