The first time I visited the Netherlands was in the late 1980s. I was determined to be polite and to learn some Dutch, so I spent time rehearsing a phrase from the Useful Words and Phrases section of our guidebook – the Rough Guide to Amsterdam, I think it was. I kept practising each syllable until I had it pretty much perfect: Ik heb een kamer besproken. I have a room booked. I would speak to them in Dutch,
Sadly, there were at least two fundamental flaws with my cunning plan. This immediately became apparent as soon as we arrived at the guest house. At first, the man asked me to repeat the well-rehearsed phrase, and then he gave a friendly, but long reply… in Dutch. Oh, I had forgotten that they might actually answer the phrase, or pass comment, or ask a relevant question. I looked blankly at him. “Would it be easier for you if we spoke in English?” he enquired, smiling. So my first attempt at Dutch was a complete failure.
I have met Dutch people all over the world since then and maybe I have just been lucky to meet only the lovely ones, but have found them to be uniformly friendly, helpful, interesting and polyglotonous; speaking perfect English is like learning to crawl, it seems, for many of them. I have at least now learnt a few more useful snippets in Dutch, along with some of the likely responses. Ah, you can’t beat experience.
But if you remember, there was another fundamental flaw in my preparations. We mustn’t forget that. The thing is, if you look up my phrase, Ik heb een kamer besproken, on Google Translate, you get: I have discussed a room. Discussed a room? What sort of prat walks into a hotel and says, “We have discussed a room.”? But that is what I did, it seems. No wonder the man smiled and gave a long and considered question back to me…. Apparently, the phrase I needed was Ik heb een kamer geboekt, as far as I can work out. Apologies if that’s odd, too.
One day I will go on an immersion course and learn perfect spoken Dutch. There’s one for my bucket list.