When I first arrived in Groningen, my British stiff-upper lip split in the face of some cold Dutch bluntness. However, I quickly acclimatised, and became accustomed to the forwardness, truthfulness, and friendliness of the Dutch, forgetting the round-about, and sometimes even apologetic, way of social interaction prevalent in Britain.
Within weeks of living in Groningen, I realised that the foreign negativity surrounding Dutch bluntness was a façade: the Dutch were, generally, incredibly friendly. It is this friendliness that has informed the typical trait that the Dutch are perhaps best known for: their tolerance.
However, I’ve began asking myself: has this Dutch tolerance actually created a huge cultural and social divide in Groningen?
On a surface level, it certainly has deflected any pressure for internationals to integrate, particularly with regard to language. Many internationals believe learning Dutch is a waste of time because everyone in Groningen speaks English.
Even if an international did want to learn to speak Dutch, in an attempt to better integrate into Dutch culture, they may face the frustrating and all-too-frequent setback of speaking to a Dutch person who is determined to speak English back. Some internationals interpret this as Dutch people just wanting to show-off; but, they are, in fact, mostly just trying to make you feel more welcome, in accordance with their tolerant tradition.
Hoi! You smile proudly, impressed by your own command of the Dutch language, but then — ‘hello!’
Your smile quickly vanishes, as they have just replied in English. What the firth? Did I say it wrong? The Dutch are sometimes too prepared to speak English, which means that many Internationals are becoming increasingly unprepared to speak Dutch.
So, here are a few tips for maintaining a conversation with the Dutch in Dutch:
One: Nederlands, alstublieft! ‘Dutch, please!’ in English. This simple trick is sure to highlight your plight to your potentially unaware Dutch conversationalist.
Two: Perseverance. If tip one doesn’t work, just keep speaking Dutch. Yes, you may sound like a moron, and what you’re saying may well be nonsensical, but at least you’re showing a passion for attempting to understand Dutch. If they then walk away to call the police for suspicion of public drunkenness, you know in your heart that you’ve done the right thing… then run away fast…
Three: repeat the above. Stubbornness is key. If they’re going to persist to speak English to you, you’re going to speak Dutch back. It’s as simple as that. It may seem strange to outsiders, who ask why it is that an international is speaking Dutch to an Englishperson speaking English, but it’s important that you show determination: that is far more courageous than accepting their politeness.
Hopefully, by following some of this advice, perhaps some of you will begin to converse more confidently in Dutch, and slowly integrate further into Groningen’s community through being talkatively tormented, not tolerated.