Saturday, September 29, 2012

And so they moved into the marshes...


And I am one of them. I am one of the people who follow in the footsteps of those who, centuries ago, moved into the marshes, since tamed and turned into polders–onto which Amsterdam has been built–of the rivers Rhine, the Meuse, and the Scheldt, at the foot of the North Sea, southwest of Germany, and just east of England. But, now that I speak Dutch I notice often that I 'miss the mark' when at a store checking out with a cashier, or doing the same at a bank, or when ordering a sandwich at a deli; even if I say everything right in Dutch–as well as its pronunciation and syntax–if the recipient doesn't hear what's expected in the beginning and ending of a conversation (as in, the colloquial Dutch greets/goodbyes and the matching body language), it sort of throws the other off, quite a bit. Suddenly you're questionable. Or at least a bit different. And so the unwritten-unspoken codes of a language has more to do with putting people at ease, than it does to actually communicate anything. I usually leave these expected-sayings-and-movements out of my speech and interactions anyway, often because I don't know them fully or because I'll merge my American manners and use my Dutch language skills as a means to express those manners. But this is the same when I speak English. I am just being myself, why still being conscious of those around me, of course. It is very easy to fall into patterns, especially with, for instance, the supermarket check-out girls. 'Hello, Hello; Bonus card? Yes; Pin. Receipt? Yes; Thanks. Good weekend; You too, bye,' and so on. I find it much more fulfilling to, for instance, chat with the wonderful book-keepers of Boekhandel Mulder on the lovely Cornelis Schuytstraat in the Ou-Zuid, just below the Concertgebouw, or equally be sociable with the shop-keepers of the adjacent Organic food shop, whilst around to the east of the Concertgebouw, Renzo's employees too will take their time and listen to your mid-level Dutch, smile, and throw-out their Dutch right back. Quite quickly I'm learning that language can denote who's in and who's out; who belongs and who doesn't. And it's all interesting to take in fromt a native English perspective, with the skills to at the same time understand everything being said around me in Dutch. Fun! Language has played a key role in Europe's past, as it has in many societies; for status, rank, recognition... I imagine that my spoken Dutch is exotic, mysterious, semi-correct, and yet not quite the norm as those around me. That becomes overcome with time. It is fun to speak Dutch; the language suits me quite well.