Friday, February 7, 2014

Three Dutch Geese:


Two weeks ago I happened to visit the Rijksmuseum no less than four separate times. One of my favorite places in the museum that requires no entry ticket, is the bookshop obverse the café. Postcards and folded cards can be purchased for but a few Euros, and countless books that attempt to decipher the artworks that compose the museum's treasured collection line the bookshelves. On the last of my four visits that week, I cycled, parked my bike outside, near the lovely formal gardens at the museum's rear, and proceeded to–as if in a trance–walk toward the entry. My mission was simple: during one of my earlier visits I happened upon a book that would, I deduced, assist me in describing the components of 'art' with a bit more scholasticism. While walking toward the museum I happened to be listening to a wonderful podcast on design, which just so happened to be in English. Thus, I was 'in an English state of mind'. Upon descending the stairs to the bookshop's lower level, I searched for the book–headphones in ear, podcast still playing–yet I couldn't find it. The gentleman behind the counter was unoccupied by other customers, looked friendly enough, and so I proceeded to approach him, took out my headphones, and asked if he might be able to assist me in locating my desired volume. Upon opening my mouth–being in an English state of mind–I politely asked if this man knew if the book I was searching for was still in stock; I asked in English. He politely replied, 'Yes, but it's in Dutch.' As was expected. I replied, 'That's ok; I speak Dutch too.' At which point I heard a nearby voice, which came from about 2 m behind my left shoulder, extort, with slight resentfulness: 'Tschja. Waarom vraagt je het in het Engles?' Which translates to: 'Yeah ok (say it as if you are confused). Then why did you ask it in English?' Shocked, bewildered, and incredibility perplexed as to why someone would have the audacity to join in my conversation with the bookshop's employee, I quickly pivoted and saw a mid-50s Dutch woman standing very near; close enough to eavesdrop. Quite unsure of what, exactly, gave her the confidence to join my conversation and question my reasoning for speaking English rather than Dutch, I stumbled for what felt like a half a second, composed myself from the shock of her abrasiveness, and proceeded to ask, in perfect Dutch: 'Ik vind het heel interessant waarom je vroeg me dat.' (I find it very interesting why you asked me that.) Her jaw hit the floor and she quickly motioned to her friend, who was, unbeknownst to me, standing in front of the same bookshelves I was just searching through. What was this woman expecting? What gave her permission to castigate me for–incidentally–speaking English rather than Dutch? The whole exchange was rather insightful into the status of foreigners, and their subsequent acceptance, by those who were born in the Netherlands. On Monday I applied for Dutch citizenship. If only she knew that.