Today’s Dutch lesson involved polite conversation in everyday situations, like going to de bakker (bakery), de kapper (barber), een restaurant, and talking on de telefoon (telephone). As our Dutch teacher told us “The Dutch have a reputation of being rude, but this is not true, people just don’t hear the polite words the Dutch say.” At this point in my Dutch journey, the only polite word I know is “alstublieft”, which literally means “if you please”, and can also be used as “here you are”. This, of course, is the formal polite word (using ‘U’ in the middle, which is the Dutch formal “you”, and not borrowed from teenagers texting on their phones.). If you are talking to a friend or someone younger, you would instead say “alsjeblieft”, which means the same thing, but uses the Dutch “je” which is one of the informal “you”s (don’t get me started, as there are several ways to say “you” in Dutch: U, jij, je, and jullie).
Anyway, we learned today that in certain situations, “graag” can also mean please, as can the word “even”, or even “maar”. Technically, “graag” is please, while the others mean something else, but in certain connotations, they all essentially mean “please”. So, not only do I have to worry about which “you” to use, but now I have to worry about 5 different ways to say “please?” All in a language that has no word for “service”, so they just borrowed it from English.
In theory, I’m learning quite a bit of Dutch. In practice, I’ve learned none. When I’m in public and can anticipate the conversation, I can reply in Dutch. For instance, when going to Albert Heijn, I know the cashier will ask me first if I want a receipt, and second (sometimes) if I’d like a toy. I know to reply “Ja” to the first question, and “Nee” to the second. When greeting someone in the lobby of my apartment building, I know to say “Hallo”, “Morgen”, “Middag!”, “Avond”, or “Dag!” depending on what time of day it is. Even when going to a lunchroom, I know that in order to get a ham & cheese sandwich, I should say “Mag ik een tosti met ham en kaas?”, and that when the worker tells me “vijf euro vijf en tachtig”, that the total is Euro 5.85. What gets me is when people I’m not expecting to talk to me, do. The other day, I was bringing Churchill inside, and a couple had just walked into one of the elevators and said something involving the word “lift”, which I took to be them asking if they should hold the elevator for me. Being startled, I just replied “No, thank you”, rather than “Nee, bedankt”.
That shouldn’t be a problem though, right? Because what, only 95% of conversations are unscripted? Damn.