I thought learning Dutch would be much easier once I moved here. I figured that I would be surrounded by the language, and therefore start to pick it up naturally. That has happened to some extent, but not what I had envisioned. For example, when boarding a bus or tram, upon swiping my chipkaart, the reader says “Goede reis”, which I’ve learned means “Have a good trip.” When I see a “geldautomaat” sign, I know that means ATM (literally translated, it means “cash machine”. However, the immersion of Dutch that I had expected has not materialized.
I work from home, for a US-based company, meaning I correspond with Americans all day long, and occasionally a Brit. I watch American TV shows, such as Two and a Half Men, Big Bang Theory, Modern Family, Scrubs, and House. I listen to the same music that I did in America, either by streaming my favorite radio station back home, or listening to Pandora.
My wife has the same problem. While she does work in an office, she deals with people from the UK over the phone. This means all day long when she talks money, she is talking about the British Pound. Add this to almost 30 years of living with the American Dollar, and she frequently messes up when talking about how much something costs when we’re at the store. She’s always forgetting that everything is in Euros here. And of course, Europeans flip the . and , in numbers. What Americans would write as $100,250.99, the Dutch write as €100.250,99.
While Euros may not trip me up, dates do. Today is February 3rd, 2011, written American style, or 2/3/11 in shortform American. European style is to reverse the month and day, making today 3/2/11. This always gets me. I was at the grocery store the other day buying milk, and all the cartons were stamped with expiration dates of 12/3. For a second, my brain wondered why all the milk had expired almost 2 months ago, in December, before remembering that actually means February 12th. To further confuse things, the Dutch don’t use ordinals when giving dates verbally. Where I would say “February 12th,” they simply say “12 februari”. Evidently ordinals cause problems for Dutch-speakers learning English, as Dutch ordinals are simple: the number, followed by e. For example, first (or ‘eerste’ in Dutch) is written 1e, second (‘tweede’) is 2e, etc. In English, this is 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc. Sometimes the Dutch mess this up and will write “2st” or “3st”.
Whatever the reason, there exists the slim possibility that a local grocery store will accidentally leave out a carton of milk that is months past its prime, that I will mistakenly grab off the shelf, which my wife will think costs $1.05.