Working from home as I do, I have limited interaction with the Dutch people. Mostly, I have brief conversations with them when I take Churchill outside for a walk. These conversations usually involve his gender and age, and sometimes what breeds he is (German Shepard, Border Collie, with maybe a bit of Chow). They usually start in Dutch, and invariably switch to English as the other person realizes I’m not a native speaker of Nederlands.
I have noticed that many people, upon getting within about 20 feet from Churchill and I, will stop and ask what gender he is. Upon being informed that he is male, some are happy to let the dogs greet each other, while other people will pull their dogs away and move on. This was always curious to me, as I don’t really care what gender other dogs are. At first, I thought perhaps these people thought Churchill would be aggressive since he’s male. The truth is, he doesn’t have an aggressive bone in his body. If anything, he’s too friendly. Then, I started to wonder if perhaps spaying and neutering pets wasn’t as prevalent here as it is in the US.
My thesis was tested a few weeks ago when, late one night walking with Churchill, we encountered an older lady walking her dog. As she got close, she inquired as to his gender, asking “Is hij a jongen?” (Is he a boy?). I replied yes, and she started to pull her dog away. Thinking she was afraid of him being aggressive, I said “Hij is goede.” (He is good). She furrowed her brow and cocked her head to one side in a look of confusion, ironically quite similar to the way Churchill looks when he is confused. Obviously, she didn’t understand why I was saying he was good. I then tried to ease her worry about him possibly impregnating her dog, but realized I lacked the proper Dutch vocabulary. I tried in English, “He has been neutered.” She only tilted her head more, before saying “Sorry?” I tried as best I could in Dutch, “Hij kan geen kinderen hebben” (He can not have kids). This apparently didn’t register with her either. At this point, I should have given up, but the though briefly occurred to me to try to use Charades to get my meaning across. Luckily, I realized there were 2 possible outcomes from this: 1) She understands, our dogs sniff each other for 10 seconds, and we move on. 2) I try to pantomime the action of a dog having his balls chopped off, she calls the police, and I have a rather uncomfortable conversation with them. I just smiled, said “Sorry, goede avond.” (Sorry, have a good evening), and walked home.
Sometimes, some situations are just too obscure to prepare for.