Monthly Archives: June 2015

The 7 Reasons To Learn Dutch Even If You Live In Amsterdam

You can truly get away with speaking only English in Amsterdam. I know a few who have lived here for more than 10 years and did not learn the language. They told me it has been fine.

Besides, Dutch is pretty tough to learn. There are rules of exception within standard rules. Then you also can argue that Dutch is not so useful because so few speak the language, especially outside this tiny country. It is nothing like learning Chinese, Spanish or French.

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So why should you bother? I can count 7 reasons.

1. If you want to talk with kids

While most adults can speak English impeccably, young kids often don’t. Now you would tell me that you are young and child-free. You mostly hang out with other twenty-somethings who also have no kids. So this does not apply to you at all. Fair point. But let me tell you this: So am I. I haven’t got any kids. Only one of my friends here is with kids. But I can even speak with them in Vietnamese, our mother tongue. So the problem is solved.

But one day, I was watering my plant pots on the balcony overlooking my neighbour’s garden. Two kids were playing there. I waved like I always do with kids. Mostly they would stare at me silently for a minute or so. These ones didn’t. They started to talk enthusiastically. They smiled and pointed at each others. I had not got a clue. I felt like a little kid myself, missing out on the playground because I didn’t know better.

My point is that you probably live here without speaking Dutch. But there will be so much more fun when you do speak the language. Don’t think about being able to read tax letter from the Belastingdienst or water bill from the Gemeente. Imagine the fun of surprising a stranger by speaking his language, or picture the time when you finally get the inner jokes.

2. Not to embarrass yourself by calling an Emergency Line by mistake

Answer machines are often in Dutch. So if you need to see a house doctor, you will need to get through the challenge of listening to options in Dutch and making the right choice. Don’t be like me when I pressed the number for an Emergency Line and got shouted at. The woman was in too much of a hurry so she spoke Dutch. I didn’t understand a thing but I could really feel the urgency and her being pissed. I only realised my mistake later when I came to the help of Google.

You can find yourself in embarrassing, awkward or even dangerous situations because you don’t speak, even a little, the language of the country you are living in.

 3. Feel less like a liability

You colleagues can all speak English very well, but still it must take some effort to speak a second language. I know it at least from my very own experience. I have been speaking English mainly for six years now, at work and at home. Yet it is not as effortless as speaking Vietnamese. I doubt it will ever be.

So when you notice that your colleagues switch back to Dutch as soon as you join a conversation on the other side of lunch table, you know you are a liability. Do you often feel guilty for making them do all the hard work? That is exactly how I’ve felt. I hate causing inconveniences for other people. So now I practice rolling my tongue and hurting my throat on a daily basis so I can speak good Dutch someday.

And the rest:

4.Eavesdropping

Knowing a language that others might think you don’t can be a great advantage. Even just for a laugh.

5. Don’t have to spend an hour for each letter sent by the Gemeente

Seriously, those hours can be much better spent in the park.

6. Befriend the fishmonger

So he will tell you about the catch of the day. Good food, good life.

7. Do not have to use Chrome

You don’t want to have Chrome translate all your sensitive details regarding internet banking and tax return, do you? Who know which part will be lost in translation, and which part the system will keep without telling you.

Basically, I don’t want to just get away with life. I want to live a life when I can learn about the people around me, make friends and be nice to my new friends. So I am learning Dutch.

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Berlin: ” It’s for me”

Berlin is a liberating city. There is a vibe of being young, free and creative. Here and there, half torn-down buildings and ill-lit alleys look kind of rough, but in a nice way. Yeah, that does not sound right, but it feels right.

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I am not saying that I really know the city. I was there only for an extended weekend. I didn’t even visit main attractions, or the outer west and north side of the city. I am sure there are places in Berlin that you should not wander about when you are alone at night. It is just like any other big cities. However, much a novice as I am, I found it hard to not love Berlin.

People are so very friendly and open

I’ve met and talked to so many strangers in Berlin. German and foreigners. The young and the old. The straight and the lesbians. The city dwellers and the town visitors. One thing in common: most are so open to having a conversation. I wonder if it’s the water (and the beer) there that brings out the friendliness. Mentioning the beer…

Beer is tasty and cheap

We tried a lot of beer in Berlin. From crafted bottles in a festival to the typical German one mentioned in The Life of Others. Somehow out of the so many types we’ve tried, none is bad and most are excellent. May the odds be always in our favour!

Prices are lower than of the similar ones you get in Amsterdam, which is a good start (with a potentially bad ending).

Graffiti, graffiti and graffiti

Along bridges over some underground stations. 20 metres off the ground by the window of a fifth-floor apartment. On the street. And most famously: East Side Gallery. It is the longest part of the Berlin wall that is still standing and reminding us of all the extreme. After the fall of the Wall, that standing stretch was painted by various artists for ten years, if I remember it right. You can find all styles of graffiti there. Some are abstract. Others are scarily real. Sadly, there is also work of vandalism. I never understand the ignorance and the vanity of ones who scribble their names on other people’s work.

A boy at East Side Gallery

All in all, I found the abundance of graffiti in every corner of Berlin thought-provoking. I don’t love all of them. But I can almost feel the freedom of the street artists. It must be really liberating.

What I’ve found in Brugge

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Brugge is a tourist town. Period.

That of course means a lot of tourists everywhere, at all times. In the two days in Brugge, I’ve counted a great deal of teenage boys and girls on school trips. I waved to many other fellow Asian travellers. I also saw two groups of the Russian-looking elderly at a break of dawn. And European families with selfie sticks!

In the touristic Brugge, most street fronts are dedicated to more or less four kinds of store.

The first group includes restaurants, bakeries, and food stores. Basically where you can find things to eat. And food in Brugges was amazing from my humble experience. In the 10 minute-walking radius with our airbnb at the centre, there are three Michelin star restaurants. Not that I tried any but it must count for something, right. Within the same distance, I found an amazing bakery, a high end organic food store stuffed with cheese, and a vibrant outdoor market. I swear I have found the best French ham and pâté there.

The second group includes bars and pubs. It’s where beer lovers like us hang out at night, or during the day even. The one night we spent in Brugge, my boyfriend and I found this place with a 15-cm thick beer menu. I could have drunk beer with all sorts of ingredients and in all sorts of glasses. Like, speculoos beer and a horn-shape glass, for example. It’s not at the same time though, they are classy beer drinkers in Belgium 😉

15-cm thick beer menu

The third one is beer shops, also for the like of us. Hundreds and thousands of bottles. Some cost up to 20 euros per bottle. There, you can find the best of those famous Trappist beer brewed by monks. I love Trappist’s dark and deep taste, like down in the abbey I guess 😀

Last but not least, it’s all round favourite: chocolate. There are chocolate shops on the main streets door by door. On a hidden corner, down by the canal, behind the church — you name it and you will most likely find a chocolate shop. My boyfriend bought a little ducky for my 18-month old nephew. He is not two yet, and he already expresses quite a love for chocolate.

So here you go. If you like to drink beer, eat good food and nibble on chocolate, you should definitely visit Brugge. If you are into architecture, do go as well. Don’t leave without checking the Church of Our Lady, please. It is so beautiful.

I don’t know if I would go back to Brugge. Not that I don’t like the city. I love it. But all the surface has been polished up for the tourists. I found it so hard to see underneath and find the connection. Maybe if I have stayed longer…