Tag Archives: Amsterdam

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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A very short post about how I’ve challenged winter

Not yesterday sunset but equally breath taking

Not yesterday sunset but of equal beauty

So I decided that I had enough of this long cold winter. I had enough of having to work indoor, do yoga indoor and even tend to my chilli plants indoor.

Yesterday afternoon, I put on my neglected running shoes, my big thick hoodie and a pair of gloves. I headed to my park and I did 5K. I was out and about. I saw a gorgeous swan swimming along the canal. Sunset was breath taking and I was out to see it. It could have been better without the bitterly cold wind but I was fine. I was more than fine.

Today was still cold, so much that I had to use my blanket in the office again (Yep, I have my own blanket in the office but it is another story). Despite the cold and an ache in my thighs, I am so proud that I have challenged the winter. Today and probably tomorrow, winter is still gonna win over me. But I am no longer locked indoor. I am back to running. And when summer finally comes, maybe I do 10K. And Great North Run one day? Definitely!

My Amsterdam winter rant

I don’t swear in Vietnamese but I find it rather acceptable to swear in English. So here it is: It is so freaking cold today. My Lithuanian colleague would disagree with me here. She once said Amsterdam didn’t have a real winter. But by being Vietnamese, I think I have the right to rant whether this is a freaking real winter or not. It was so cold that I couldn’t feel my ears on the way back from work. I suspect that I felt my legs only thanks to cycling. I love cycling but it is much less fun in the winter, especially with the hundred canals around the city. Days get so short that no matter how early I leave work, I’ve got no chance to distinguish the beauty of the canals from the darkness. It is mostly dark when I leave home for work too. So all ones get from those canals are the risk of falling into one and the moisture that comes in the wind. What is worse, this country is so flat that the wind just blows all the way through it. Last Saturday, it was so windy that I didn’t dare to dream of cycling. I know the Dutch still cycles regardless but this is not a competition. I am just a tiny Vietnamese girl who can’t even swim.

Picture this: It’s New Year’s Eve (or early morning New Year’s Day to be precise). It felt like below 0 degree. We were leaving a pub in the Jordaan after quite a few drinks. The Jordaan is literally made up by canals and bridges that go over them. It was so cold and damp despite the tons of fireworks exploded earlier that night. My bf was cycling with me on the back. That 15-minute ride felt like a week. Well, I exaggerated it a bit. My point is that Amsterdam winter is too cold and too windy. Days are too short. Nights are too scary when one has nightmares of falling into a canal. Did I say that there are too many canals? And that I can’t swim?

Man, I think I start repeating myself here. I just feel like a rant can actually do me some good after a hard long day like today. A kind of meditation. My apologies if you love Amsterdam or if you are in a even colder place, like Finland. Don’t get me wrong. I am utterly in love with Amsterdam too. However, there were days when I wish I were in Hanoi, on my scooter to a street selling hot, spicy and tasty snails.

Amsterdam: one year on

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So I have been living in Amsterdam for a full year. It is long enough for me to get over some culture shocks like this one: Somebody told me that the grilled spicy chicken drumstick (that I was eating) looked disgusting so they rather stuck  to the usual boterhammen (two slices of bread, one slice of ham, one slice of yellow cheese) as they had yesterday and the day before that and so on…

The Dutch are normally quite short (verbally). While the English northerners that I know would use five extra words and three ah, uhm, well to hint that they are not crazily in love with something you offer them, the Dutch just don’t.

And they love sandwiches. Full stop. When I told a friend of mine, who is teaching me Dutch, that I don’t like eating bread, her reaction was like: “ But you are learning Dutch, you should like bread”. With what I learn in the last year, it actually makes sense.

I still do not like eating bread, but I started to get a grip on the language. I began to understand gossips around lunch table, or held a short conversation using only one or two English words here and there. Others still laugh at me speaking Dutch with my English accent, but I passed caring. Maybe it is time for them to get over it too because my accent is adorable, even without some surprising British-like sounds 😀

I joined the not-a-tourist club when I bought my own bike. I felt in love with cycling in Amsterdam straight away: the sense of freedom, the amazing view over canals, the breeze touching my sweaty back. I stubbornly cycled to work most days regardless that it was dark, cold and rainy more often than not. I dinged mindless tourists loudly when they wandered into my bike lane. I feel like I belong.