Learning Dutch

Palace Gardens (Or: The last embrace of summer?)

The Netherlands is enjoying a last minute fling with summer today, with temperatures over 80F. Doesn’t sound like a lot, but here it is! I decided to take a stroll over to the Palace Gardens, which I’ve already blogged about a few times over the years (2012 and 2016).

Palace Gardens / Paleistuin in The Hague

It was lovely to sit in the sun and just read a book. Today I started a book by Neil Gaiman – The ocean at the end of the lane or De oceaan aan het einde van het pad in Dutch, as that was the language I was reading it in. It’s about a man who goes back to where he lived as a child to attend a funeral. While there he gets lost in his memories of his childhood.

One interesting and unexpected thing was that the book begins with a preface which reads “Ik schrijf in mijn eigen taal. Dat is Engels. Ik ben er erg dol op. Het is een goede, soepel taal, waarin ik kan uitdrukken wat ik te zeggen heb. …” Or, translated: “I write in my own language. That is English. I am very fond of it. It’s a good, flexible language where I can express what I need to say.”

I thought that was quite strange, and wondered if that preface was in every version of the book. But no, he goes on to say that his sister-in-law lives in Utrecht (a city in central Netherlands) and he brings his family to the Netherlands as often as he can to visit. He goes on to say that you don’t need an English/American upbringing to read this book, and since it is now translated into Dutch you can read it too (of course the preface was translated as well, since he doesn’t speak Dutch). Kind of cool.

The only small downside to going to a park to read is that sometimes you can get distracted and not be able to focus on the story. Especially when what you are trying to read isn’t in your native language… When I arrived, I chose a nice sunny bench, at the end to give others plenty of room to also sit down (the benches generally fit three adults). I’m at the far left, with no benches to my left. To my right, there are another three benches, all grouped right next to each other.

After a while, a man sat down on the other end of the bench I was at. No problem at all; he was just watching his kid. About five minutes later a woman sits down next to him, so I promptly and politely moved my backpack to the ground so she definitely had enough room. And then they began to talk. Argh.

Oddly enough, I had no problem when the conversations happening were at the next bench (about five feet away), but one foot away was a bit much. Especially since they were tourists speaking English, which meant hearing one language and reading another. I was pondering my options – 1) suck it up and keep reading 2) go find another bench 3) leave. But after a few minutes they all got up and left. Yay.

So I kept reading, having a personal goal of getting to 100 pages. I did that, and was at page 103 when two more people sat down at “my” bench with a few other folks in their group standing around them. And they began to talk loudly. Arghhhh again. This time I gave up – I was past my goal anyway – put my bookmark in place, stood up and left immediately.

I don’t know. Maybe I expect too much. It is a communal park after all. 🙂

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Pizza dough (Or: Is it really pancakes…?)

Here’s an example of things that can be very confusing for non-native speakers:

So the top blue arrow points to the description Mix voor Pizzabodem or Mix for pizza dough in English. So we’re making pizza…

…but the second blue arrow says that the prepared product will make about 20 pancakes. What? It’s just logical enough that it could work – here’s a Dutch recipe for pizzas made with pancake batter. But still, it doesn’t seem right…

I’ve asked a few Dutchies and they all think it is a typo. What do you think?

Categories: Everyday purchases, Food, Reading | 3 Comments

Wabi Sabi (Or: Reading on a rainy day)

The weather here has been absolutely dreadful. Monday morning I made the mistake of wearing my lighter jacket, not realizing how bad the wind would be. With the windchill, it was about 0C/32F. Brrrr! I made coffee the second I got home, let me tell you. And now it’s Wednesday. The weather is a tiny bit better, but not really. It’s still cold, windy and rainy.

One fun thing to do on days like this is to read. My current Dutch novel is Wabi-Sabi by Francesc Miralles. Wabi-sabi is a Japanese philosophy of accepting your imperfections and making the most of your life. But that’s not why I grabbed the book. I grabbed it because it starts with a cat!


One note about the various editions: the Dutch version I am reading seems to be two books in one, totaling around 400 pages. If you’re instead reading it in English, you should look for Love in Lowercase to read the first half. Let me tell you: if the book had that title and this book cover instead I wouldn’t have given it a try. I am not big on romances.

But to me, I just saw the cat. Which is funny, since I am not a big cat person. I tolerate them, of course. I think they are darn cute. I love how soft they feel to the touch. But I don’t really trust that they won’t go berserk at a moment’s notice and claw me for no reason. I love reading about them, though. Also try The Guest Cat by Takeshi Hiraide.

This book is pretty easy to read in Dutch. The font size is big enough (not any of that annoying fine print sized font) and the author has a habit of writing 3-4 page chapters. You won’t hear me complaining about that. I do remember one time I found a book in Dutch online, thinking it would be a great read. I checked it out from the library without opening it until I got home. Imagine my disappointment when I saw the abysmal font size and the lack of paragraph breaks (seriously, I found a page with no paragraph break on either the left OR the right side). That one quickly went back to the library unread.

Anyway: the theme of this book so far is sort of the butterfly effect (an idea that a small change can cause something much bigger to happen). The cat stops by, and ends up staying. Because of that, the main character meets his next door neighbor, ends up going to the vet, sees a love he thought he’d never see again, etc. It’s very enjoyable so far.

Ah, and it’s raining again.

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Heel Holland Bakt (Or: Season finale tonight!)

One of my guilty pleasures when it comes to Dutch television programming is Heel Holland Bakt which translates to ‘All of The Netherlands bakes’. Yeah, it sounds better in Dutch…

It is a cooking competition held outside in a tent. The format is a spin off of the UK’s The Great British Bake Off and there are actually many international variants of the program. There was even an American version… for a total of seven episodes. Yikes.

2018-2019 candidates

Actually, Heel Holland Bakt is one of the few weekly Dutch shows that I watch outside of the news programs. Of course when I moved to the Netherlands I watched a lot of television to learn Dutch, but not so much anymore. Don’t get me wrong – half the time the TV is set to some Dutch thing or another (F1 racing is pretty cool when Max Verstappen hasn’t totaled his car in pure anger), but I don’t watch anything with same amount of regularity that I watch Heel Holland Bakt.

One of the highlights of the show is the Dutch comedian André van Duin who presents the show alongside its two judges. I tend to like his style of comedy, and his Dutch is pretty easy to understand. There’s exceptions of course, and I do find myself sometimes turning up the volume a bit too high to understand some references, but it is generally easy enough to follow along.

This season also had two interesting threads to follow: 1) Cas, who has a hearing impairment and 2) the controversy surrounding Maroeska, who may or may not be an amateur baker.

When Cas was selected for the competition he brought along a sign language interpreter (by the name of Wieke) to translate everything. The only question I had was why she would sign everything, even when he wasn’t looking at her. But it turns out that was the agreement the two of them made – sign everything, just in case. You can read an interesting article in Dutch about Cas, Wieke and their experiences here (if you’re caught up).

The other contestant that got a lot of reactions was Maroeska, who has received a ton of criticism in the news and on Twitter because she has in the past written a cookbook and had a catering company. The question is whether or not either of those things disqualify you from joining Heel Holland Bakt because you can’t be considered an amateur. I don’t have an opinion either way – especially in this era of easy self-publishing when anyone can publish a cookbook! – but I do think the criticism has gone too far. It’s a pity.

All in all, it’s been a fun show to watch. I will miss Heel Holland Bakt. And I might have to look up André van Duin in some of his other work.

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Dutch reads (Or: What have I read in Dutch in 2018?)

2018 was definitely the year of reading for me. In total I finished 19 books in Dutch and 11 books in English. Thanks in part to a re-read of the Harry Potter series, I must admit. The Dutch translations clock in at just over 3,000 pages for seven books!

Haruki Murakami’s Killing Commendatore. Also a hefty read, it came in at just over 1,000 pages for the Dutch translation and was thus split into two parts. The best part? The Dutch translations were released in December 2017 and January 2018, whereas the English translation was not released until October 2018. One of those times knowing another language besides English has been beneficial for reading.

Continue reading
Categories: Reading | Tags: | 2 Comments

Hmm (Or: How do I spell 1,000 posts?)

I can’t believe it, but this blog has hit 1,000 posts! And what better way to celebrate that than with some pictures of a recent (unrelated) gift I received?

Snelspelwijzer from Onze Taal, with postcard

Snelspelwijzer, from Onze Taal (Quick spelling guide). And one very colorful postcard!

The gift came from my old language coach (from SamenSpraak) who I still see on a regular basis. If you’re wanting help with your Dutch, I can’t recommend SamenSpraak enough. Here in The Hague there is a monthly meet up, the first Wednesday of every month. It meets in the central library’s café. You can also get paired with a volunteer language coach and meet up as often as you both wish. Once a week, every 2 weeks, and similar. If you’re in Den Haag I recommend first dropping by the café to see what the group is all about, but you don’t have to do so. Back in 2014 I went to three café meet ups before I signed up to be paired with a coach, but that’s just me.

Link for information about the SamenSpraak café

Form to request being paired with a language coach/volunteer

Snelspelwijzer from Onze Taal

A look inside the book

The section above is Klinkerbotsing in samenstellingen or ‘Vowel collision in compound words’. The chapter is about hyphen usage. The rule here is basically that if a compound word, and the first word ends in a vowel and the second word begins with a vowel, you need to join the two words with a hyphen. Example: foto-expositie (photo exhibition).

I predict Marco will hear some rather geeky grammar things in the near future.

But until then… onward to the next 1,000 posts!

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Another lazy library day (Or: On to the next book)

What can I say? Sitting in the library café in the morning sipping an iced coffee is the best.

Reading Haruki Murakami at the library

A lovely Saturday morning at the library

This morning I finished part 2 of Haruki Murakami’s Killing Commendatorea book first mentioned in the last post. It is about a painter, estranged from his wife and temporarily living in an old house in the mountains as its caretaker. The original owner, famed painter Amada Tomohiko, suffers from dementia and resides in a nursing home.

The story unfolds with the ringing of a bell… the simple ringing of a bell. Somehow ringing from beneath a burial mound, beneath countless immovable rocks, at the edge of an old shrine. But when the bell is dug up by the narrator and his rich neighbor, strange events begin to occur and Amada Tomohiko’s past is uncovered, bit by bit. Sweeping the narrator up in its wake.

Categories: Reading | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Days off (Or: Musings in the library)

This past Friday was my birthday. And what better way to celebrate that then taking the day off from work? I am currently in the middle of reading Haruki Murakami’s Killing Commendatore, a novel published over two volumes (about 500 pages each!).

Thus Friday morning was a treat to myself: I went to the central library, ordered an iced coffee, and sat down in the café to read the second volume. In Dutch.

Two reasons that I mention that it was in Dutch:

  1. For some reason this novel won’t be released in English until October. Part 1 has been out since November in Dutch, and part two has been out since January. It’s crazy (but cool) to know you are reading something — and can read something — that hasn’t even been released in English yet.
  2. At some point during the morning I realized that there was a conversation going on to the right of me, at another table. Two women were talking in a mixture of Dutch and English, but since I had my headphones in I hadn’t realized right away. After a few minutes and based on the content of the conversation, I realized that it was probably a taalcoach and taalmaatje (language coach and student) from SamenSpraak.

And it was at that moment when I realized I have come a long way in the last five years, from barely knowing any Dutch to being 700 pages into what is effectively a 1,000+ page novel.

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Eye-catching (Or: Photos from Amsterdam)

As mentioned in my previous blog post, Marco and I were in Amsterdam last week to celebrate our four year wedding anniversary. And I have more photos to share! Here is a look at the EYE Film Museum, taken from across the river IJ.

EYE Film museum in Amsterdam, from across the river, Sept 2017

It is the national museum of film, containing over 40,000 films, from classics to modern film. Their website states that there are four cinemas, an exhibition space, a floor reserved for educational activities, a store and a bar-restaurant. They also host film-related programs and debates.

Royal Palace in Amsterdam, Sept 2017

A look at the Royal Palace of Amsterdam, also in the heart of the city

Royal Palace Amsterdam - other side, Sept 2017

The lesser photographed “back side” of the building, including a 6 meter tall statue of Atlas carrying the globe on his shoulders

What are you reading board in American Book Center in Amsterdam, Sept 2017

And finally, the “What are you reading?” board in the American Book Center.

What am I reading right now? Open kaart, by Brenno de Winter. It’s a book about the OV-chipkaart system in the Netherlands, or the card used to travel on public transportation throughout the country. Specifically the book covers the historical security issues as detailed on Wikipedia, mostly related to how easy the card was to hack in the beginning. It sounds dry but it is a fun read… if you’re into that sort of thing, of course!

Categories: Amsterdam, Marco&Niki, Reading | Tags: | Leave a comment

Random reads (Or: An exercise in Dutch)

Last month I posted my reading list for th first half of 2016. So far, July is going even better! I have read about 560 pages (around 18 a day, but I have a hard time sitting down and reading on a daily basis so it is much more varied than that).

Here is a look at some of the books I’ve read in Dutch (or am reading) this month:

1) Never let me go (Laat me nooit alleen) by Kazuo Ishiguro (English | Dutch), a dystopian science fiction novel which follows the lives of three students at a boarding school. But these students (and their classmates) are in fact clones, raised for the sole purpose of providing organs to others once they graduate.

2) The guest cat (De kat) by Takashi Hiraide (English | Dutch), a short book (~160 pages) about a cat who visits a young, work-at-home couple on a daily basis. Free to come and go as he pleases, the cat quickly becomes the centerpiece of their lives, even though he is only a guest.

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3) Player One (Speler een) by Douglas Coupland (English | Dutch). I just started this one. It follows four people at airport bar over 5 hours as a worldwide disaster begins outside — Karen, who waits on a perspective internet date; Rick, a bartender who no longer drinks; Luke, a pastor who fled with his church’s savings; Rachel, who has trouble connecting with others; and a mysterious voice known only as “Player One”.

4) The Dog Stars (De Hondsster) by Peter Heller (English | Dutch). I haven’t started this one yet. “Hig somehow survived the flu pandemic that killed everyone he knows. Now his wife is gone, his friends are dead, and he lives in the hangar of a small abandoned airport with his dog, Jasper, and a mercurial, gun-toting misanthrope named Bangley.” Hmmm….

And on to August!

Categories: Reading, The Hague | Tags: | 2 Comments

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