How to really integrate into Dutch society
I hope that as you read this that you’re sitting down as the Shallow Man will do something different with this post. Today, on this very page, I’m going to be serious. I’ve recently written two posts on how to fit into Dutch society. Both were somewhat tongue in cheek and laced with the usual amounts of Shallow Man sarcasm. However, this morning I received the following message from a reader. “Shallow Man, I’ve enjoyed your recent posts about how to fit into Dutch society and have laughed out loud a few times. You’ve lived in the Netherlands for ten years now, do you have any real advice on how to best integrate with the Dutch? It’s not easy and I’m sure you’ve got some good advice for those of us that would like to but don’t know how.”
This message made me think. It’s easy to take things for granted, but I do recall how it was when I first arrived in Amsterdam, so the Shallow Man just this once will attempt to provide sarcasm free advice on how really integrate into Dutch society.
People often ask me, “Shallow Man, how did you learn Dutch? Well, I learned it mainly in bed with a Dutch girlfriend. This led to some embarrassment at the bakers on Saturday mornings. Een gesneden brood, je geile sletje”
My fellow expats. I know that your job only requires you to speak English. You moved here with your partner so speak your native language (or like many people in long term relationships don’t speak at all and are sitting quietly hoping for death as soon as possible) at home, and everyone here speaks to you in English. You don’t have much to do with the Dutch at all, they remain a mystery to you. I agree with you that it’s very easy to live here without speaking Dutch. Like a footballer’s girlfriend, you’re living the good life.
If you think that life is good now, I can’t begin to tell you how much better it would be if you actually spoke Dutch. Yes many of them speak very good English, but you can only really get to know someone properly when they speak to you in their native tongue. Language is the key to true integration. The Dutch, when they meet an English speaker, often have a single-minded stubbornness to refuse to speak their language. They will look you in the eyes and keep speaking English even if you ask them politely to speak Dutch. It’s infuriating! I’ve sat in a cafe and spoken Dutch to the waitress, who in turn ignored this completely and answered every question I posed to her in English. I wanted to force her to get her hair styled, that’s how angry I was.
Never give up on practising your Dutch
Take a Dutch course, it’s a great way of meeting new people. Practising the language, if you live in Amsterdam is going to be very difficult, however, like Wesley Sneijder’s girlfriend, when she was pursuing him, persevere. Never lose sight of your goal. My own experience is that in other parts of the country it’s much easier to get the Dutch to speak their own language to a foreigner. I was quite shocked the first time I was in Maastricht when I ordered something in Dutch and was answered in the same language. One could conclude from this that Amsterdammers like to show off more, but I wouldn’t dare to say such a thing.
If people continue speaking to you in English when you attempt to speak Dutch, ignore them and carry on speaking Dutch. They might actually get the hint. I’m pleased to say that the staff of the Shallow Man’s favourite eetcafe De Duvel, recently stopped speaking English with me and only communicate with me in Dutch. The same has happened at my local grocers and even the slightly confused looking ladies behind the till of the Albert Heijn in Maasstraat now speak Dutch with me. Progress at last.
Tips on how to increase your Dutch vocabulary
Watch Dutch TV. If you have Netflix they have some Dutch shows with Dutch subtitles. Always when you watch Dutch shows, put the subtitles on if they are available. This really helps deal with the problems of accents. If Dutch people come from Friesland or Limburg, it will be difficult to follow their accents without them.
Shallow Man tips for improving your vocabulary
Yes, the stories can be somewhat far fetched. I’m sure that actual police officers are not allowed to take their guns home from work to clean them. I’m also convinced that if any serving policeman or woman was to have shot and killed the number of people as some of the characters in this show that they’d be serving long prison sentences. One of the main characters in the show has been raped, had her husband killed in revenge, injected with LSD which led her to lose her baby, but she’s hardly had a day off sick and still continues serving as a policewoman as if nothing happened. It’s still a great show, very exciting and an entertaining way of learning the Dutch language.
From Russia with Love
Hilarious Dutch reality TV, about naive Dutch men who are unable to attract women here, so take the easy option of importing gold diggers from the former eastern bloc.
Not much goes on in this country, so the news has a habit of going round in a loop, like a current affairs version of groundhog day. However, the chaps at NOS speak posh Dutch. Algemeen Beschaafd Nederlands. Watching this will also enable you to shock Dutch people who assume that you have no idea about Dutch politics or current affairs.
Goede tijden slechte tijden. Pretty pouting people whose heads are emptier than the former KPMG headquarters in Amstelveen. This show is aimed at pre-pubescent teenagers and housewives in Texel. It’s written by interns that have had way too much coffee. The storylines make little sense, but the level of Dutch used is easier than a Dutch lady on her second tinder date.
Hotter than my daughter
Gordon, a member of a terrorist organisation known as toppers, presents this hilarious reality show about older women who dress as if they are applying for a job in a red light district window. As well as making the Shallow Man laugh until tears were running down his face, the subjects of this show are not the brightest light bulbs in the box, so they speak very simple Dutch.
Read Het Parool or the AT5.nl website
Reading Dutch is a great way to learn the language. NU.nl is also pretty good. Try and make a point of reading a Dutch website at least once a day.
You’re learning the language what next?
If you’ve followed my advice, you should now be able to impress the locals, with your knowledge of current affairs and who is having affairs in GTST. You can also make comments about the hideous woman from hotter than my daughter and discuss the latest cliffhanger in Flikken Maastricht. The language is a key, that will allow you to open doors. Expats, just think the next time you’re at a bar and a loud pushy Dutch woman shouts at you “HOW ABOUT YOUR DUTCH?” You can politely say to her “je bent vervelend, hou je bek!” She’ll be impressed at your grasp of posh Dutch and will give you her number faster than a Dutch taxi driver tampering with the meter when he hears an English accent.
The rest is up to you. Speaking Dutch will open doors (and legs) I agree that career wise it’s not exactly going to have much use for you on the global stage, but the quality of your life in the Netherlands will be so much better if you can understand what’s going on around you.
The Shallow Man may have failed in his stated objective of remaining serious, but the advice is well meant. Learn Dutch and everyday life will be much easier here.
Good article, I’m a dutchguy living in nz at the moment. The girl I’m seeing here comes from Cambridge, England, she lived in Amsterdam for a year and is always telling me how hard it is to get really close with dutch people if you just speak English. Apparently Dutch people also: are Direct, are rude, are attractive, they have a weird sense of humor and are hard to figure out. If she ever descides to live in the Netherlands I’ll make Sure she reads these tips. Good work
Thanks a lot.