It’s widely spoken and understood, but still, English can’t always be the universal language. And although the Dutch are famous for their English proficiency, there are some moments where you think really wish you’d be able to speak Dutch.
1. Any international’s nightmare: the hairdresser
Let’s start with our toughest crusader, ladies and gentlemen: the kapsalon. Or the ultimate spot for miscommunication. Getting lost in translation is what hairdressers all over the world do best, so our precious locks can easily get messy when adding the Dutch language factor into the mix.
Oh, and pro-tip. Treatwell can help you find a decent salon where they speak at least a bit of English, which might make your haircut more of a succes!
2. The crown jewel of Dutch bureaucracy: the tax office
Be-Las-Ting-Dienst (repeat that 30 times), aka the national tax services, can also offer daunting experiences to any non-Dutch speaker. It’s confusing, risky, and frustrating at the same time
Life-saving tip: call the English-speaking line directly, to avoid that cringing « Yes m’am, I can speak English, but I’m legally not allowed to ». True story. But let’s not get too into the topic of customer service related conversation in the Dutch red tape culture (or shall i say orange tape?). It’ll just take too long.
3. Eavesdropping at cafés
It might be rude, but we all do it. Eavesdropping on people at cafés is one of the most entertaining things you can do — if you speak the language.
Because even if Onno, Menno, Remco and co are probably talking a lot of crap in them Bruincafés (I have a genuine strange fascination for them, I mean, the bruincafés), admit it, you too were burning to know what this chaotic “hzoeifhogzeiHFozihefozefg” was all about.
4. The sketchy art of ordering food
To the great frustration of many non-Dutch speakers, restaurant menus are sometimes poorly translated. But who even cares about the difference between kapsalon (the food) and kapsalon (the hairdresser) anyways?
Another puzzling thing can be realising that your Dutch-speaking mates have many more lekker options to decide between on the menu …
5. Staying up to date on the Dutch goss’
Foreign magazines are such a rip-off! Let’s become fluent in Dutch, and kill two birds in one stone by saving money in any possible way, and staying up to date on the most recent lowlands gossip out there.
6. Dutch speakers only
When going through the dramatic nightmare of looking for a decent room, or a nice apartment in the Netherlands, most internationals can relate to this situation. Everything is looking fine, but then, the ad says (right at the bottom, just to keep you on your toes till the very end) «Dutch speakers only». Ouch.
7. To talk back is an art form
Whenever some crazy fietsdriver shouts some outrageous blablabla insults, it can be very frustrating not knowing how to reply in true local style. I’m afraid my pre-school level Dutch didn’t get me very far, that one time I tried insulting a cyclist. Swearwords are actually useful sometimes!
READ MORE | The top 16 free ways to learn Dutch
8. How’s your Dutch going?
Who isn’t just so sick of that uncle/friend/ex/insert-annoying-person-here, who, while on a relaxing vacation in your home country, always decides to publically lash out the lethally embarrassing “so, how’s your Dutch going? You’ve been there for a while now, haven’t you?”. Grrrrrr
9. Crucial info alert
Dutch streets, cafés, and websites are full of, well, stuff in Dutch. Needless to say, there are countless times when a bit of Dutch knowledge can come in handy, like that time my pants learned (the hard way) that what the neighbours’ sign actually meant was “wet paint”.
10. I swear I’m funny in my native language
You’re still trying to understand that Dutch joke you heard the other day at lunch, aren’t you? Or the crunchy parts of that episode of Dagboek van een call girl (zonder subtitles, natuurlijk)? It’s not easy being funny, or understanding funny things, in a language you don’t speak, especially not in the Netherlands, with their very peculiar sense of humour…
11. Some secrets will stay secrets forever
Whatever your significant other said in their sleep will remain gone in the drain of the unknown. Even google translate won’t save the day, since you can’t even reproduce their combination of sounds, nor figure out how to spell it. Sigh.
Boy, if only dictionaries were edible and the word flow would come on its own, all the way up to our brain… Keep on munching that Gouda, you never know.
But at the end of the day: don’t worry if Dutch words sound strange, or don’t roll off the tongue naturally. These things take time, and you can learn Dutch if you really want to.
What do you think: is it necessary to learn Dutch if you want to work/live in the Netherlands? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in August 2015, and was fully updated in August 2022, for your reading pleasure.