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A different language


I was trying to say "moeilijk," or "difficult," in Dutch. In fact, I was talking about how difficult it is to learn Dutch — because Dutch people speak English.

What came out was "muy dificil." That's Spanish. It means "very difficult." The first syllable is the same—to my ear anyhow.

I've had a primal instinct in Dutch cafes to speak Spanish when saying thank you and goodbye. I haven't actually done it, or at least not audibly. But several times I've had the impulse to say "gracias," and "adios" or "hasta luego." In Dutch, it's "dank u wel" or "bedankt"— and "doei" or "tot ziens."

The last time I had to speak a different language was in Spain, when I lived in Seville from December 2000 to June '01. There, I had to learn some Spanish, working and meeting friends in that language.

Before that, I was in Amsterdam for seven months. Almost everybody speaks English in Amsterdam — almost as a first language, it sometimes seems (at least if you look or sound like a visitor.)

After Spain, I was in Ireland for more than 2 ½ years. I had to learn some variations of the English idiom, but that was none too taxing. Now, Autumn 2003, I've been back in Holland for a month.

I say "back in Holland," but the reason that I'm in this country now is no consequence of my stay in Amsterdam. Now, I'm living in Nijmegen because I met Kim, a Nijmeegse vrouw, in Ireland.

So, here I am, a few years later, and I find that Dutch is the language I must learn. Strange.

—Autumn 2003
Nijmegen, The Netherlands