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Refusing to speak English


A frustration in Holland

I got a little exasperated with a Dutch person today. I usually try not to do that; and if I do get upset, I try to work against the impulse. This guy was a little too much, though, and I wasn't in the mood for it.

I had a head-cold, and that's probably not a good time to be trying to get service from a Dutch person determined not to give it.

I was running some errands, and was in the hardware store. Waiting on queue with a bit of wood-glue and a small brush, I saw a sign over by the main door: Sleutels — keys.

I needed a key cut, so when I got to the top of the queue, I asked. I held up the key that I'd had in my pocket and asked "Mag ik een kopie?"

"Kapie?" he asked. (The sound was slightly different, if at all, and probably not even a Dutch word.*)

"Kopie." I said, holding the key up a little more pointedly before his face. "Ja of nee?"

He mumbled something unintelligible. I just gave up, and said "deze," pushing the bottle and brush across the counter.

He sent me, with a pricing slip in duplicate, toward the cash register. While I was there, he followed the next customer across the room, and as I went out the front door, he was behind the key-cutting desk right there. He was making a copy of a key.

I said, quietly but directly to him, "f*cking idiot."

He just looked at me. He would, too. Dutch people "win" when you curse at them.

—Autumn 2003. Nijmegen, The Netherlands

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* A reader in December 2009 suggested that maybe the listener had thought I'd said "kappie." I looked up this word in Google Translate, and got "skipper." So the guy might have heard me say a real word that I did not intend, and which did not make any sense in the context.

(And thanks to that reader for the link to the image of the sleutels) ...

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