Edition 20 June 2017, by Jeroen Spangenberg
The low lands, Pay-Bas, the country with dikes and dams, the country between England, France and Germany, is a country with an outward look. The Dutchies are famous for their good English and some Dutchies that paid attention in school even speak French and German.
If you are an expat living in the Netherlands and working here it might seem that it is not utterly necessary to learn Dutch since even the baker and Jan the plumber speak English. Most likely they speak so good English because our movies are subtitled and we don’t have strange voice-overs that turn Arnold Schwarzenegger into a French person. Also, on the radio most music is in English. English education also starts at an early age in the Netherlands.
Most foreigners have problems with Dutch due to the hard sound of the G. Pronouncing Dutch words with the hard G or the letter combination Sch, for example Scheveningen, sounds like a false violin irritating the ear. The Belgians speak Dutch with a more softer G and some might prefer Flamish over Dutch. Although the G is difficult to pronounce, when you have found your partner here, the Dutch language might sound like beautiful music to your ears.
Even if you didn’t fall in love with one of our tall women or men then it might be helpfull to speak the lingo. Decisions within companies are mostly taken in the hallways or during a semi-formal drink. The nuances are definitely important to understand for having a fullfilling life in the Netherlands. For you know it, you are the expat that earns respect, because you took the effort to learn this strange nonetheless interesting language.
One of the more expensive options for learning Dutch is to go to the Nuns in Vught, its intensive and expensive but very famous among the highly educated expat community. People that are very committed to Dutch follow the course NT2 which means Dutch as second language, ’’Nederlands als Tweede Taal’’. The nice thing about a language course is that you also meet a lot of new people that have the same goal and thus you find new support and motivation to keep on going.
At Dutch companies there is a strong office culture where people mingle around the coffee machine and talk about the latest gossips and other irrelevant stuff. This irrelevant stuff creates a important bond, since the rest of the day you might be working and not talking to your colleagues too much. While smoking outside the office also creates a bond, coffee breaks are probably more common than smoking breaks. For the non coffee drinkers you might opt for tea, although we only put milk in our coffee and not in our tea, might be good to know for the British expats. Instead of having a French lunch with wine, the Dutch eat a sandwich with cheese or something else in the canteen, mostly the food is quite basic. While the British people might have a pint after work with their colleagues, most Dutch people tend to go home after work, this might complicate the life of expats. Parties at work aren’t really parties, they are more like network events with a glass of wine or beer. When someone dances too much, colleagues might assume the person is drunk and the person has to appear early at the coffee machine to put right the misunderstanding.
Another custom is biking, diplomats might frown when a minister comes with a bike to his office, but why not if you sit the whole day still at your office and why come by car if you live closeby? Public transport is one of the things expats love in the Netherlands. It is not as bad as in the United States and it is not as expensive as in Britain. Additionally public transport is very save. In some countries biking or public transport might be seen to be something for the less well off, but in the Netherlands its convenient to bike and go with public transport. So if you are a lady and you have a date and you are wearing high heals and your finest dress don’t look strange when the guy tells you to just hop on at the back of the bike to go to the restaurant when he picks you up at the train station (true story).
Except for the Windmills, cheese and wooden shoes, we have bitterballen and stroopwafels which most foreigners find very tasty. Drop however, many foreigners think its abhorrant. Most people drink wine or beer when going out, but if you want to try something stronger that is typical Dutch try some gin, you will make friends and speak Dutch in no time. Proost!
When learning Dutch you start at level A1 then A2, B1 and finally B2. This basic study takes 8 weeks, and you will move from level A1 to A2. When you get to level A2, you are able to understand common sentences and expressions relating to personal data, family, shopping, local geography and work. For several nationalities, you get your B2 diploma guaranteed in 7 months, this applies for: German, Danish, Swedish and Nordic and for people from South Africa (who speak ‘Afrikaans’). For these people Dutch is a bit easier. If you speak German it might be fairly easy to learn Dutch, since the two languages are very close. Most NT2 courses take between 16 and 24 months.
The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science department gives loans up to 10.000 euro for people with a residence permit. Asylum seekers that are accepted as a citizen (asielmigranten) can borrow that money as well, when they finish their study on time, the 10.000 euro changes from a loan into a gift. If you are an expat and your income is too high you are unable to borrow money for learning Dutch. If however you are inbetween jobs, it might me a good idea to check what the possibilities are at the website of the Ministry. Learning Dutch however doesn’t need to cost money at all. You can learn Dutch by doing selfstudy if you are motivated enough. You can use the free website of duolingo.com, were you can learn Dutch from English. According to the government bureau of statistics (CBS) most expats in 2011 were British and German, followed by Indian and Polish expats. In 2016 there lived 46 thousands Brits in the Netherlands that are from the fi rst generation, they are born in Britain. More than half of the Brits that live together with a partner, the partner is Dutch. Brits work more often compared to other immigrants in fi nancial services and information and communication sector, in these sectors the salary is generally higher as a result many of them can be considered an expat. (Source CBS).
Expat is derived from the latin words ex and patria, meaning outside and motherland, thus people that are living and working outside their country of origin for a longer period of time. Expats differ from other immigrants based on the high salary they receive. Expats are well paid and highly educated. For English speaking immigrants it is easier to learn Dutch and build a carreer then for other immigrants.
There are between 200.000 to 250.000 refugees in the Netherlands, many that come from Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Somalia. The Netherlands requires refugees that are allowed to stay to learn Dutch. If confl icts in their home country have ended and refugees can go back to their home country, the question might arise why Dutch should get priority for refugees and why not the priority should lay in fi nding a job and using the skills the refugee already has. A basic understanding of Dutch however is necessary to read letters and in order to do other administrative tasks. In the chart you can see that the biggest group of asylum seekers are from Syria and Eritrea. If you are an expat or if you are another type of immigrant learning Dutch can be helpfull to integrate and fi nd your place in the Dutch society. According to a survey conducted by RLZ news and dutchnews.nl it is very hard for expats to make new friends. The research was conducted online among more than 1.100 respondents. 60 percent of these respondents say that it is nearly impossible to become friends with a Dutch person. According to the salary criteria one uses, the expat community exists between more or less 40.000 to 100.000 people. (CBS) Dutchnews found out that most expats make friends at work with colleagues, then at a sportclub or when going to a bar. Also university and online are great places to meet new people and last but not least you can meet new people when doing volunteer work.