Life, love and learning as a newcomer to the Netherlands

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Taalthuis teaches you to speak, read and write Dutch in a relaxed and enjoyable manner. Because learning is done best when it’s fun.

Teachers at Taalthuis use a broad range of interesting subjects to give you the necessary knowledge to have an unforgettable stay in the Netherlands!

I’m grateful to have this opportunity to share my personal experiences of Dutch culture and of life as an au pair in the Netherlands.

It exposed me to a variety of life skills and has sharpened my knowledge of different cultures.

The beginning of something new

In 1999, I started planning to leave everything I’d ever known in my homeland of South Africa, and set off to the Netherlands as an au pair.

It was exciting, yet scary at the same time, but I took that leap of faith into the unknown.

In 2000 I boarded the aeroplane. There’s a first time for everything, they say. My first time on an aeroplane, my first time away from my beloved family and out of my country.

The flight and everything went smooth. It was the beginning of something new. I smiled, my heart pounded, but this is what I was going to do.

Unexpected differences

I was coming to the Netherlands on a cultural exchange programme, which had placed me in the small town of Uden, in the south of the country, where I was responsible for three girls.

When I started life in the Netherlands there were plenty of new things to adjust to and understand. Of course, there were often misunderstandings, some of the earliest occurring in quite unexpected areas!

Sober habits and new vocab

When I arrived in the Netherlands, I had to be tested for tuberculosis. On arrival at the blood testing station, the nurse asked me whether I was nuchter. How dare she question at 8 o'clock in the morning whether I was drunk!

Nugter in Afrikaans means "sober". How was I to know that in Dutch it means "on an empty stomach"? In such cases, a crash course in Dutch vocabulary can make a big difference.

Deciphering dialects

The Dutch language also has its own dialects, which can often lead to funny misunderstandings. For example, for a long time, I believed pieperdienst meant to pick potatoes at night.

Why the confusion? Because in the south of the Netherlands, the word pieper is used for potatoes. I later found out that one could be called for duty via beeper (pieper).

Navigating Dutch cycling culture

The Dutch might tell you that you can cycle everywhere in the Netherlands, however it’s not entirely true. One beautiful sunny day I was feeling rather adventurous and confident, so I decided to cycle into town.

I consider myself to be good with directions, so I followed the normal automobile route. Trucks and cars were honking and flashing their headlights at me. I gathered that I might be cycling just a little too close for comfort to the busy traffic.

All the attention made me decide to jump off my bicycle and head home through the grass fields.

When I told my host family about my day, they were shocked and relieved that I was still alive. It turned out that I had been cycling on an 80km p/h road which was not meant for cyclists, instead of the completely separate bike path.

For me, this was a lesson well learnt on Dutch cycling culture and how different it can be from your home culture.

Hands-on dads

On my cultural exchange programme in Uden I was responsible for three girls: Sophie, aged six months, Lisa, who was four years old, and Anne, who was six.

The first evening with my host family was spent with the girls and their dad, as their mum was out on work obligations.

It amazed me to see how at ease this dad was, and how attentive he was to his three daughters. He had prepared dinner, got them cleaned up, pyjamas on and read them their bedtime stories.

I was in sheer admiration of that which I had seen. It even made me wonder, "What am I doing here as au pair?"

However, as time went by, I came to learn that Dutch dads carry the same weight as the mums on the domestic front and regarding their kids.

Finding love in a new land

Through all the language and dialect misunderstandings, experiencing the Dutch family set-up, cycling in the wrong places and many other great experiences, I met Dave.

Yes, the Dutch seem aloof, strict and very straightforward, but they value things like hard work, honesty and integrity. And if you can prove yourself to them, then they will for sure jet across the world for you.

It’s a family affair

Dave and I decided to get married in South Africa. We were blessed to have 21 Dutch guests, 11 of whom were in-laws and very close family friends.

For most of them, it was their first time in South Africa. Being at the South African wedding of their "baby brother" made it all the more special.

When the music started and the party was going we all spoke one language, we all understood each other... love, laughter and joy was in everyone’s hearts.

Love without borders

14 years ago Dave and I stood side by side with no language barrier or dialect barrier, promising to love each other eternally.

My family and friends were all present, and now my new-found Dutch family have become part of my parents’ home back in South Africa.

If one can show a keen interest in showing the Dutch how eager you are to learn, they will open the doors of their homes, and hearts, to you.

Annalise Jonkers teaches Dutch and English at Taalthuis, where you can learn Dutch in a fun and supportive environment, in eight cities around the Netherlands.

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Annalise Jonkers


Annalise Jonkers

Annalise is currently employed at a language institute, teaching Dutch as a second language. She tutors English privately as well as offers assistance to students regarding homework skills. Even though...

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