When speaking Dutch goes wrong
If you spend any amount of time living in the Netherlands, people will tell you that there are several very good reasons why you should learn the Dutch language.
For example: they might suggest that it will make it easier to meet people and make friends, or that it will help you fit in and understand what is going on around you.
But they are wrong. These are not the reasons why you should be learning the Dutch language.
Why you really need to learn Dutch
There is only one reason that really matters and it is very, very important one... It is so you receive the haircut you were intending to get when visiting the hairdressers.
"Oh my god! What happened to your hair?" my wife asked while trying to hold back her laughter. Something she had been unable to do when I had first walked through the door a few seconds earlier.
"There was a communications mishap," I replied.
"What did you do?" she said, because in these situations she knows it's usually caused by something I did... and she was right.
"I tried to talk Dutch," I replied, defeated.
When you only think you speak Dutch
When I had arrived at the hairdressers half an hour earlier, I had been determined to speak Dutch.
My hair had been getting quite long, but I only wanted it trimmed a little. So I sat down in the chair, looked at my hairdresser in the mirror and confidently told her in Dutch how I would like my hair cut...
Unfortunately there is a big difference between saying "Ik wil het een beetje korter" and what I had accidentally said, which was "Ik wil het kort."
For the English speakers amongst you, that is the difference between saying, "I’d like it a little bit shorter please" and "I’d like it short."
The bane of English politeness
Unfortunately, I did not realise that I had made a mistake straight away. When the hairdresser had reached for the electric hair trimmer I was slightly puzzled, but I had not really thought to ask what she was planning to do with it.
Out of English politeness I thought it best not to bother the nice lady and point out that this light trimming only required scissors. I assumed that she probably knew what she was doing...
But then one side of my head had suddenly been shaved off and I found myself rapidly reassessing the situation!
As my hair fell to the ground in great big clumps, my English politeness took control of the situation and told me to keep on smiling and act like everything was going to plan (It’s an English survival instinct).
Short back and sides
Meanwhile, my inner English panic was doing what it does best and discovering several new swear words to describe the situation.
Before my sense of politeness and my sense of panic could reach a consensus on how best to handle the situation, it was too late. My hair was gone. Then I suddenly realised my earlier mistake.
To fully grasp what this looked like, it is important to remember that in real life I have a beard. This meant that I now had more hair on my face then I had on my head.
I think if you take a moment to visualise that, we can all agree it’s a very strange look. My hair was now short enough that I could easily enrol in the army or be mistaken for a mob boss’ henchman.
I did it again...
And that was why my wife had been unable to control her laughter when I had first returned to our apartment (and for the several hours that followed).
"Why didn’t you say anything?" she asked after I finished my story.
"I… don’t… know," I replied.
"Didn’t you learn from last time?"
Oh... yeah. I should probably mention this was not the first time something like this had happened. I really should improve my Dutch!