I get asked that question a lot, especially by Dutch people – even by the Dutch person who is supposed to be teaching me Dutch. At this point I have a set of pre-prepared answers I can rattle out: because I think it’s rude to live in a country and not make an effort to learn the language; because despite repeated assertions from Dutch people that everyone here speaks English, everyone in fact speaks Dutch; because I’d like to be able to understand the announcements on the train; because I thought it would help me find a job. All of these reasons are true, but at this point I don’t think they are the reasons that motivate me to keep trying.
This weekend I caught the train to Duisburg to visit my stepmum and younger brothers. Duisburg is just across the border from the Netherlands, so I wasn’t sure that I would be able to tell when the train had crossed over. I expected the landscape would be similar to the one I’m familiar with (mainly the western portion of the Netherlands) and that the border would be indecipherable. After the train pulled out of Arnhem, which I knew was very close to the border, I watched attentively from the train window. And there it was, a subtle shift in the lay of the land, a change in the palette, and the thought popped into my head – we’ve crossed the border. A little further along I saw a German flag, which confirmed my suspicion (though I later saw plenty of Dutch flags (and even Union Jacks) in Duisburg, which made me question whether the flag was really a reliable guide). Continue reading