Now It's My Turn: More Communication Breakdowns

After sharing some of my husband's silly language mishaps in my last post, I thought it was only fair to share some Dutch language experiences of my own. 

One of my first interactions with the Dutch language was filling out the seemingly endless pile of paperwork needed to acquire our marriage license and my residence permit. Most of this paperwork was filled out, sent or hand delivered to a specific government office, and then returned to me in a more official manner. It was at this point that I realized what I am to the Dutch:

In each box that I had written American, I now saw Amerikaans burger typed in its place. It was as if all of these official documents had magically turned into a menu, offering me a chance to order the one and only food my home country does better than any other. As it turns out, burger means citizen in Dutch, so I guess it makes sense why this phrase is plastered all over my papers. Though I just can't help but laugh every time I look at my residence permit and see Amerikaans burger written in big, bold letters. That is, I can't help but laugh ... and get a little hungry.

Two other words that have made me chuckle throughout my time in Amsterdam were discovered during the quest to furnish our home. In Dutch, kamer (pronounced kah-mer) means room and, as in English, it is added to the end of a word. 

Slaap (rhymes with mop) means sleep — slaapkamer means bedroom.
Bad (rhymes with sod) means bath — badkamer means bathroom.

It all makes perfect sense and loses humor when you know how to say it correctly. When I first saw these words, however, and said them with my Minnesotan accent, well, let's just say that neither room seemed particularly fun to enter.

In the few weeks before I moved to Amsterdam, my life was a frenzy of packing and organizing. I was not only trying to fit my life into suitcases, I was also tending to last minute wedding details that had to be done in Minnesota. One item on my list was to print out thank you cards. I had dabbled in sketching and creating my own greeting cards in the past, and thought it would be a nice touch to do the same for my wedding. So I did, and the result is pictured above.

I was quite happy with the way they turned out. I felt proud that I had incorporated the oh-so-Dutch bicycle sketch and a little Dutch language into the design, and pro-active knowing I had satisfied my thank you card need months in advance. I promptly packed them in a nice little box, popped it in my suitcase, and then found a nice little place for the box in our apartment once I arrived.

It wasn't until months later, as I sat down to start writing the first thank you notes, that I realized I had made a glaring language mistake. Or, more accurately, the husband realized my mistake and brought it to my attention.

"Ummm, babe?"
"Dank je wel is spelled with a 'w,' not a 'v.'"

I looked at him. I looked at the cards. And then I put my head down on the table.

Now, to an American (and I'm sure to some other foreigners as well), the Dutch "w" sounds a lot like a "v." The Dutch (or at least some of my Dutch friends ... you know who you are) will disagree, claiming that the American "v" and the Dutch "w" sound different and are made different ways, but I just can't hear it. I just can't! So there I was, feeling a bit foolish, a bit defeated, and not sure what to do with the nearly 60 thank you notes that screamed the fact that I don't know Dutch.

In the end, we decided to use some anyway. We sent them to our ex-pat friends and his cousins with a small note about how it's time for me to start taking Dutch lessons. We also sent them to many of my American friends and family without a note, assuming they wouldn't notice the difference.

Did you?

Let me begin this last story with a little bit of background. In the Netherlands, swiping a credit or debit card is a thing of the past. Instead, all bank cards have little chips on the front. When paying for your purchase, you insert the chip into a reader and it prompts you to enter your PIN. The card itself is referred to as a PIN card, and it is used in most transactions outside of bars or caf├ęs. That said, many people don't carry too much cash on them, so it's quite a hassle when you are waiting in line at the supermarket and notice, too late, that there is a sign near the register like the one above and you have no cash.

It gets even worse when you hear the frustrated cashier, red in the face, repeating, "Nee, u kunt! Nee, u kunt!" and find yourself completely caught off guard by such fowl language only to realize that she's really saying, "No, you can't."


Photo credits:
Cheeseburger by TheCulinaryGeek (CC-BY-2.0) remixed by Shmamsterdam
Bathroom Complete by juhansonin remixed by Shmamsterdam


  1. Oh my word - I love your thank you cards! You should seriously open an Etsy shop with your sketches! They're awesome!

    1. Thanks Laura! I used to have one in the States, but I haven't found a good paper supplier/printer here in the Netherlands yet.

  2. I love your blog Girl! So sweet and funny. I've have several cultural and language mishaps here is long island which seems about as far away and different from California as Minnesota is to The Netherlands! Excited to read more. xoxo