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Saturday, 14 January 2012

Seventh letter: Attack of the female Hairy Biker

Friday the 13th (Needed to wait till Saturday to post)

Hello *******

Sorry it’s been a while since my last blog. Last time I wrote we’d been formally registered with the town hall, we were legal citizens’ of Breda.  All we had to do now, acclimatise to the Dutch way of life - simple? No not so simple when you have a partner who works 16 hours a day, a hypochondriac, Tibetan Terrier and a head full of romantic dreams.

It looks friendly enough from a distance

  One of my reoccurring romantic dreams involves Breda market. We’re lucky to have twice weekly markets here in the cobbled Grote Markt.  The market is a gastronomic delight, full of: fresh fruit, vegetables, fishes, cheeses, herbs, flowers , speciality meats and pesto stuffed bread, it even has a section for bales of cloth should I ever feel the need for a bit of dressmaking .  In my day dreams Alfie trots beside me, obedient and leadless as I wander the sunlit market, I’ve already lost 18lbs, my hair is a flowing mass of golden ringlets. I carry a wicker basket and stop to exchange greetings with the familiar smiling stall holders, checking the freshness of their wares and only purchasing the freshest, tastiest of produce. In reality the 18lb’s hasn’t been lost for years, it’s still impossible to get a comb through my hair(hence my love of beanie hats) and Alfie strains at the lead whenever he spots a pigeon(often) or  to jump up at unsuspecting small children.
A small selection of the produce I don't buy.
   I’ve been here almost 5 months and today I made a momentous (to me) decision, I would buy from this morning’s market.  Forty minutes I wandered round the market, trying to find a peaceful stall brimming with fresh veg and an English speaking server. Eventually head bowed I gave up, knowing I couldn’t compete with the small Dutch speaking crowds surrounding the stalls and headed for home. On the way back I noticed three stalls cut off from the rest, and without giving myself time to back out, I picked up a small plastic bowl (Dutch market equivalent of a shopping basket) and started to shop. My white cabbage and 5 onions weren’t exactly adventurous but it was a start. I waited in the queue for the young handsome male server flirting with all the female customers, and mimed my small repertoire of Dutch words in preparation. As I got to the head of the queue my handsome server disappeared into the back of a van and out came the Dutch equivalent of a female Hairy Biker, this women not only didn’t speak English, (I could just tell) she looked like she’d spent the last 50 years digging cannels and the glare she gave me when I handed her my plastic bowl said this was my fault. I gave myself a serious talking too while she weighed my few purchases. Okay you can do this, it's no big deal, you're only buying veg and you know all the numbers up to 10. The noise that came out of her mouth as she held out her grubby gloved palm didn’t even nearly resemble any of the Dutch numbers I’d memorised. She repeated herself three times before I panicked and gave her 15 euros, she slapped the money back in my hand, tutted to the rest of the queue then hand wrote me a bill for 1 euros 35 cents.

Pre female hairy biker

                When Andy came home that night I tried to explain my sense of humiliation, however his mind was once more back on lecturers and he dismissed my concerns with a ‘I don’t know what you’re making all the fuss about, I don’t have a problem.’ Andy doesn’t have a problem because whenever he has to interact in Dutch, he just shouts the words ik Engelse. Which people respond to with beaming smiles and pats on the shoulder, answering immediately in English. In my first Dutch lesson this week, I found out why: for the last 5 months Andy has been loudly and proudly announcing  ‘I am an English woman.’

My hero
Before I sign off today I have to tell you about Alfie and what a hero he’s been this week.  Last Sunday he went for a romp around the forest with his new bestfriend Harvey the singing Jack Russell. Once back home he collapsed, I didn’t worry, after all he’d probably ran over 5 miles as he and Harvey ran after each other, jumping ditches and sniffing out secret trails. Around 8pm he started to cry, not full on yells but small little whines. By 9pm he’d developed a really nasty upset tummy and throughout the night he had to be taken outside as more and more bouts of sickness and diarrhoea shook his little body, five times he woke us between 11pm and 6am. Each time it took longer to wake us and at 3am neither of us are the fastest of dressers, yet our little dog hung on each time, waiting until he could drag us to the nearest scrap of grass before fertilising it with his red hot stream. There are many people out there with talented dogs, dogs that walk to heel or come back when called, dogs that can count, win doggy beauty contests even dogs that save lives, but you can keep them all, cos our dog’s got the sphincter muscles of Arnold Schwarzenegger and we wouldn’t swop him for the world.

Okay that’s all for today, back to my studies.

Trace xx


  1. You REALLY don't have to worry about speaking Dutch until you are comfortable with it. Pretty much everyone, even the hairy biker lady, will understand English and respond to any English comments.

    2 things know in Dutch are "alstublieft", for please, here you are, go on, you first, etc.

    and Dank u well, for thanks for much.

    There's a clue in those 2 phrases, they are "polite" forms of Dutch, the Dutch have a formal and informal way of adressing people. And thats the clue.. IF you are ever in doubt, addressing someone formally forces them to respond formally and politely...Its kind of conditioned in them, and great news is that it works if you speak english too, if you are polite, say please and thank you and show appreciation for their comments, they almost always respond in helpful and polite ways.

    The defult is the direct, slightly impolite way to our ears, way.. So if you start any coversation using very polite formal english, they switch to polite response mode.

    4 years I've been here now and though I can undertand a reasonable amount of Dutch I struggle to speak it, but find that English spoken slowly and politely always works, even if the responses are in Dutch.

    you're doing brilliantly though, and the market is a great place.

  2. Ah thank you... :-)

    You're right of course, the Dutch are incredibly tolerant. Our new Dutch teacher (de docent) told us that The Voice of Holland (might be The voice of the Nederlands) has a runaway leader, a British guy who speaks Dutch so badly he mixes his own words making: dankublieft and alstuwell. Yet they are still voting for him in droves

  3. I could feel Sandy's influence with the "red hot stream".

    Another lovely letter Trace, thanks for the chuckles! x

  4. It does sound like uncle Sandy doesn't it? I think he must be rubbing off on me... (err lol.. that sounds rude)
    but he hasn't even read it... the swine!


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