I spent the last two days guiding a group of new exchange students around Leiden, helping them to feel as comfortable as possible in this strange new world of Erasmus life. Which is why it was so strange for me last night to go from an overwhelmingly (amazingly) English-speaking atmosphere straight to a dinner party at which everyone refused to speak English to me.
Mike and I planned a little friendly gathering with some of his coworkers. Dinner, drinks, good conversation. Simple, right?
Get this. The only people that managed to have a normal conversation with me were: 2 people from Maastricht, who know how to talk to English speakers (because the uni there is much more international, I guess), and one guy that I cornered and made to tell me about his weight-training schedule. Exciting. With everyone else, conversations went like this:
Me (asking the group in general): So who here has a company car?
Person A: Me, I got a really shitty one though, not sure I’m going to keep it.
Person B: Je aeeruoi nasfluo werpou lamlskdaf asdasdf!
Rest of the Group: Kearlkayuo aadfdasfiur xgfalkf fda khhh
They all immediately switched back into Dutch. Even when I had asked the original question, and was sitting there looking at them blankly.
Oh, the irony… here I was, confidently telling new students that unless they really want to, learning Dutch will be a waste of time since there’s no way they can get good enough at it in a few months to make any real use of it while on exchange (given all the other things they have to do while here). And there I was, an ex-Erasmus student two years later, having followed that same mentality, completely dumbfounded by the sheer impossibility of talking to these people.
Look, I get that it’s a gathering of a lot of people who speak one language, in the country in which that language is spoken, and I was the odd one out. But still! When an English-speaker is dropped into my parents’ group of Russian friends, yes, they quite frequently end up having conversations in Russian, but they make a huge effort to keep up some conversations in English. They make an effort to keep the person engaged in some way, even if just one person is directly addressing them while the rest blabber on in Russian.
Not so here. And it’s amazing because Maastricht is completely different, where it really is the norm to speak English if an English speaker is present. But in the Randstad area, apparently, that’s not cool.
And I really can’t figure out why. Is it really just that Maastrichters are exposed to so many more English speakers? Is it considered “below you” to speak English when another Dutch person is present in the North? Were they all that horribly embarrassed by their (excellent) English? It’s utterly confusing to me. Another Psychology degree FAILURE to figure out human behavior. Oops.