Writers Abroad Magazine Issue 5 | Page 24

WRITERS ABROAD MAGAZINE: THE THIRD SPACE How to Swear Like a Dutchie BY ANGELA WILLIAMS Last Sunday afternoon I was cycling home along the Amsterdam canals enjoying the quietness on the roads and while my thoughts were elsewhere, I jumped a red light. A taxi skidded round the corner and the driver shouted, kankerhoer! at me through his window. I must have delayed his journey by at least 0.02 seconds so enough reason for him to call me a whore and wish me cancer. I can laugh about it now but in my early days of living here an incident like that would have had me in tears. Living amongst the Dutch is easier with a thick skin. Nowadays I’m not fazed by people wishing terminal illnesses on each other; years ago I found it shocking. Living abroad might conjure images of perennial holidays; sipping wine by a swimming pool in balmy climes, but expat life also means learning to cope with cultural differences that can be the source of daily challenges. A sociolinguist might suggest that this harsh way of swearing is a by-product of the direct Dutch culture. The Dutch are well known for their frankness and the British are well known for their, ahem, how shall I put it, beating about the bush. So while on the surfac e the Dutch and British may appear to share a lot of cultural values, one only has to look at communication styles to discover significant differences. The British often use downgraders in their speech, which is a way to soften bad news. So instead of saying; ‘the hotel room was filthy,’ the British would say, ‘the room wasn’t very clean,’ or ‘the room could have been cleaner’. The average Dutch person would just tell it like it is, without any softeners. The British can swear and behave badly of course, but as far as I know the Dutch are the only people who swear by wishing illnesses on their enemies. The most popular illnesses the Dutch bandy about are: syphilis, cancer, cholera, typhoid, tuberculosis and the good old plague! Just wishing a cold or the flu on someone won’t cut the mustard. The rule is that the illnesses have to be life-threatening. Krijg de cholera means I hope you get cholera or alternatively you can say choleralijer, which means you already suffer from cholera. The same variation applies to all the other illnesses and then you can jolly them up a bit by adding a gender-specific term of abuse. The variety allows room for a certain amount of creative license. I’ve lived here long enough now to be able to swear in Dutch but I’ve never sworn using illnesses. The disease names just don’t come to me in the heat of the moment. I guess you probably have to be a native Dutch speaker to be able to swear in this unique way. Anyway, I don’t like swearing in Dutch; in fact I have a pesthekel eraan (I hate it like the plague). 23 | November 2016