Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Double Dutch

The English have long had some sort of fascination with Holland, or - as I really should call the country - the Netherlands. (Holland is just part of the Netherlands, a sort of county or administrative area.) I'm not sure that 'fascination' is quite the word I'm looking for, but we have numerous references to the country in our language, especially our idiomatic language. A man will refer to his wife as 'my old Dutch'. Or he used to; the term is not heard nowadays and I suspect that many youngsters will not understand the reference. Then there's 'going Dutch' when the cost of something is shared between all the participants. It is generally used when a boy and girl share the cost of their evening out. 'Dutch' also at one time meant gin. Perhaps the most common references nowadays are to 'double Dutch', which is when somebody is babbling unintelligibly (usually a baby not yet able to talk or a toddler pretending to be a baby) and as an expression of disbelief, eg 'If that's red I'm a Dutchman'.

There was a time when the Dutch and English were sworn enemies. (Come to that, there have been times when the English and most other nationalities have been sworn enemies.) But, thankfully, that time is now past and we get along famously.

I like Holland - I have done for many years. I'm not exactly sure when I first visited the country but I became a pretty frequent visitor when I was in my 30s. I was then heavily involved in the Scout Association. Another leader in the district for which I was Commissioner had formed a friendship with a scout leader in the Hague. The Dutch scouter was a leading light in putting on a Gang Show one year and we got up a party to visit the Hague. From then on there were several trips each way every year for a number of years. For our part, it helped that the Dutch are almost bilingual, there being very few of them who speak no English and the majority being fluent. I even discovered that coffee, especially a brand we liked which was then unobtainable in England anyway, was so much cheaper in Holland than in England that I could go over for a weekend and bring back enough coffee for the saving to pay the ferry fare and for the petrol. Our consumption of coffee went up accordingly!

I even learned to speak Dutch. Well - just a little. When we visited the Hague for one Gang Show we took a cake which had been iced with the Scout emblem and the British and Dutch flags. The idea was that I, as District Commissioner, would sneak onto the stage at the end and grab a microphone to make a short speech of thanks as I presented the cake as a token of friendship. I thought it would be a good idea to make my speech in Dutch. It just so happened that my then boss had married a Dutch girl so I wrote my speech, she translated it, and my boss recorded it on tape. I learned it parrot-fashion by listening to the tape. I can still say, 'Het heft mei veil pleisir' although I can't spell it!

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