Going Dutch

Hassnae Bouazza was born in Morocco. She didn’t speak a word of Dutch when she immigrated to the Netherlands, though today it’s effectively her mother tongue. The Dutch government now insists that would-be immigrants like Bouazza pass a Dutch language “entrance exam.” Are Dutch officials using language to keep “undesirables” out? Or is speaking the local language an essential part of living in the Netherlands?

Photo by Patrick Cox. Music by Blue Dot Sessions, Podington Bear, Atisound, and Gridded. Thanks to Sara Wallace Goodman, Ben Coates, Jeremy Helton, Liesbeth Siers, Tracey Keij-Denton, Jos Beelen, Carol Zall, Clark Boyd, Laura Rumbley, and Rose Stories in Amsterdam. 

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  • I could really relate to the ‘your Dutch is so good’ comment. I am a Dutch-speaking Belgian, and when we lived in Belgium, we had a neighbor from the Netherlands. When my father introduced himself to this neighbor, he said: ‘Oh, you speak really good Dutch’. I think my father responded: ‘You too!’. The Dutch seem to believe that no one outside of the Netherlands speaks Dutch, even though more than 50% of Belgians speak Dutch.

  • I visited the Netherlands and learned Dutch to do so, ’cause I’m a language nerd. In Amsterdam, any time I tried to speak Dutch, they would immediately switch to English. One time, I even tried to buy an umbrella from a woman, who said in North American English, “Oh, God, do I have to speak Dutch?!!?”
    Outside of Amsterdam, it was somewhat different.

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