Dutch Courage

When you speak more than one language, you tend to have slightly different personalities when speaking each one. For example, in English, I am usually quite an outgoing, social person. However, when speaking Dutch, I can be quite reserved and lack confidence. Last Saturday night, once again my Dutch was put to the test….

One of my neighbours invited me over to celebrate her birthday. I walked in to a room full of Dutch woman, all sitting around the living room and I soon realised that this was going to be a 100% dutch language kinda night.

The first hour, I was a little reserved. I just enjoyed sitting back and listening to the conversations around me. You see, listening to Dutch being spoken is no problem, I can understand almost everything. Speaking on the other hand, is a whole other ball game. Plus, it can be quite intimidating in a group setting. As I took my first sip of wine, I slowly began working up the courage to speak out loud in front of these ten or so Dutch woman, most of whom I’d never met. Occasionally I would add a few words to the conversation here and there, but I intentionally avoided long sentences or long stories. I needed more wine for that.

As I sat there in the circle, sipping on my second glass of wine for some more dutch courage, I slowly began speaking more openly. Telling them who I was and answering questions about how on earth an Aussie can end up in the Netherlands. I told them my story, but the whole time I was secretly imagining them internally critiquing my bad grammar or choice of words.

With each sip of wine, my confidence was slowly growing. But still, before speaking, I would go over each sentence in my mind, fix it where I thought may be necessary, and then finally speak it out loud. After my third glass of wine, I began to care less about what they might be thinking of my language skills, and became more like my normal chatty self. Less withdrawn, and more impulsive.

After my fourth glass, all restraints had gone out the window. My mouth began chatting away before my brain had even had a chance to evaluate a plan of action (which is how I typically function in English, getting myself into trouble sometimes). When this happens, it can sometimes mean that my Dutch is actually better. But it also means that I can sometimes talk myself into a corner.. I begin my sentence with full enthusiasm, only to realise half way in, that I actually have no idea how to say what I wanted to say! But it’s too late, I had already started talking and end up, stuck for words, with twenty eyes on me, waiting for the rest of my sentence that either did not eventuate, or came out eventually – completely wrong. But it’s all good. Thanks to the lovely wine I’d been drinking, frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn, and I laugh it off. Temporary brain fart. It’s ok, I’ve got this, my Dutch is fabulous!…. onto the next conversation!…. thank you lovely wine.




Fun Fact:  “Dutch courage” is basically alcohol induced self-confidence. To have an alcoholic drink right before a task you are dreading. This term originates from a time when England was fighting a war alongside the Dutch. The English soldiers noticed that Dutch sailors took their alcohol allowance just before battle, whereas the English Royal Navy men drunk throughout the whole day.

*By no means do I condone the excessive intake of alcohol for the sole use of increasing one’s abilities to speak Dutch – but it sure does help 🙂


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