Today I was working in my favourite café in town, the brasserie of the Court Hotel, when an old, respectable-looking gentleman sat down at the table next to mine. He ordered a jonge jenever (a locally distilled, juniper-flavoured spirit sometimes unfortunately translated as Holland gin), and since this is the drink that I love to order but hate to drink, my ears pricked up, and I paid attention when it arrived. The glass he received was so big I felt I had to make a comment, so I said in my best Dutch, “Gee, that’s quite a doozy!” He emitted a wide-eyed laugh in the manner befitting refined elderly gentlemen, and we struck up a conversation.
He had several gift-wrapped books with him, and so I mentioned that his pleasant day obviously hadn’t begun with the jumbo-size jenever. He explained that they were gifts for people who had helped him run a foundation that he had opened some time ago in order to finance his Dutch translation of a set of Leopold Mozart’s letters that had never before been released in a single translation. And since the book had been such a success, the foundation was no longer necessary and was being wound-up, hence his gifts to those who had helped him over the years. I mentioned that I was also a translator (which he found very nice), and had been toying with translating Herman Gorter’s Mei into English. He in turn told me about a poem in High Middle German he once translated as part of his 7-year German degree in the 1980’s which is also 4000 verses long, and proceeded to recount the entire tale of Aue’s Gregorius for me. It was all very entertaining.
We continued exchanging tidbits like this, and after about 10 minutes one of his comments struck me as odd. He said, ‘It’s curious but wonderful the way that foreigners, with an outside view of the language, seem to notice things differently than you and I do.’ Then, so that the gentleman wouldn’t continue to labour under a misapprehension, I deemed this an appropriate moment to mention that I was, in fact, a foreigner, and had been living in the Netherlands for 5 years.
Well, I can tell you that that man’s reaction made those 5 years worth it. Now, having completely fooled a published linguist into thinking that I was Dutch, I think I can safely say that my work here is done.