The perfect crime

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.


15 Responses to “The perfect crime”

  1. 29 October, 2008 at 9:47 pm

    I can hardly believe people do not notice your accent. They must be fooled by how perfect your Dutch is.

  2. 2 brentusfirmus
    29 October, 2008 at 10:23 pm

    That surprises me too. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like it…

  3. 30 October, 2008 at 7:34 am

    > I think I can safely say that my work here is done.

    Does that mean you will be coming back to Oz? I miss having you around …


  4. 30 October, 2008 at 8:13 am

    that’s really cool! but i don’t want your work here to be done!

  5. 30 October, 2008 at 10:21 am

    Me neither… DON’T LEAVE US BRENT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. 30 October, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    You may have an accent (though I don’t really notice it anymore) but I’m not surprised that he thought you were Dutch, because your Dutch is really good. He must have taken your accent for a dialect 😉 (sometimes people even think I’m Dutch, from Limburg or somewhere, and I really have an accent).

  7. 8 Niek
    1 November, 2008 at 2:27 am

    Cool story, you got me hooked on portal you evil man!

    greetz, Niek

  8. 2 November, 2008 at 11:07 pm

    maybe he thought you were gay. That also is a kind of universal accent.

  9. 10 CorrieH
    2 November, 2008 at 11:15 pm

    You know what? I am not really surprised that you fooled the man. Your dutch is perfect, especially your vocabulary. Your conclusion that your work here is done is a pity. You will be missed!

  10. 11 Faye
    3 November, 2008 at 12:04 am

    I for one would like to welcome you home to Australia with open arms.

  11. 8 November, 2008 at 3:44 am

    Though I’d prefer you to stay at least on this hemisphere, I feel I’m the last person to tell you you shouldn’t leave. But I know what you mean with fooling the natives. I still love the moments when despite my distinctly northern European appearence I manage to make people think I’m actually Italian. Usually it does not last for long though… and not with linguists. (I guess my work isn’t done yet) Often, in my experience, people are fooled more by a perfect accent than by perfect grammar, syntax, and vocabulary. Getting the sound right seems to be a strong trigger.

  12. 13 Alana
    8 November, 2008 at 9:59 pm

    Well done Brent. You are a credit to our kind and shall be missed.

  13. 14 dikker
    6 December, 2008 at 6:43 pm

    The man you’ve met is also a very gifted musician (dwarsfluit) as far as I know.

  14. 15 Ela
    10 December, 2008 at 2:23 pm

    Brent, do you have an accent?????
    I never noticed.

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