Sunday, November 15, 2009

Lost in Translation

I’m heading off to the motherland in a few days—that would be Holland, the land of windmills, fries with mayo, and gorgeous beer. It’s always a strange thing to go back, as I’ve lived elsewhere (U.K., U.S. and a planet called North Dakota) for the past 15 years or so. Holland is home but isn’t, all at the same time.

As a result of growing up in Holland, I can claim I speak German, French, Dutch, and Latin (well, sort of, Latin’s a dead language after all). I say claim, because beyond ordering dinner, I don’t get very far with my German and French. And even my Dutch is a little rusty, believe it or not. Language is a living thing: if you don’t use it, it fades.

Not that I don’t pick it right back up again. But there’s always one language that suffers: once my Dutch gets better, my English gets a little odd: the sentence structure is off, word choices not quite what they should be, and I get a stronger accent. Not such a big deal while I’m on vacation, although it’s unsettling for the writer in me. After all these years between two languages, I’m convinced there’s only so much room in the language center of our brains. You have to choose one.

So for the next few weeks, I’ll be off to be Dutch again. And when I get back, I might blog with an accent. Just to give you a heads up.


  1. If you pass near the flower market in Amsterdam and see the Hotel Europe across the river, I lived right across from there on NieuweDolenstraat. One of the happiest six months of my life.

  2. And have an extra dollop of frite sauce for me! And one of those big pancakes with applestroop.

    Off topic--I'm a member of CC Sisters in Crime, and just read your great geezerlit article they sent around to members. I hope it's OK if I quote you in my "how to" writing blog this weekend. You can check it out at I'll post a link to your website.