Manners, dear.

It’s a funny old world. One nation’s compliment is another nations insult. And time for my Monday moan (it’s Tuesday, but Monday fits better). Being corrected. I hate it. I can’t handle it. And in my own petty way it stops me from improving my Dutch. The fear.

It didn’t quite hit me until a couple of months ago. I was at the opening of an exhibition and someone official looking was giving a speech about what was going on and the importance of art and so of. But a voice and a hand raised and pointed out loudly that it was not ‘de’, but ‘het’, and people around me heartily agreed and the speaker gracefully accepted correction and carried on speaking.

I stood open-mouthed. Inside I was furious. I felt very uncomfortable and out of place and rejected.

And then I began to understand why my students resented me not correcting them at the end of every sentence. Why my teaching should be me displaying what know instead of creating a safe learning atmosphere. Usually after the first difficult grammar class in my open groups, the attention turns to my Dutch skills. I explain I speak some Dutch but that I don’t have any respect for grammar or rules. It matters to me that my message gets across and I don’t want to be corrected. In fact it is very insulting to correct someone, especially mid-sentence, on their language. Then my students sometimes set me a task. To have our lunch break in Dutch, or for me to introduce something in Dutch. And I say fine and agree.

And then comes lunchtime. I begin to answer questions in Dutch. And before I am on my second sentence, here it comes. The correction. I put my hands in the air.

Maybe I’m just stubborn and proud. But I don’t feel like you are listening to what I’m saying if you are listening for the mistakes I make. Am I forcing my norms on the situation? I do recognise the frustration my students go through when they are hit with the mystery of the difference between “have you finished the report”, and “did you finish the report”. I want to make it safe enough for people to have the space and time to recognise and correct language by hearing themselves make mistakes and self-correct. But that is my definition of safety.

This is my learning. The funny old world keeps on turning.

Tech, my friend.

Who says that technology is the enemy of parenthood? I can’t beat it so I’m going to join it. It certainly saves me from sounding like a lunatic mother roaring up the stairs that “dinner is ready!” , or “you left your stuff on the stairs” and even “I need a cup of tea”. Now I just use WhatsApp. There is also the advantage of having the power to stop paying for Netflix because no work is done in the house.

But it also gives you the power to embarrass your kids like ever before. It was a balmy evening in June. My youngest and I had just been in IKEA (Where we lost our full trolley and I had spent 30 minutes unknowingly babysitting somebody else’s trolley around the stationery and shelving area. Until I looked down and didn’t recognize any of the potential purchases before my eyes. Then a forlorn looking man and his immediate look of relief, like that of finding a lost child again. But that’s a whole other story).

Anyway. We had a car full of stuff. Hastily bought from the bargain bins on our way out. We were collecting my eldest heir to the throne from her drama lesson. We had some time to kill. We sat in the car watching the skateboarders glide and flip and jump and do other things that I don’t know the skateboarding term for. We considered spreading our new picnic rug and picnic set (including candlestick) on the bonnet of the car. Just to shame her as she floated down the stairs with her drama buddies.

Then it came. Along came a souped- up Suzuki Swift with thunderous beats reverberating hugely offensive lyrics that could be heard for miles. It parked near us. Two teenagers serenaded the skaters and we could have been in Brooklyn.

I saw my chance. I texted her. “We just bought a new sound system. What do you think?” We opened the car windows and thrust our elbows out and bobbed our heads hip hop to the beat. My daughters blond head popped out the window of the top floor of the building and disappear quickly. Her classmates could be seen peeping in and out of view. They began to trickle downstairs and out the front door. Covering their mouths with their hands and giggling. Into their mom’s cars and them looking and giggling.

Then. Down she came. Red-faced but slightly amused. We rocking out so hard that we were in danger of being admitted to the hospital with whiplash. She still thought that the music was coming out of our twenty-year old monster of a car. That only had a broken cassette player. She strode across the car park with all the pride she could muster. And slid into the car. She looked confused. The Suzuki came into her line of vision. Ha ha. Gotcha. Technology rocks.

It's a jungle out there.

There I was. All ready. On the bus. I had shown the bus driver my printout of exactly where I had to be and at what time. My high heeled crocs were comfortably snug in the warn early summer sun. I had plenty of time and I was slightly worried about arriving too early and having to hang around in the companies foyer while waiting to give language training.

“Dowboot”, the bus driver roared out and I sprang out of the bus and headed purposefully down the path. I couldn’t see the building I was looking for so I stopped an unsuspecting sixty –five plus dog walker. “Gaat het?”, I asked him and he gave me a strange look like “where does that woman get off with that over- familiar tone?”. “Ik zoek en grote rode gebouw” I stated. And I got a stranger look. But then his brow lit up and he realised that I was not a raving lunatic in high heeled crocs, but that I may have a legitimate reason for stopping him and asking him for directions.

“heelamal achter, linksaf de tankstation”. So off I went, delighted with my grasp of Dutch. The walk was longer than expected and I was glad of the deodorant I had at the bottom of one of my huge bag. Then I saw it before me. My building. Across the road. I ran out of footpath and was walking along a small cycle path that came to a halt before it met the edge of the road. No button on the pole. No pole. No pedestrian lights. Six lanes of traffic. No way across.

I now had ten minutes to get to my training session and I was getting a bit worried.

I turned back and found a flooring shop. I walked through the vast doors and stared unseeingly at the nice tiles and floor coverings adorning all of the available floor and wall space (well I had to have my manners). A bald man popped his head up from behind the counter. “Mag ik vragen? Hoe kan ik dit weg crossover als u bleift?”, with my great Dutch accent. He looked at me in a slightly bemused way and asked, ”Ben je in de auto?”. “Nee op voet”, I said. And he led me out of the shop. Here he demonstrated to me how to make sure that the lights were red, run across, jump on the island in the middle and then do likewise, looking in the other direction while proceeding to the other side. I shook his hand gravely as he wished me luck. Time was getting precious now. I stood at the lights and tried to figure out the sequence. I’m sure some drivers were thought that I was planning to jump when the lights were green. A kamikaze teacher. My feet were getting a bit stressed at this stage. But I had much to do. Waving like a clown and prancing across the full lanes of traffic, hoping that my underwear matched in case I got run over and I needed to impress my future husband, the doctor.

I made it to the other side and was tempted to kneel and kiss the ground, mostly because my feet were sore now and the grass beneath smelt of foot massage.

Time was seriously running out now. The red building loomed ahead. Up I trudged through the long grass. I looked forward to doing my Little House on the Prairie gallop (barefoot) through the grass to my destination. At the top. And I looked down. Water. The building was surrounded by water. I negotiated my way along the wilderness, looking for a useful path or even stepping stones. I sure I looked fairly ridiculous to passing drivers. Then below I spotted a passing cyclist. With not a care in the world. Her pace was shattered by a loud voice coming from the grassy bank above. ”Magi k vragen? Kan je zien als water light under die grass?”. Her face paled somewhat, but then she saw me and realised I was not an hallucination. She politely edged her way to the edge of the grass and shouted back,” Ik weet het niet zeker”. I decided to make a bold move and edged my way down the overgrown bank (scratching my crocs on the way), leaning back and stretching my leg out awkwardly before me to test for water, or quicksand, or both. At least if something dramatic happened I would have an audience. To my relief there was no water, no mud. Barely even moisture. Not much dignity either, but I had gone beyond that.

The smell and feel of the tarmac beneath my feet was so welcome. I had made it. Dry land. I was ten minutes late for my class and gave the training with my shoes on- full of grass.

Who says Language training is boring?