When someone tells you they live in the Netherlands, where do you think of? Amsterdam; probably, with its glowing red lights and fancy cafes on every corner. Rotterdam: perhaps. It’s in that song from years ago, and it’s also the big city that got blitzed in one of the great wars. Utrecht? Another well known city in the south that attracts the party-goers and hardcore shoppers. The list is pretty long, but there’s a pattern here… these places are towards the south.
I live up north, in the Province of Friesland. Over the Afsluitdijk, about an hour and a half from Amsterdam and Utrecht, and two hours away from Rotterdam.
“That’s where Frisian cows come from!” I was excitedly told, when I notified old colleagues or friends about my impending move to the lowlands.
“Don’t they have Frisian horses there too?” I was asked.
Well, they were both right. Friesland is home to those patchy black and white cows and the silky black horses. And argriculture, mainly (if you hadn’t guessed). But Friesland is also home to the eleven city tour, a yearly race that sees people cycling through all 11 cities of the province, tall ships races, fierljeppen, which is basically canal jumping with a massive pole, Kaartsen, a hand sport with a tiny, golf sized ball, ice skating champions, Doutzen Kroes, and, possibly most annoying (after Doutzen’s beauty), their own damn language.
I knew this before I left, and yet I didn’t think it to be a problem. Yet it kinda is. Now I’m studying for the lesser used language in this province. I’m studying Dutch when most people talk Frisian. It’s kinda hard.
It’s kinda hard when you’re at parties and everyone talks Frisian rather than Dutch. It’s kinda hard listening to your colleagues talking to each other in Frisian, whilst you sit there munching away on your cheese sandwich. It’s kinda hard sitting around the table with your boyfriend and his family when they slip back into Frisian and take that conversation to places I’ll never reach. It’s kinda hard when the kids at school don’t want to learn English and they think the only way to communicate back at you in frustration is in Frisian.
It’s kinda hard but it’s ok. It’s my time to learn, not their time to accomodate me, I tell myself between mouthfulls of Friese Dumkes, or Frisian thumbs, as they’re translated. Disclaimer, they have nothing to do with real people’s thumbs, don’t worry, it’s not that kind of place.
I’m learning Dutch first though, so that I am a good citizen of the country as a whole. Once I’ve got the gist of the National language, I’ll start with Frisian. Because I’m not a superhero. For me, learning two languages simultaneously is not a viable option. Learning one is hard enough. Did you know, I’ve been absolutely knackered since the day I moved here? I genuinely put it down to my poor, overstimulated brain being bombarded with new words every day. And I do love it. I love words. I love learning new words. But I find it hard. And Dutch, tells me my boyfriend’s father, is super super hard. A ‘rot taal’, if you will. I think he says this to make me feel better for not being able to pronounce certain sounds, or say sentences in the generally correct manner. It works. He does make me feel better.
Many people have told me, with satisfaction, that Frisian is closer to English than Dutch is. Cheese is ‘tsiis’ (ts-eeeee-ss) for example. A baby is a ‘baern’, like how the Scottish say it. A key is a ‘kaai’, rather than the Dutch ‘sleutel’. The words ‘eat’ and ‘sleep’ may be spelt differently in Frisian, but they’re pronounced pretty much the same as they are in English. I should be rejoicing, but with that short and sweet list, my knowledge of Frisian stops almost completely… apart from the words that still sound like Dutch with an accent. I understand bits and bobs, that’s for sure, but not the whole she-bang.
Another thing I’ve found to be difficult, is the lack of English speaking expats up North. Through Instagram, I’ve met (figuratively, not literally) a number of great people from around the globe who live here in the Netherlands. They help me to feel like I can do this ‘live abroad’ thing with aplomb. We understand each other, figuratively and literally, which is a bigger help than you can imagine, especially when you communicate with almost everyone in a foreign language and really miss crumpets and real fish and chips. The problem is, they all live in the south. I’ve only found two English speaking expats up here.
But what about Friesland itself? It’s basically rolling flatlands of fields and dykes stopping the sea from absolutely devastating the land. I’m pretty sure the least air pollution lingers over Friesland, too, because we have lots and lots of green, and trees, and water. It’s beautiful. Especially in the summer. There’s even a place in Friesland named ‘The Venice of the north’, or, as it’s literally called, Giethoorn, where everyone lives on their own teeny-tiny island, separated from everybody else by teeny-tiny canals. There’s also easy access to the Dutch islands from the harbours around here. Perfect for summer days out, or a long weekend when you want a break. There are even some wicked towns and cities dotted around this province, Towns and cities that could easily compete with the likes of Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Utrecht, too. I’ll show you around them soon enough.
Until then, that’s enough rambling about this place I call home.
Speak to you soon,