February 18, 2012 | Dutch

An NLBorrels Gathering

In which I hang out at a bar with Dutch people.

Yesterday, six days after starting Dutch, I ventured out to an NLBorrels gathering at an Irish bar in midtown Manhattan.

I Completely Forgot to Take Pictures, So All I Have to Offer Is a Picture of My Dutch Grammar Books.

I Completely Forgot to Take Pictures, So All I Have to Offer Is a Picture of My Dutch Grammar Books.

According to the organization’s website, NLBorrels is “an independent, global network of Dutch expatriate professionals & entrepreneurs, dedicated to facilitating social interaction, career advancement and exchange of information of interest to the Dutch community living abroad.”

It was founded in 2001 by Sander Raaymakers, a gregarious and rather tall man.

Speaking of which, if you want to feel shorter than you are, I definitely recommend going to Holland. People are freakishly tall in that country; it is crazy.

In fact, a couple of days ago on a Times Square subway platform—so maybe a few days into my Dutch studies—I spied a collection of very tall blondish people on the platform. They were so uniformly tall I suspected they were Dutch.

I sidled over. I saw “NL” on some of their gear. I listened. Yep, they were Dutch.

I asked if they needed help. They looked alarmed and said no.

Oh, well. I sometimes have that effect on people. No opportunity to practice my teeny tiny smattering of Dutch.

Anyway, back to NLBorrels. The idea is that Dutch people show up and hang out and have fun, network, etc., I’m not sure how often exactly, at different locations around New York (and other cities as well).  

Sander, the founder, struck me as one of those effortless collector-of-people types. I suspect he has about 5 billion friends and acquaintances, which is pretty good considering the population of Holland is only 16 to 17 million people. (New York City’s population is more than 8 million.)

I showed up very punctually, as I tend to do, which meant—as it tends to mean—that hardly anyone else was there. People drifted in while I talked to a couple of Dutch men who were also early arrivals. 

One of the great things, I have found, about talking to Dutch people is that they are often able to have rather sophisticated language discussions. They speak a lot of languages and seem to be a lot more interested in them than the average American.

This wide-ranging interest occasionally got a little too wide-ranging. One of the men talked about every language under the sun and then began drawing Japanese kanji for me—all good stuff, of course, but not exactly what I went to a Dutch event for.

The attendees I spoke to were cosmopolitan. They had been to many diffferent countries, and they knew their way around the world, not to mention the parts of speech.

With a man named RenĂ© I talked in great detail about pronunciation, regional linguistic differences within Holland, differences between Dutch and other European languages, the particulars of Dutch grammar, and more. With Dutch people you can throw around terms like “genitive” and enjoy a very high probability that they will know what you are talking about.

This is absolutely not true with Americans. Which is sad, because I do love unbridled grammar talk.

At one point I got involved in a funny discussion with someone about pronunciation, concerning Dutch w’s. In my Pimsleur lessons I am hearing them sometimes as w’s and sometimes as v’s, and sometimes as something in between the two. I inquired about this.

“It is definitely a w sound,” I was told. I protested.

“Maybe they’re not using native speakers,” was the next suggestion. Not so. This is Pimsleur we’re talking about. They are no dilettantes.

He looked skeptical. I looked skeptical. At the end of the evening we parted skeptically though amicably.

A closing note: the Dutch are lawbreakers!!! Mayor Bloomberg would not have been happy. They were smoking up a storm. So someone opened a door to air things out. So I nearly froze to death. So I had to put on my coat to hang out inside. And it was still very smoky.

Afterwards I went home and relistened to Pimsleur, and I still absolutely heard the same w-v variations already described. It occurs to me that this disagreement might have to do with differences in how Dutch and Americans perceive what a w sound really is—their native definition of its essence.

I have usually found it easier to grasp a totally new sound in another language than to grasp a sound that floats between two existing and extremely familiar sounds in English. If they are distinct sounds in English, as w and v are, it violates my instinct that they could be conflated in another language. In certain ways I guess I remain quite the linguistic provincial.

And a tattler, too.

Comments (5)

Jared Romey • Posted on Mon, March 05, 2012 - 9:34 pm EST

I get the same feeling about the B and V letters in Spanish.  Sometimes they’re the same, and sometimes there’s a difference.  I’ve spoken Spanish fluently for years, lived in Spanish speaking countries for almost 15 years, and still don’t have this clear.  You may never get a straight answer.

Fun post, thanks.  Oh, and I agree about your comment that Dutch are interesting people!

Katherine • Posted on Tue, April 10, 2012 - 3:13 pm EST

I studied Dutch for a while and really enjoyed studying a language so close to English (I never studied German.)  In contrast to every other language I have ever studied, I never had a positive reaction from a single Dutch person (not that that is my motivation at all.)  I mostly got strange looks.  Maybe if I had really mastered the language it would have been different.  So your episode in the subway sounds very familiar to me.

Niels • Posted on Thu, July 05, 2012 - 9:43 am EST

The V/W-issue…

In some languages V is bilabial.
In English, and also in Dutch it’s labiodental… So you pronounce it with the teeth of the lower jaw against the upper lip.

The W in English is indeed what it is called: double U. It’s an approximant of the vowel U, whereas W in Dutch is an approximant of the labiodental V. (that is: it’s like V, but just a LITTLE bit less friction)

James • Posted on Tue, July 31, 2012 - 5:37 pm EST

On the Dutch people being so tall: I believe the reason for this is that so much of the country is below sea level. ;^)

Geert • Posted on Mon, November 08, 2021 - 2:43 am EST

I’m not a linguist so I don’t know what the consensus is on forming sounds. But nevertheless, I am a polyglot and I have some experience with making sounds (Chinese was the worst for me).

It seems to me that the Dutch (Flemish) V is made by pressing the upper teeth on the lower lips, while the W sound is made by puckering the lips, blowing air through it, and then opening up the mouth again. So, in theory, very different than the V.

I do have to make a distinction between Flemish Dutch and Dutch Dutch. Although it really is the same language, pronunciation sometimes varies a lot. Yesterday I heard a Dutch lady pronounce therapeut, which to my ears sounded like she was saying therapuit. So perhaps we vary ion the V and W as well.

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