I’ve been thinking about living in the UK and what it means and then I thought back to when I lived abroad.I lived in the Netherlands for nearly five years which was a brilliant experience. (I’d previously lived and worked in Wales and the Netherlands definitely felt less foreign than Wales, but that’s another story.)
I didn’t miss the language – it’s nigh on impossible to get a Dutch person to speak Dutch when they know you’re English and I even had the experience of a Dutch person asking me directions In Apeldoorn, where I lived, and apologising to me that he had spoken in Dutch. But I did miss interpretation of what a question meant.
The Dutch are supremely literal in their answers and will answer the question you ask, not the question you mean. I was working for Philips when it still had an IT company and I had to ring to get technical support from the consumer products division. The conversation went like this:
Me: I’ve tried everything I can think of, but I can’t get my PC to talk to the Laservision [a hard disk analogue video device that we were integrating into a complex (for 1986) system] – what am I doing wrong?
Eindhoven: We’ve never had that problem.
Me: Is there anything that I should do?
Eindhoven: I don’t know what to suggest because we’ve never had that problem – describe what you’ve done.
Me [At length, going through what I’d done followed by] Have you ever had that problem?
Me: So it all works perfectly well your end
Eindhoven: As far as we know it just works
Me: [With the clue I needed] So you’ve never had this problem?
Me: [At the end of my tether with the inkling this was the question to ask] Have you ever tried it?
Me: So that’s why you’ve never had this problem?
Eindhoven: Naturally. ****
Naturally I missed some of the more arcane English food stuffs – and visitors always arrived with Branston Pickle, sausages and English mustard. But it was that cultural difference that made me pine for home sometimes.