Living in the future
Compared to where I come from, it’s like living in the future. Things work. Public transport is on time and readily available, you will always see planes in the sky, sometimes as many as five or six at a time. There is an entire road network for bicycles. You can even scan your own items in the store and pay for it with an app. Ok ok, I am starting to sound like “one of those people”. Life in South Africa is not at all as bad as people often make it out to be, I definitely miss it at times. It is however, amazing to be a part of a society that functions so efficiently. Enough of the marketing pitch! The main purpose of this blog post is not to sell you on the Netherlands as the promised land where all your dreams will come true. The purpose is to give you an idea of what life is like, from the perspective of an South African.
When I landed at Schiphol, I was welcomed by a colleague who was already well versed in Dutch. She helped me to buy a sim card and I immediately realized how import it is to know the language. It was easy enough to communicate in english, the Dutch people are generally friendly and open to using english. What brought about my realization was the small things; not understanding what is being said on the radio, not understanding the bits of conversation you hear in passing, not being able to read signs, posters and adverts.
Fortunately, I had already had some Dutch lessons before I came to the Netherlands. I am also a native Afrikaans speaker so it was not completely foreign to me. Still, I felt like an outsider. It was not because of the people, on the contrary, the people made me feel more welcome than I expected. It was simply because without some basic communication skill, it is impossible to integrate into society.
Afrikaans itself can lead one astray, as much as it helps. Its like a double edged sword. There are plenty of words which exist in both languages, but have completely different (and often vulgar) meanings. The two languages are also grammatically very different. I personally would not advise that you rely on Afrikaans to see you through.
My advice would be to get at least a very basic understanding of the language before you arrive, it made my life a lot easier.