The Language of Love?

Don’t worry, this won’t be another piece on how [unromantic] Dutch people supposedly are, nor how we celebrate Valentines day -nobody over the age of 10, at least in my surroundings 🙂 Rather, I am wondering on how couples with different native languages manage to negotiate linguistic skills with well, love.

I was thinking about this topic because this month alone two people complained to me about their partners. One woman, who barely started studying Dutch a month ago, was upset because her husband had called her “luiwammes” and had tried to make her pronounce that word. Another was annoyed because their partner, who has been living here for ages, never made any attempt to learn the language and is now risking a fine for not having done Inburgeringsexamen. Hmmm. I am definitely not a relationship expert, but I have been in both situations; first as a non native speaker, where I was forced to adapt very quickly and nobody understood nor cared about my problems and later I found myself living with someone who, in my opinion, was too lazy to do any serious studying. So my response is definitely colored by personal experiences, and feel free to disagree…

Every relationship has its power dynamics, and linguistic differences pose an additional challenge. The person in their native country, speaking their native language, has a definite power advantage, as simply as that. But it can be exhausting to have to explain and justify everything continuously, you wanted a partner, not a child, right? And on top of that now you are be expected to be a language instructor? My advice is: don’t. Don’t meddle, let the partner with the inburgerings issues resolve their own problems. We are are adults. Be sympathetic, maybe suggest or pay for a course, but don’t get any further than that. You would be a terrible instructor, anyway. I remember I was, yelling things that I would never dream of saying to a regular student: You are too lazy to do your homework, just like you are unable to ….: insert any annoyance you might have, make your own bed, put the cap back on the toothpaste, you know what I mean. Partner responded by showing his worst student behavior, yelling that I was impatient, unwilling to help him….. brrrr, better avoid those situations at all cost.

Having to ask for help also can be humiliating, and no, nobody can expect you to pronounce luiwammes correctly, this borders on sadism on behalf of that partner. Create your own life, with your own resources and try to ignore any nasty comments, they are based on ignorance,  about what you are going through.

And if you do feel like whispering sweet nothings into the ear of your beloved, you can learn them here:

A wonderful program that addresses these linguistic and love issues really well is Grenzeloos verliefd (Love without Borders), where people from different countries and cultures fall in love. Will they make it? Enjoy!