Advertisements are all in English. Shopkeepers, baristas, and policeman all approach me in English. Menus are printed in English. The puzzlement of the place is not in foreign objects but rather in my language seeping from the cracks and crevices. It’s like being in a dubbed film.
When coming from the airport to my hostel, I managed to grab the wrong train. When I talked to the conductor about my dilemma (who naturally spoke perfect English), she pointed me to a local man whose train had had a mechanical issue and now was in the same predicament. She informed me I could follow him at the next station and he would lead me to the right train. And so begins the story of Herman:
The conversation with the conductor happened right next to Herman who didn’t look up from his Dutch newspaper and thus I assumed didn’t speak English. His slivery hair smoothed his head, and he bore black spectacles on his nose and black speckles on his cheeks.
Upon disembarkation, he said, “You from *insert long Dutch city name with lots of coughing sounds* too?” I tried to explain to him my scenario using the most simple sentence with as few words as possible, “I was wrong train. And need to go Amsterdam Central.” The native speaker often falls into the trap of speaking sheared English when communicating with the less fluent. This is always a bad idea. It’s patronizing to assume someone won’t understand your better English, and, secondly, you aren’t helping the person to become better at the language by talking to them like a child.
“Oh, sorry to hear that. I just got back from a business trip so I’m pretty tired so I apologize for not being more talkative and interesting,” remarked Herman *insert feeling of stupidity for my pigeon speech*. “Where are you coming from?”
And so began our conversation. Originally from Suriname, he recounted the food and people that he loved and missed so much. The whistling trains drew our gaze to an art museum and our conversations switched to Picasso and Rembrandt, where his words would leave the most novice art goer salivating.
On the train, after triple-checking that I stored his number correctly, Herman informed me tomorrow I would be taken to sup on the best coffee. His intro to Amsterdam was magical and left me wide-eyed and excited.
I anticipated (and I admit was pretty excited for) the large amounts of time I would be able to spend by myself, not talking to anyone, just thinking, and taking everything in. But in Amsterdam and Cocomama, everyone is so friendly that you hardly have a moment to yourself. Beyond the English, the warmth of the people make you feel at home.