When Ordering Drinks in Dutch Goes Wrong

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“Papa, will you help me please,” my daughter asked with a hint of urgency as she held out a bright orange felt tip pen in my direction. She barely took her eyes off the paper colouring-in placemat in front of her as she did it, probably because she was

Invading Holland

“Papa, will you help me please,” my daughter asked with a hint of urgency as she held out a bright orange felt tip pen in my direction. She barely took her eyes off the paper colouring-in placemat in front of her as she did it, probably because she was desperately trying to finish colouring a tree with a brown felt tip pen that was in serious danger of drying up. Since orange isn’t usually a color seen in healthy summer time trees I was delegated the task of colouring in the nearby carrots and pumpkins. The image was of a rabbit wearing dungarees, standing in a farm field. I wasn’t sure if he was the farmer or if he was just there to steal the carrots that I would be colouring in. Not on my watch buddy.

Across the table from us my Dutch wife was helping our son with his placemat and his more abstract colouring-in method, the kind where it’s not so much colouring-in but just colour everywhere, including on his own hands and all over the café table.

The waitress who had first served us when we had arrived returned to check if we wanted new drinks.

“Wat wil je drinken?” she asked politely.

I’d just finished drinking a beer and being a responsible adult I decided that one was enough. After all, I would not want intoxication effecting my colouring-in ability.

I did my best to reply in Dutch, ordering a lemonade. This seemed to confuse the waitress for a moment, as if she did not recognize the language I was speaking. It is a problem I’ve run into before. It seems that I have a skill for making the Dutch language unrecognizable with my English accent. However, my pronunciation must have really been off this time because even my wife looked confused for a moment. I tried again and this time the waitress seemed to understand, wrote the order down and left. With the drinks taken care of I returned to the role of my daughters colouring-in assistant.

Three carrots and one pumpkin later the waitress returned with a tray of drinks. She placed a tea in front of my wife, an apple juice in front of each of our two children and a glass containing some kind of pale pink liquid in front of me. I looked at it in confusion. It wasn’t even fizzy.

I wanted to explain to the waitress that there might have been some kind of mix-up but all I managed was an awkward, “uummmmm,” as I pointed to the glass and struggled to formulate a coherent Dutch sentence. Luckily she seemed to pick up that something was wrong with the drink.

“Oh. Mijn excuses. Heeft u dit niet besteld?”

I repeated my initial order again, taking extra care to get the pronunciation right. The waitress looked even more confused. I was about to repeat it again when my wife intervened. “That is the drink you’re trying to order,” she said, indicating the drink in front of me.

Now it was my turn to be confused. The drink clearly wasn’t what I ordered.

“I asked for a lemonade,” I replied awkwardly.

My wife tried not to laugh, “But you keep on saying limonade.”

“I… What? Oh…”

My moment of confusion suddenly turned into deep embarrassment…

“Sorry, sorry,” I blurted out to the waitress.

… because I suddenly realized that my wife was right…

“Wilt u iets anders bestellen?” the waitress asked, seeming even more confused.

… I had been saying limonade all along…

“Nee, het was mijn fout,” I tried to reassure her.

… When I’d tried to recall the Dutch word for lemonade I’d accidently picked the closest sounding word…

“Ik kan het veranderen,” the waitress offered.

… the Dutch word limonade sounds like the English word lemonade but they are not the same. No wonder they had both looked confused when I’d first tried to order a limonade…

“Nee, het is goed. Sorry,” I awkwardly tried to explain.

…It didn’t have anything to do with my heavily English accented Dutch. It was because limonade is typically a children’s drink (the equivalent of
squash in English). I should have asked for a ‘spa citroen’ or I could have made it even easier on myself by asking for a Sprite or 7up.

With a little more convincing the waitress seemed to finally accept that everything was alright even if she didn’t entirely understand what had just happened (I don’t know if she’d been able to follow the English part of our conversation). She quickly turned her attention to the other tables and left.

“I can’t believe I ordered a children’s drink by mistake,” I said with my head in my hands the moment she was out of ear shot.

“It was a bit confusing when you asked for it,” my wife added while trying not to laugh. “When you kept on insisting on it I thought you just really wanted a limonade.”

“I thought the confusion was just because of my Dutch. I must have looked very weird ordering a children’s drink while colouring-in.”

“Just a bit. You were very focused on the colouring-in.”

It was true. I had become invested in the completion of the farm yard scene, doing my best to stay within the lines. At least we’d successfully finished colouring in the picture, even if the tree did look a bit faded in some places.

“I think the drink normally comes in a plastic rabbit cup too,” my wife added a short while later while pointing to my glass.

I quickly checked the menu. She was right. It was clearly printed on the children’s menu. The limonade came in a plastic cup shaped like a cartoon rabbit’s head that the child could take home with them. I looked at my plain glass.

“If they charge me full price for this drink I’m asking for the children’s cup to take home.”


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