A Rotterdam Conversation

For my travel writing assignment, why not go the extra mile, and earn bonus marks. Instead of transcribing English, I would do Dutch in a Rotterdam bakery! How hard could it be. After all, I don’t understand a word of Dutch but I’ve got my blackberry. Isn’t there a translation app somewhere, somehow? Plus I’ve been to India. They say once you’ve been to India, you can do anything.

I stopped outside the Rotterdam bakery/cafe to set up my blackberry to record the conversation with the clerk. I hooked my blackberry headset into my jean jacket sticking out the front pocket, and set the record button on the touch screen. The red blinking light at the top indicated it had successfully started recording. Golden! Ok. With the blackberry set in my inner pocket, I’m ready to head in. This bakery/cafe was a really cool sort of modern, friendly spot with extremely fresh smelling bread. The back of the bakery had four large stackable baking ovens.

As I step into the customer cue, I can’t make out any of the words being spoken. Warm fresh bread smells fill my nose as I listen. With German, I was getting to the point where I could at least distinguish words here and there, but Dutch was too far off. As they wrapped up their transaction I advanced, knowing from a previous visit that their cappuccino was amazing and would serve as my last Dutch treat.

“Hello. Can I have one of the croissants and a cappuccino please?”

“ Ok. For here?” the brown haired clerk asked in a friendly tone. She was around thirty, with shoulder length curly dark brown hair with bright eyes.

“No, for take away please,” I said.

As she went to prepare the cappuccino, I noted a huge selection of gorgeous breads and selections.  They all looked so good, it was difficult to decide on just one for a snack.

The clerk placed my small cappuccino on the counter with a small cookie on top and looked at me for further instruction.

“I’m just trying to decide what else to order, everything else looks so good!”

“Oh Yeah…!” She mentioned

“Hmmmm… Ok, I’ll take a brown baguette.” The brown baguette was 0.65, croissant 1.15 and the cappuccino was 2.30. This was 4.10 Euro or $5.50 CAD and would serve as both my afternoon snack and my snack to bring on my impending trans atlantic flight later in the afternoon.

I asked her how to say thank you in Dutch, explaining that my German was a little better then my Dutch, and she repeated some strange long word. I repeated the sounds she spoke, a little unsure, and she nodded confirming I had pronounced the word correctly. My mind was searching for the spelling, not finding it anywhere in my memory bank.

I sat down relatively close to the counter angling myself towards the cash so I could catch more conversations on my mic, to later transcribe into a writing piece. Another customer came in having a very informal conversation (completely in Dutch) of what I could only imagine was only exactly enough words to politely convey exactly what he wanted, then say goodbye. I’m quite sure I heard morgen in there. Isn’t guten morgen German for good morning?

I flipped through my Dutch newspaper reading the headlines and taking in the new culture.

After pretending to read the Rotterdam newspaper, I pulled out my moleskin to make some observational notes about the cafe:

  • cooking sounds, 50’s music, beeping microwave,
  • ship portal lights, wood plank tables, well dressed patrons,
  • recycled doorways as counters, industrial lighting, stone floors,
  • smell of fresh baked bread/rosemary/cinnamon/parsley,
  • 3 workers, 1 baker, warm temperature.

As I sat down to write the assignment days later, I started to listen to the roughly five minutes recording on my blackberry. The only sounds my blackberry caught were mumbling, clanking of cups and kitchen sounds and the paper bag around my croissant crumpling as I took bites! How did it so clearly catch a crumpling paper bag and me chewing, but missed out on all the conversations. I couldn’t even remember what one Dutch word I learned. The “dank u” that google translate gives me, as a direct translation of thank you, is not matching the long unrecognizable word that she taught me. On the bright side, now I don’t have to sit on google translate for hours.

The only Dutch word I remembered clearly sounded like morgen, which in Dutch means tomorrow not German for morning.

Given my complete lack of Dutch, my recording device setting malfunction was also a journalistic blessing in disguise.

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