When I moved to the Netherlands, I was eager to learn the language well. To start with of course, I couldn’t speak it fluently and found it hard to use the right expression at the right time.
I made a point of trying out all my new Dutch words while playing badminton. That way I was learning the language and the sport at the same time, and I hoped to make a committed impression with my newly acquired Dutch. All went well until the time came to take leave of each other after the match. Saying goodbye to my fellow players was always a challenge. Which word for ‘goodbye’ was the best one to use? I did my best, but in vain.
I thought I had understood correctly that the standard words for ‘goodbye’ were ‘dag’ or ‘doei’. But to my astonishment, I heard a different word every time I said goodbye to anyone. If I said ‘dag’, they said ‘doeg’. If I said ‘doei’, they said ‘tot ziens’ or something else again. Was my ‘doei’ or ‘dag’ inappropriate? Should I have said ‘ajuus’ or ‘houdoe’? What was the right way to say goodbye? Eventually, I’d had enough and I plucked up the courage to ask my teammate Jan. I thought his answer was really interesting. He said, ‘Well, we don’t want to say the same thing in reply, we want to stand out and be special. Saying the same thing back would be boring, and we’re not boring.’
I have now adopted this great approach and I have a range of variations on ‘doei’, ‘dag’, ‘tot ziens’, ‘de groeten’ and ‘tot zo’ at the ready when it’s time to say goodbye. My repertoire of goodbyes has grown tremendously.
Jutta Wirth, a postdoc in Animal Behaviour, from Germany
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