When I arrived in the Netherlands, I couldn’t wait to pick up my room key. I was curious to see whether I had a nice view from my window and who my corridor mates were. But the process of getting into my room wasn’t as smooth as I imagined. It involved some funny confusion about the room number.
Shortly before I came to the Netherlands, I was informed that I had room number 97 in a student apartment. In Wageningen I met the caretaker to introduce myself and collect the key. He was friendly and gave me some brochures about the regulations and living in the building. When it came to the key, he handed me a key with number 97 on its keyring. However, he told me (in English) that my room was number ‘79’. I showed him the number on my keyring and told him it was ‘97’. But he said: ‘No, your room number is 79.’ We argued a bit but he insisted that my room was 79, so I decided just to try my key in the doors of both rooms. It fitted the door of room number 97.
A month later, the puzzle was solved over lunch with my colleagues, when we talked about Dutch ways of saying things. Apparently, the Dutch way of saying numbers is the other way round to the English way. For example, in number 97 in English the ‘ninety’ comes before the ‘seven’, just as it is written. In Dutch, however, this number is described as ‘zevenennegentig’, which means ‘seven and ninety’. So next time I experience number confusion in the Netherlands, I will know why.
Sri Sunarti, PhD Researcher in Plant Sciences, from Indonesia
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