Nothing like someone else’s misfortune to remind you of all that is good in your life…
Today I went to the shops to buy groceries and stamps. I had spent about 20 minutes researching the various ways to say “I would like some stamps, please,” so I wanted to get that task out of the way first. I walked around the bookstore/card shop that doubles (triples?) as a post office for quite awhile, examining the merchandise and rehearsing my line. Finally, I decided I’d been stalling for long enough and marched up to the desk. I smiled and said hello and then at the crucial moment… totally chickened out.
I know exactly what happened. Frequently, when I start a conversation in Dutch, the person responds with what might as well be an eloquent dissertation in the future conditional tense about the geopolitical implications of Greece refusing to comply with EU sanctions against Russia. I say something like “Ik wil graag 15 postzegels, alstublieft” and then they are extremely friendly and open my narrow linguistic world into a million pathways involving, presumably, the postal service, packaging options, the chemical makeup of stamps, the weather, my outfit, who knows? Anyway, I can’t imagine whatever she might have had to say would have been that difficult to understand, but I still chickened out. I spoke English and she was super nice, and I bought my stamps and left, kicking myself.
I was still beating myself up later on when I was in line to buy groceries and noticed a woman behind me pushing a stroller and clutching a €10 note in the “hier alleen pinnen” (debit card only) line. The cashier had already asked me if I knew I was in the “alleen pinnen rij.” “Ja, dank je. Ik weet het.” I said back without blinking, “Yes, thank you. I know.” It sounds less bitchy in Dutch, I promise.
The cashier asked the same thing to the woman behind me with the cash. The woman clearly didn’t understand Dutch and looked up baffled. The cashier repeated the same thing in English. Still no dice. The cashier pointed to my card, the woman held up her 10 euros, the cashier shook her head and pointed to the line next door, and the woman finally seemed to understand. That’s when I noticed the item she was trying to buy…
A motherfucking pregnancy test.
Count your blessings, McCandless. It could always be worse.