But don’t tell a migraine sufferer that they just have a headache. Migraine affects one in eight of us, though more women than men: één vrouw op vier, één man op twaalf – one in four women, one in twelve men. One difference from hoofdpijn is that uw maag van streek is – your stomach is upset.
Well, although I do my best to stave off the ravages of time, I occasionally find myself having a premature senior moment. Perhaps some brain training in Dutch is what I need. It’s not that I have a memory like a sieve – een geheugen als een zeef or als een garnaal – “as a shrimp”.
Perhaps I should be more mindful, though I wouldn’t get much done if I had to pause at every corner to absorb the scene.
I’m deep in a Dutch book at the moment. The narrative carries the reader along: “Ik bleef naar haar kijken totdat een tram zich traag tussen ons in bewoog – I stood looking at her until a tram slowly moved between us.” Perhaps not the best extract from this thriller, but it shows how little in this sentence is of much use when chatting.
Relying solely on spellcheckers to asses your writing is risky, as this sentence shows. In Flanders, you can turn to de Taaltelefoon – the Language Telephone, which is de taaladviesdienst van de Vlaamse overheid – the language advice service of the Flemish government.
At the other end of the line, a language expert will answer your questions on Dutch spelling – spelling, grammatica – grammar, uitspraak – pronunciation, stijl – style. I wonder if that’s the expert’s only job, just sitting by the phone in case some doubter calls to ask what is juist – correct.
Once there, I tipped the exhausted flyer onto a table and announced: "Die is zeker van één van jullie - This surely belongs to one of you" and persuaded a reluctant local to adopt the bird before smartly leaving.
A sign that winter has done its worst is the start of the solemn early-morning weekend radio incantations of the weerbericht voor duivenliefhebbers - weather forecast for pigeon fanciers, as they prepare to release their racers. A recent event will have made this forecast of even more interest.
Much more interesting is disobedience – ongehoorzaamheid, though if there’s no punishment, then ongehoorzaamheid is a bit of a damp squib. Yes, cocking a snook at authority does add spice to life’s monotony. Or at least, that must have been at the back of Stijn Meuris’ mind in his recent publicly declared intention to be ongehoorzaam.
The same way of constructing is used with all the prepositions: daarop – on that; daarboven – above that; daarna – after that; daarachter – behind that, enzovoort – and so on. Once you get the hang of it, and as long as you know the correct preposition, it’s quite easy: zijn antwoord daarop was voorspelbaar – his answer to that was predictable; daarmee kun je het schoonmaken – you can clean it with that. Sometimes the daar word refers to more than one: wat is het verschil daartussen? – what is the difference between them?
You could search the small ads in your local paper in the hope of finding someone looking for just those items you are about to bin. I was disappointed not to find anyone looking for a perfectly good chest of drawers. Instead I discovered a great trade in prentkaarten – picture postcards and, strangely enough, doodsbrieven – mourning cards.
Being left to their own resources has sparked ingenuity in those stranded far from home. Stories abound of how people have managed to make their way home. Take the Stevens family, on holiday in Spain. De held van de dag – The hero of the day was brother Pol who huurde een busje in Gent – hired a small bus in Ghent and drove 15 hours to pick up the family in Barcelona. I hope they shared the driving on the way back.
But then you have to remember that in Belgium jewellers are often armed ,and they schieten met scherp – shoot live ammunition (“with sharp”). In a recent robbery in Brussels, the jeweller’s gun was turned on him. And what did the robber have in his hand: het bleek een nepwapen te zijn – it turned out to be a fake weapon.