On Nov. 23, 2005 I moved to The Hague from Washington, DC. This is my new Dutch life.

7.20.2006

Battle for Cute: Netherlands vs. Japan

In the battle for societal obsession with cuteness, the Japanese have an unlikely contender: the Dutch.

Huh? Whatchoo talkin' 'bout, J-?

Ok here me out. Some languages have what linguists call 'diminutives' - words or add-ons to words that roughly mean 'little.' In English, we don't have diminutives per se, but we do use the word 'little' in the same way that the French might use the diminutive 'ette' as in Smurfette. Only she wasn't French, but anyway... you see what I'm saying. We also use diminutives mainly when talking to or about children.

"Well aren't you quite the little gentleman?" One might say that to a 10 year old that holds the door open for you. This probably wouldn't actually happen in an era without boyscouts, but maybe you catch my meaning. I call my dog "little guy." B-, ever the Australian, called Nigel "Nige" from day one. You see Aussie diminutives appear in the form of nicknames. Worry if an Aussie in your life doesn't have a nickname for you. Conversely, don't assume he's in love with you just because he gave you a nickname.

Anyway...

The Dutch, although the tallest people in the world, and probably the most stoic, have two letters that they add to words that turn their language into a ditzy exchange between animé characters. So prevalent is the presence of je (pronounced chuh) at the end of nouns, verbs and adjectives that Dutch grammar accounts for its usage.

So, in the Netherlands, we don't eat bread, or brood (pronounced: brode). We eat broodjes pronouncedd: brodechuhs). In the five minute break during my Dutch class, I dash across the street and ask for a chocolade broodje, basically a chocolate croissant. Sometimes broodjes are sandwiches. We drink kopje koffie, and I speak beetje, or a little bit, of Dutch.

The most common thing I hear is, "oooh hondje" referring to Nigel, who, in fact, does deserve lots of this sort of attention because he is incredibly cute. Even the most staid Dutch people are reduced to high-pitched voices and excessive je-ing in the presence of my faithful pooch. On several occasions Dutch people have proclaimed him a "kleintje hondje" or little, little, little dog. Nevermind that Jack Russels are prevalent here, and they're much smaller than Nigel. The fact remains that Nigel has the power to melt Dutch hearts.

I bring this all up because I took Nigel to Amsterdam today. We rode the tram and the train, and like the late, great Elvis, he left people swooning in his wake. Adult people, that is. Amsterdamers are as no-nonsense as any city dwellers, and yet I saw many a smile and a sigh today. Even on the sweaty train, where irritation and impatience should have reigned, women were nudging their friends to catch a glimpse of Nigel curled up under my seat. Some even showed faint signs of jealousy when Nigel would gaze up and me and not them. One guy made continual efforts to get Nigel to sniff his hand, and appeared crestfallen when the little guy was too tired to get up. Who was this guy, a rebuffed celebrity stalker?

It seems that the Dutch, after you get passed their famous concensus building and shrewd business tactics, seem to be a bit like kids. It's an unexpected paradox adding to their "I-can't-quite-put-my-finger-on-it" mystique. They were noticeably less impressed with Nigel in Belgium.

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5 Comments:

Blogger Reid said...

I'm trying to imagine ordering a "lil' sandwich" at one of the places in downtown DC. If I was lucky, I would just get looked at funny.

Why would they be impressed with Nigel in Belgium? They're the ones with Smurfs!

12:06 AM GMT+2

 
Blogger akaijen said...

EXACTLY - it's more like 'lil'

I don't think they were against Nigel per se, but he wasn't turning grown men to mush there.

6:25 AM GMT+2

 
Blogger akaijen said...

Blogger was choking when I posted my message last night, and somehow I ended up with two of the same post. I'm reposting Soo's comment to keep them all together and also to delete the extra post.

soo doh nim said...
In German "bread" is "brot" but when you eat a roll it's a "little bread" or "broetchen." Diminutive in German.

The old German word for girl/young woman is "Maedel." No one uses it, at least not that I know of. But the standard word for girl is "Maedchen." Again that "chen."

Germans also have "-lein" -- that is another diminutive that implies "cute little something." Cute l'il doggy, I believ you can say "Huendelein" but I can't remember. I've been up 20 hours today after two other 20-hour days in a row and can't remember.

In Portuguese you drink "cafe" like most folks. But when you order an espresso, you often can call it a "cafezinho," "zinho" being a diminutive in Portuguese. It applies to the name Joao, for instance -- Joaozinho.

akijen says in response...

It may be that the only word I need to know in Portuguese is galao. :)

The Dutch word for girl is meisje, so similar to German. Do German's use their diminutives all the time? In Spanish, they definitely use it for intimate situations, but the Dutch literally use it all the time. Maybe I'll start a list. heh

6:29 AM GMT+2

 
Anonymous redsnapperje said...

snoodje boodjes

(Clerks II release date you know)

6:45 PM GMT+2

 
Blogger akaijen said...

There's a Clerks 2? It'll take a while for that to get here, if it does. Otherwise, some of you will be on DVD in about 6 months, mkay.

9:18 AM GMT+2

 

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