M. Vincent van Mechelen


The expats Quentin and Andrea discuss Amsterdam's many kennels. Q is Quentin and A is Andrea*.

Q   "Did you know Amsterdam's got eighty-eight kennels? And they're all declared beautiful!"
A "Really? No, if i'd known i'd have taken a much easier barking course instead of that difficult Dutch conversation course."
Q "Yes, a friendly police officer told me so off-duty in a brown café. 'E said it in Dutch and then translated it for me. It sounded like: 'Aghtentaghtigh praghtighe ghraghten' 1 ."
A "Quentin, that's a tongue-twister for foreigners and it means Eighty-eight beautiful ca-NALS, not KEnnels! Sometimes the Dutch turn stresses around like they turn words around. They say 'one and twenty' instead of 'twenty-one' and they call me 'an-DRE-a' instead of 'AN-dre-a'.
Q   "Well, in former times the English also used to say 'one and twenty'. And an-DRE-a exists too, doesn't it?"
A "Alright, but not CAnals. Moreover, Dutch people don't distinguish between the vowel in a word like dense and in dance, when pronounced the American way. The two words sound exactly the same for them. They've got no ash."
Q   "No ash? You're kiddin'! You go to a bar here and there's ash all over the place; in restaurants even on the table next to your plate."
A "Yes, Quentin, cigaret ash -- way too much of it. But i'm talking about the English vowel in words like cat. For the Dutch it doesn't make a difference whether you sand a wooden statue that has been scratched or whether you send it, scratches and all."
Q   "Still, i've good reason to believe that police officer did mean 'KEnnels'. The K was even in the name of the division for which 'e worked: the K-9 squad. I thought that stood for Kennel 9 or the ninth kennel or, perhaps, kennels. Don't tell me now that the K stands for the Dutch word kanaal 2 . Why on earth would the people living on the ninth canal have their own police section looking after them?"
A "I don't know. Perhaps, because all eighty-eight kennels are in their neighborhood and there is a considerable number of people complaining about dogs barking and biting them. Or, it's their own dogs biting others."
Q   "Andrea, you're no help. You just said there are not eighty-eight kennels but eighty-eight canals in Amsterdam. More canals than i've got friends, let alone friends who're patient enough to listen to me and explain things to me. ... I had a very nice conversation with that officer, but suddenly 'e walked away without even saying goodbye. Would you have any idea why?"
A "No, it surprises me. Police officers are usually polite and supposed to be very disciplined, especially when working for a division like the K-9 squad. What did you say to 'im before 'e walked away?"
Q   "Nothing special. 'E'd drunk a little bit too much and called me 'My foreign friend'. And i'd drunk a little bit too much as well, and i found that foreign kind of impersonal, even a bit patronizing. So i called 'im 'My K-9 friend'."
A "K-9 friend? No wonder, 'e left you without saying anything."
Q   "Why?"
A "You, dog! Would you like to be called my canine friend?"
Q   "Canine?"
A "Yes, like you might call your cat a feline friend."
Q   "Oh, crisis, that's it! I made an enemy in the Police Dog Section. ... I do hope 'e meant canals, because i won't even be able to stand the sight of one beautiful kennel anymore."

1  The Dutch phrase achtentachtig prachtige grachten is pronounced approximately as |AHGHta(n)-TAHGHtagh PRAHGHtagha GHRAHGHta(n)|, with short |AH| and guttural |GH|, as in one pronunciation of the Scottish word loch.
2  Pronounced approximately as |ka-NAHL| with long |AH| (a separate phoneme in Dutch).
 *  Andrea's name is pronounced as |AEN-dree-a|, with stress on the first syllable. The first-person singular pronoun is spelled with a small i, as Quentin and Andrea do not consider themselves Supreme Beings or anything else of that Ilk. The third-person singular pronoun used is 'e, with 'im, objective case, and 'er, possessive pronoun. He and she are used when it is believed or suggested that sex or gender is or could be relevant.


©MVVM, 59-64 ASWW


short stories