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 supposed to be beautiful!"
A "Really? No, if i'd known i'd 've taken a much easier barking course instead of that difficult Dutch conversation course."
Q "They've even got a world-famous Kennel Parade. It's on the first Saturday in August, every year."
A "I know. I saw that Parade with my niece, who's a dog lover, last year. We expected some kind of a kennel club parade with dogs on boats. But i must say that the dogs on the boats bore a striking resemblance to ordinary human beings. Well, except for the extravagant ones. My niece liked the parade but not the resemblance."
Q "That thing about the parade i found kind of odd myself too. But a very amiable police officer told me so off-duty in a brown café. 'E also challenged me to say 'eighty-eight beautiful kennels' in Dutch. It sounded something like: 'Ahktentahktic prahktica crahkten' 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 figures around. They say 'one and twenty' instead of 'twenty-one' and they call me 'an-DRE-a' instead of 'AN-dre-a'.
Q   "In former times English-speakers also used to say 'one and twenty'."
A "Yes, but we're now living in the twenty-first century, not in the one-and-twentieth. And it's so illogical. The Dutch themselves easily make mistakes in calculations that way, especially when they work abroad or in an international firm and have to do them in English."
Q "How old is that niece with whom you went to see the 'Kennel' or 'Canal' Parade?"
A "She'll turn seventeen next week."
Q "Is she Dutch?"
A "No, are you kidding? What makes you think so?"
Q "Because if she speaks our language, you'd expect her to turn teen-seven. You know it's so illogical to turn numbers around!"
A "Oh, i fear, nobody's entirely perfect at this moment. I guess it'll be another one or two hundred years before she turns teen-seven or, perhaps, ten-seven. And, i hope the Dutch will have learned to call me 'AN-dre-a' by then."
Q "But an-DRE-a exists too, doesn't it?"
A "Alright, but not CAnals, spelled with CA, and then pronounced with the same vowel as in dense. Dutch people don't seem to be able to 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 2 ."
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' with KE. 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 3 . 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's a considerable number of people complaining about dogs barking and biting them. Or, because in Amsterdam's Kenneltown on the ninth canal there's a much greater number of people stepping in dogshit which they find much less often pleasant to look at."
Q   "Andrea, you're no help. You just told me 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, since you found 'im very amiable in the beginning. 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  In the (Northern) Netherlands smoking in bars and restaurants was not banned until 63 aSWW (2008 ChrE), about four years after the first version and main part of this story was written.
3  Pronounced approximately as |ka-NAHL| with long |AH| (a phoneme to be distinguished from short |AH| 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, 59-69 ASWW


short stories