Numbers, Dutch Style

A few weeks ago, the tv series Fringe (which you should all be watching) started off an episode with various people gathered around radios, listening for certain numbers. The first numbers we heard? They were in Dutch! If you’ve seen the episode, you will remember the reactions the characters had upon hearing the numbers: heads clutched between hands in agony. Technically, it wasn’t that the numbers were in Dutch that caused the pain, although when I first began learning Dutch numbers, I must admit I probably looked the same at times!

Back when I was learning French in high school, I remember thinking that the French way of counting the 90s was bizarre: four twenty ten (four times twenty plus 10). Why make it more difficult than it needs to be! Then I discovered how the Dutch do two-digit numbers. Take 28 for example, as seen in the address in the photo. In English, you would say twenty-eight. In Dutch, it’s “eight and twenty”. Any number from 21 to 99 (excluding 30, 40, etc.) is done this way: eenentwintig (21), negenennegentig (99). It makes sense, and I still prefer it to the French mathematics, but it does take some getting used to.

The difference can also lead to confusion when translated. As an English speaker, when I mentally translate the numbers, it’s not uncommon for me to hear achtentwintig (28), but transpose it to 82 in my head. The Dutch have the same problem sometimes when trying to say a number in English. For them sixty-three can become 36. It’s all a matter of perspective.

This is one of those things that can be frustrating, but can also be interesting. It’s one of those little differences that I enjoy … unless I’m trying to keep a lot of numbers straight at one time!

Where To Buy Books

Yesterday we ventured over to the other side and town and went to our first event at the Jaarbeurs convention center: the boekenfestijn (book festival). This is a travelling book sale that sets up in cities all over the Netherlands, as well as Belgium. It runs for three or four days in each city, before packing up and moving on. It’s not fancy, just row after row of books. Pretty close to heaven for a bibliophile like myself! Even better, the books are generally fairly inexpensive.

I knew they would have English-language books on hand, but was pleasantly surprised at just how many. On the other hand, overhearing some of the Dutch people there made me think they weren’t so pleased. However, there were other sections that were predominantly Dutch; I think they just hadn’t worked their way over there yet. In the end, we bought five or six books for about €20, and could have easily bought more if we hadn’t limited ourselves to that budget. There were some interesting cookbooks, but they were a bit pricier, as cookbooks inevitably are, so I resisted. Good practice for the diet I’m on anyway. I didn’t need that big book full of chocolate recipes.

Fixed Location

Voorstraat 55
If you’re in Utrecht and looking for a stable source of inexpensive books in English, I recommend Antiquariaat, located at Voorstraat 55, a short walk from the Neude. This used-books store has a regularly changing supply of English-language books that take up the front left corner of the store. They also frequently have special discounts where you get a third book for half price, or a discount on books displayed on the shelf outside. They’ll almost always tell you if there’s a discount, without you having to ask.

It’s a friendly shop and it looks like they have some more interesting — and probably more expensive — used (rare) books in the back. When we were in last week, we ended up chatting with the owner who had just finished speaking with a rare-books collector who deals in some lofty price ranges! On the other hand, the owner of the store also buys regular paperbacks to sell to those of us with shallower pockets. If you have any books to sell to him, the best time to go is Tuesday afternoon. He’s most likely to be in the shop then. [Edited to add it is now closed]

Other Options

There are a few other spots I go to for my book needs here in Utrecht. On Saturdays at the outdoor market over at Vredenburg, there’s a stall that sells used books. They also tend to have a section devoted to English-language books, as well as some in French and German. Of course, if you want something newly released, you can always go to Selexyz Broese over on the Oudegracht across from the Stadhuis. The library is conveniently — and amusingly — located next door.

Bookstore and Library
Bruna has both online and brick-and-mortar shops. There’s a Bruna in the train station that comes in handy with magazines and books (in Dutch and English) for those times when you realize you might need something to read to pass the time.

Finally, is an online shopping option, similar to Amazon before it started selling everything and the kitchen sink. They’ve got books in multiple languages, both new and used, as well as music, games and various electronics.

[Edited to add that there is now an that is almost solely books right now. 12/2016]

If you’re in Utrecht and looking for some book shops, I hope this helps. If you know of any other good sources of English-language books here in the city center, do please let me know.

[20 April 2013: See my updated list of bookstores here.]


Different Donderdag: English

There’s a newish bartender at the Potdeksel these days. He’s very charming and friendly, and despite having a very Dutch name, he has a very English accent. If I didn’t know he was Dutch, I would have thought he was from England.

It’s not unusual for Dutch people to have a touch of an English/British accent when they speak English, because they are often taught “British” English rather than “American” English. However, with the numerous American films and television programs available to them, their accent becomes fairly neutral, other than any residual Dutch accent. I should point out that movies and television programs are almost never dubbed into Dutch here; they simply have Dutch subtitles.

Last week, while complementing Ruud on his excellent English, we found out that English is his major course of study at university. It turns out — and this is something I find fascinating — that when you choose English as a major here, you can also choose whether to have a British or American emphasis. Now I’m curious if they do something similar with other languages, especially those that have some differences depending on which part of the world they’re spoken. For example, if someone is studying Spanish, do they have the choice to learn the version spoken in Spain or the version spoken in the Americas?

Regardless, I think it’s an interesting approach to take when teaching a foreign language, perhaps especially when it’s such a widely used language. I’m curious if this is fairly universal in Europe these days or if it’s a Dutch/Utrecht thing.