In Dutch, as in other languages there are polite ("u") and familiar ("jij"or "je") words for "you". In Dutch, as in other languages, the use of the formal version is in decline.
While we personally prefer to err on the side of formality, we're on "je" terms with all our cow-orkers ans neighbours, and we don't interact all that much with adult strangers.
Or at least we didn't, until we broke our finger falling down stairs. That was in November, and we are still rehabilitating from the ensuing surgery. It was not what one might call a clean break.
And we are here to tell our Varied Reader that "U" is alive and well in hospitals, from nurses to receptionists to surgeons. (Oddly, when we got to physiotherapy, the therapists themselves went back to "jij", possibly because you see them often enough to become people rather than case-histories.)
We assume that the police are big on "u" as well, and it is frankly worth elevating to a heuristic for social interaction in the Netherlands in general: if you find yourself in a prolonged state of "u", you are most likely in trouble.
(We don't know how they roll in Belgium.)
The main seasonal Dutch present-giving festival is celebrated on 5 December, or (in our case) the weekend before.
By convention presents are inexpensive (we have a €10 cap), given by Sinterklaas (i.e., anonymously, although in practice it is fairly obvious who gave who what) and accompanied by a poem in rhyming couplets that should lampoon the recipient gently or otherwise, and/or hint at the contents.
Our family does the childen's presents first (which can be more expensive) and then sends them to bed while the adults get on with the second act. (For these purposes an "adult" is anyone who knows Sinterklaas's terrible secret, so it should start around 8 years old.)
All adult couples (in our version) buy presents for all other adults; members of couples also get each other presents. The presents are opened in round robin order, and everyone has to sit and listen to every poem. It takes, as Our Varied Reader will readily surmise, a good long time before the floor is finally strewn with paper and everyone has a full complement of things they didn't know they had wanted.
The problem we have always had, though, is that we haven't been able to compose even the most occasional verse in Dutch. (And the verse is by convention very occasional indeed.)
Every time we came up with two(2) words that rhyme, Dutch syntax would conspire to thwart our attempts to get them at the ends of consecutive lines.
It has not been an especially well-kept secret that this was a disappointing level of unachievement, after five(5) years in the country.
So this year we tried again, and to our surprise and pleasure we managed to squeeze out a dozen lines of actual doggerel.
It may seem like much of a Rubicon, Varied Reader, but we have crossed it nonetheless.
The formal Dutch second-person singular form "u" is very much in decline, being supplanted by the informal "jij" in most contexts. (Including, for example, my workplace.)
This is fine, since it gives old people something to be pointlessly cross about. But there are still pockets of resistance, and most of them imply that things are currently going pretty badly for you. Hypothetically, I would address policeman formally, and non-hypothetically I would also use "u" to doctors and nurses and they to me.
(This is non-hypothetical because the Evil Dutch Stairs recently succeeded in one of their plots against my person, resulting in a awkwardly broken finger which has needed surgery and will need plenty of rehabilitation before it is anywhere near its old self.
Treat Dutch stairs with cautious respect, Varied Reader: they mean you harm, and they are well-equipped to inflict it.)
To Weiswampach and beyond
Most recently from three(3) weeks camping in Bernkastel-Kues in the Mosel valley and Luxembourg.
Luxembourg, in particular, is great fun: you can decide on a sentence-by-sentence basis whether you would prefer to speak French or German, and all the touriste stuff is subtitled in Dutch anyway.
Jean-Marie Krein's Histoire du Luxembourg, on the other hand, is not much fun at all. If you project the spatial boundaries of Luxembourg backwards through time and compute the intersection with history in general, you apparently end up with some kind of mostly medieval Silmarillion, only not so made-up, but not much more interesting for that.
The Kauderwelsch Letzebuergesch Wort für Wort is significantly more fun, although probably not much more useful unless you have some fairly odd purposes in mind.
The best thing about the pair of them is that they were both in the same bookshop in Luxembourg city (where the grass is green and the sand is gritty), although we had to ask (in our terrible French) where the latter was hidden.
The slightly less best thing about buying them is that we missed the incident where the Anglo-Dutch Boris van 't Blad was hijacked by a gaggle of Asian girls to be photographed with them as a Typical Luxembourgish Peasant Boy.
And now it is Moondag - by ancient tradition the day when I have to parent solo - and the children will probably wake up at some point. (Before they got exposed to dangerous levels of Outside they used to get up earlier, but they are still recovering.)