I go to the gym a few times a week to keep myself sane and healthy. Another benefit of going to the gym as an expat is that most of the time, the classes are taught in Dutch. Words that you might not otherwise encounter in daily conversation “buikspieren” (stomach muscles), “sleutelbeen” (collar bone), are delivered up in short instructive sentences, combined with physical movement. This combination lets the words seep into your body and brain in a way that vocabulary lists or passive conversations can’t. But lately, there have been more expats than natives in the Body Balance course and the teacher has been switching to English.
My 8:15 a.m. sloth-brain appreciates the English, but the part of me that wants to get the language acquisition part of my brain in shape feels cheated. Please speak in Dutch! I want to say. But this morning, our Body Balance instructor also had a case of sloth-brain, and admitted she was too tired to translate the whole class in English today, despite the number of expats in the room.
“It’s good for our Dutch!” I encouraged. And she set forth in her native language. My inner sloth-porcupine prickled at the switch, discouraged that it had to work harder, but by the end of the class, not only were my muscles stretched, but my mind as well.
On my way out of the gym, with another expat of French origin, one of the trainers asked us in Dutch if we had “zin” (interest) in a group training.
“Nee. Dank je wel. Ik heb zin in de bakkerij.” (No thank you. I have interest in the bakery.) I responded. The trim fitness coach with long blond hair and perfectly sculpted buikspieren laughed at my response and patted me on the arm in camaraderie. Usually, my sense of humor is lost on the Dutch, but this morning, a Dutch person not only got my sense of humor, but laughed in response! Now that is an accomplishment!