I notice that I’d rather you didn’t

Observant, Maastricht

I was watching TV with my husband when he turned to me and said, ‘Actually, it wouldn’t be all that easy to kill you.’

‘Pardon?’

It was the word actually that struck me. As though it was a rejoinder to a conversation about the difficulty or otherwise of doing me in that had been going on for some time. In his head, perhaps.

This is the kind of thing you pick up on when you’ve just finished reading Taal is zeg maar echt mijn ding (Language is like totally my thing) by Paulien Cornelisse.

It was a very instructive book. I learnt a lot about Dutch, and the language attitudes of the Dutch; for instance: ‘the word fucking is an enrichment and we should be thankful for that’. But also things that hold for language in general. Bound to come in handy is the revelation that you can get away with saying the ghastliest things, just as long as you preface them with ‘I notice that …’ (ik merk van mezelf dat …).

Come out with ‘You know, I really like Rita Verdonk’ and you’re opening yourself up for a verbal bashing, in certain crowds at least (Rita Verdonk being a former conservative immigration minister; not quite Geert Wilders, not exactly a rainbow hugger either). But formulate it as ‘Actually, I notice that I really like Rita Verdonk’ and suddenly it comes off as a detached observation of things beyond your control. In response, you get something approaching pity – ‘How awful for you!’ – or even sneaking solidarity – ‘You know what … I kind of do too!’

Cornelisse also writes about the trials and tribulations of the comedy circuit. After performances, people will come up to her and say ‘I really like what you did there … say, are you also open to criticism?’ (Staat u ook open voor kritiek?) It’s one of those questions that’s not really a question, she writes, because you can’t do much but reply ‘Uhhh … sure, of course … I mean, I guess …’

This is where she and I differ. I, for one, am perfectly fine with ‘Actually, I can’t help but notice that no, frankly, I’m not.’

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