When I was 8 years old, I spent some time in Leiden in the Netherlands with my mom and dad. For several weeks before we left, my dad, who was a seminary professor, tried to encourage us to learn a little bit of Dutch on our own, and he made a big poster of common phrases which he hung on my parents’ bedroom closet. But as you can imagine, that didn’t help a lot. It wasn’t until I was in a Dutch school that I really picked up any Dutch.
I had the advantage of being young, and I imitated the pronunciation easily. I could say “Scheveningen, schoenen, schaatsen“* with no trouble at all. But my parents struggled. Today, everyone in Holland speaks English, but that was not the case at all in 1965.
I’m sort of off track here, but I wanted to give you the background to this story.
So we’d be driving around in Holland, following maps and trying to read the signs, hoping that they match the map. In my memory, it was always getting dark already. This happened often as we tried to navigate to and from lots of historic sites. I would be in the back seat, bored, wanting to get home. My dad sees the sign with an arrow saying “Doorgand Verkeer” and has a conversation with my mom, who’s got the map.
“Do you see Doorgand Verkeer on the map? Are we getting close to our turnoff?”
“It’s not on the map, I don’t see our sign yet.”
“Well, I’m sure we don’t want to go there, so I’ll turn this other way.”
And that road would invariably dead end, either in a construction zone, a washed-out road, or, Oh, look, here’s a canal! We always had to turn back and go the other way, even though we were determined not to go to Doorgand Verkeer.
One day my dad came home laughing. He’d told one of his university professor friends about frequently getting lost, and had found out what the words meant.
“Doorgand Verkeer” means “Through Route.”
My dad got a lot of mileage out of that story over the years.. It’s one of the top family stories from when I was a kid. But I sometimes wonder if I am also trying to avoid Doorgand Verkeer. If I am, I’m sure I’m not alone.
*”Scheveningen, schoenen, schaatsen” was a password used during WW2 which no German could pronounce.