“Is it embarrassing not to know who he is?"


Ever heard of Jo Ritzen?

Svenja Wolter, a first-year student at the University College, looks puzzled. “Is it embarrassing not to know who he is? Oh, is he the president of the Maastricht University board? At least I know who our dean is: Harm, uh, Hospers!” The pronunciation of Hospers is not that easy, she says, and tries again. Laughing: “Ospers – no, Hhhospers.”

Last weekend she went home, to Hamburg, for the first time after having started her studies in Maastricht. “I wanted to surprise my friends, there was a birthday.” Wolters was so busy that she couldn’t make an appointment for a haircut. She points at her forehead and laughs: “So I had to cut my fringe myself yesterday.” She will go and find a Maastricht hairdresser: “I won’t cut the rest myself.”

Je spreekt geen Nederlands? “Nee. I want to do a course in 2010; at the moment I don’t have time. I think you should have at least a basic knowledge of the language; that has to do with politeness. I can understand a lot when people talk and also reading is not a big problem. I get the main point from the letters that we receive from the electricity or the internet company.”

Most striking difference between German and Dutch students?

“German students aren’t satisfied with a seven. Dutch students in general say: a seven is okay. Maybe German students are more ambitious; they want an eight or a nine. Me? Of course I want an eight rather then a seven. I work for it, but I’m not sad when my grade is a seven.”

First experience in the Netherlands this year?

“At Ikea, standing in the coffee line, a woman started talking to me in Dutch. Long line, isn’t it? When she realised that I couldn’t speak Dutch she switched over to English. So friendly. Everybody tries to speak English when they hear that I don’t speak their language. That’s different in Germany. Maybe the Germans don’t get so much practice. Are all the movies still in English here? Yes? Not dubbed? That’s a difference; Dutch people have far more contact with English.” Ten minutes later she has another example that expresses the friendliness of Maastricht’s citizens. “I was at the Kruidvat. There was a nice guy behind the desk who asked me where I come from, what I’m doing here – so friendly.”

Didn’t he see just a cute girl that he wanted to take out?

She laughs and doesn’t think so.

Met a Dutch student lately?

“Ten minutes ago, in my tutorial group.”

Favourite Dutch meal?

“Waffles, they smell lovely. And cheese. But I hate the Dutch bread. Oh – every student says that? Germans are crazy about their bread. When you ask them all over the world what they miss most, they say: the bread.”


Riki Janssen

A series about German students and their level of integration

“Is it embarrassing not to know who he is?
Loraine Bodewes Fotografie

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