Carol Bontekoe

This blog has been keeping track of my adventures since 2004. The stories and the adventures have come from my college dorm room to Uganda, Peace Corps Kyrgyzstan, learning Dutch in the Netherlands to living in the wilds of Homer, Alaska. I went back to school in Amsterdam to study Theaterwetenschap (Theatre Science) at University of Amsterdam. And now my adventures as a Fruit Fly, a Sexy Unicorn, and creating a movement with Team Sparkle in Chicago.

Monday, April 14, 2008

It's all in what ya drink....

I am not a great student of languages. There are some people who get languages. I’m not saying that they don’t study, I‘m just saying they know how to make their studies very efficient. A friend of mine seems to think people either get languages or they don‘t. I don’t exactly believe that, I think some people are naturally better than others and the rest of us have to work really hard just to learn the basics.

In high school I took a year and a half of Spanish. I recently went to Spain with my sister and what was made painfully clear is that I can’t speak any Spanish. If I hadn’t had Diane with me I would have been totally screwed.

However, in the past two years I have been able to learn two very different languages. Last year I lived in Kyrgyzstan and was an English teacher with Peace Corps. I had to learn Russian in order to live and work there. It was tough. It is a difficult language to learn and in all honesty it was the first language I was ever really learning. I then went back to America for a few months. Fortunately while I was in America for a majority of the time I was working at a camp with a lot of Russian Jews so I got to still practice my Russian. Since coming to the Netherlands my brain has pushed out a big chunk of Russian in order to fill that space with Dutch. Russian, -a language spoken by almost 200 million people -came in second place to Dutch -a language spoken by almost 30 million people. I have never been known for prioritizing.

I’m still not confident with foreign languages. I hate that I don’t know slang. I have a very thick American accent. I can only really understand if people are speaking clearly and not too fast. I hate all of it. The thing I hate the most is when you can’t find the words to express myself.

I have found something that helps my language abilities more than studying ever has. Alcohol. Not just any alcohol. The drink must be very specific to the language.

Vodka for Russian and beer for Dutch.

When I would first show up at a party in Kyrgyzstan I would sit quietly. I might be able to carry on a little bit of a one-on-one conversation but nothing more. As the toasts went on through the night my Russian became better and better. When I started to slur, I some how became more understandable. One party in particular by the time it was my turn to give a toast I went on so long they had to sit me down because everyone wanted to drink and I had been talking to long. I have only had vodka a few times since leaving Kyrgyzstan, but every time I have had it since I suddenly feel I am a great master of the Russian language.

Vodka doesn’t work with Dutch. If I have a couple shots I resort back to Russian. No, it takes beer for me to speak descent Dutch. I especially need to have a couple beers to keep up with the conversation if I’m at a party with a bunch of Dutch people. If I’m not drinking beer I can keep track of the conversation but I can’t think in Dutch quickly enough to add anything to the conversation. I don’t get messy when I drink beer. I become very focused which is what I need to speak Dutch. Vodka makes me very sloppy which brings what I’m missing to the Russian language.

The past two weeks I have been too sick to drink beer so I have been stuck just sitting and listening to Dutch people at the parties I went to. My Dutch feels as if it has dramatically decreased. I need to get healthy again so I can get drinking again and starting speaking Dutch again.

Whenever I drink wine I think I can speak French. When I have sangria I think I think that year and a half of Spanish actually did some good. Whiskey has made me believe I can understand what Scottish people are saying to me. Tequila makes me pass out.

The more I learn about different alcohols the more I learn about different cultures. So, Bottoms up!


  1. Anonymous said...

    HAHAHA I love it!!!! I'm glad you are embracing your dutch culture with some heinies. Thata girl.

    Love ya,

  2. Anonymous said...

    I see you put a picture of the wine chugging contest....I am very proud to say you and I dominated Sara and Tommy, no contest. love ya even more than that slut...jk it's probably about the same, I don't want to make it a competition