Don’t say cheese: Amsterdam turns against English usage in shops
Appeal court upholds closure order against cheese shop as use of English implies it is for tourists not locals.
Their country’s grip of the English language has long been a source of national pride for the Dutch. But some argue a line has to be drawn somewhere and, for the municipality of Amsterdam, that appears to be with the growing use of Shakespeare’s tongue by shops, restaurants and even high-end cheese retailers.
The Dutch capital last year launched an initiative to curb the number of shops targeting tourists in its historic centre in its latest attempt to reclaim it for residents. In a court case involving the Amsterdam Cheese company – which has a store on Damrak avenue, a partially filled in canal in the centre – the dominant use of English has been highlighted as a problem.
The owners say they are “Dutch cheese heads” with a mission to “preserve the traditions of the past while embracing the new” and insist that English is the most accessible language to the majority of Dutch customers.
The shop, whose slogan is “Say cheese to life”, was ordered to close late last year, losing their first – but not their last – appeal at the Amsterdam district court this week.
The company’s advertising, products, pricing and use of the English language were said by the court to be clear indicators that the shop – one of five in the city – was there for the benefit of tourists rather than local consumers.
“The official language in the shop is English,” the judge said in summary.
Its owner, Quirijn Kolff, told the Guardian that English is used because it is the easiest way to communicate in the Netherlands, where over 90% of people claim it as a second language. In 2008 a city councillor even suggested that English be recognised as an official second language in official correspondence, as one in 10 of Amsterdam’s residents spoke English but no Dutch.
Kolff added that he had taken a 15-year lease on the property before the law on tourist-orientated shops was announced last year. The Amsterdam Cheese company is set to appeal to a higher court, with the support of its suppliers.
“If you [are] here, English is the language spoken by most people,” Kolff, said. “We are an international community, especially in Amsterdam. We communicate in English. Maybe that’s globalisation for you but this decision feels like an appeal to nativism, preaching to the base.
“We are a high-end shop. We are very sympathetic to the whole discussion on liveability and there are serious issues but it isn’t relevant to us. It feels like they want to use [this] as a test case, to see if they can do this in European law, to discriminate.”
While Amsterdam remains the most international of cities, the development comes amid a more general questioning of the growing dominance of English in the Netherlands.
With the headline, “Stop English craziness”, the Dutch daily paper, De Telegraaf, on Friday reported comments by Pieter Duisenberg, of the Association of Universities in the Netherlands, who warned that the growing number of student lectures being delivered in English could lead to an over-representation of international students.
The chairman of the Dutch National Union of Students, Tariq Sewbaransingh, said: “Except in Utrecht, all psychology studies are in English. We are concerned about the accessibility for the Dutch student, while we have a shortage of Dutch psychologists.”