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  • Writer's pictureHans Faber

Grassland Conversation

Being at the grasslands might lead to encounters with farmers or other wanderers and, of course, with ‘birdwatchers’ (see also the note at the end of this post). Encounters with these countrymen go in slow motion, and in clearly defined phases. If you've any ambition to mingle with locals, or hope to receive help in case you're badly injured and in need, these phases should be observed strictly during the conversation.

This post contains valuable instructions on how to communicate with locals during encounters that might take place while hiking the Frisia Coast Trail. Day and night! Maybe, this post might be useful even for government officials and politicians too, if they want to restore the communication between the rich and poor parts of the country and The Hague.

The best way to learn it, is by illustrating a typical encounter. Before we start, whatever you do, never never laugh. Give a grin at best. And, if it happens to be a farmer you meet, never ever contradict him. You will find this warning also in our Manual Making a Terp in 12 Steps. Promised? Good. Continue reading.

You're walking in the grassland, desperately and surely in vain, looking for peewit eggs, when from afar you see someone slowly walking toward you. Important. You keep doing what you were doing. Do not stop, do not change directions or, worse, walk toward the individual. Act as if you don't notice him. After a while he, because that's always the case, is close enough for you to stop. Then it's time to give each other a very quick glance.

Classically one opens with: “Goeie”, short for ‘good day’. Don't reply with: “Ah, goeie.” This is reserved for someone you know well, and leads to confusion if you do use the 'ah'. Just say “Goeie” back. It will suffice. Both stand their ground and both say nothing for a while. The other can place a remark, but only after a while. No questions please at this stage of the encounter. Not even if you need medical help urgently because you just broke your ankle and you're bleeding heavily. For example one can say: “It wurdt hieltiid minder mei ‘t aaisykjen” (the egg-seeking-thing is getting worse all the time). Silence. In average, between every sentence ten seconds at minimum.

For some city people silences might be uncomfortable, but in the north of Germany and the Netherlands these are part of the conversation. "The silence of the tides," as they say. But still don't look at each other. Instead, look into the sky or around you. As if observing birds or the weather. The other will do the same. After this, the conversation may start. You reply his remark with another remark. By making remarks, both indirectly show their expertise of nature and their knowledge of the area. Don't talk rubbish therefore. It's a way to assess each other. If all goes well, you place your feet firmly in the clay and grab your tobacco to light your pipe, or else light a cigarette. Even if you don't smoke. No but, please. Do it!

Jalder Faber 1972 by Kors van Bennekom
farmer Jaldert Faber, Langezwaag 1972 by Kors van Bennekom (see note 2 at the end)

Now it's time for questions. Please, use the formal address of jo in Frisian language, pronounced as ‘yo’, meaning ‘you’ in formal form. Don't use the informal do, pronounced as ‘dough’. Things run terribly bad if you do do. Now you also understand why rap music with all the lofty "yo!, yo!" didn't do well in Frisia.

A question can be: “Jo sykje sels ek?” (you seek -for eggs- yourself, too?), or “Hawwe jo hjoed al wat fûn?” (have you already found some -eggs- today?). Don't mention the word 'eggs' in the sentence, because it would give away you're a beginner. A rookie. Stay looking in the far distance and obey the silences between every question and answer. Breath in, breath out. Like the tide. Even if you're still bleeding heavily.

The next phase is asking personal questions, like: “Binne jo der ien fan…?” (are you family of…?). Frisians love to boast about who they know, their knowledge of nature, landscape, and ancestry. In case you need urgent medical help because of your broken and aching ankle, now the time has finally come to ask for help. Show no emotions, however. You could ask: “Witte jo faaks wêr dat in dokter wennet?” (do you happen to know where a doctor might live?). Make no reference to the terrible pain you're suffering, and be prepared for some more conversation before you can take off to the doctor.

Then it's time to say goodbye. That goes as slow as the tiding of the Wadden Sea as well. You give a hint by saying what your plans are for the rest of the day. Wait a while. Extinguish your pipe by hitting it at the toe of your rubber boot. Put the pipe in the pockets of your long coat, straighten your cap or hood, and say: “Ik sil ris fierder. Seach sakrekt noch in mantsje in roek oanfalle” (I should take off. Just saw a male attacking a rook). Like the eggs-thing, don't mention it's a male peewit. Just male, if you don't want to give away you are a beginner. After this, for the second and the last time, you may look the other in the eye and say: “Oant sjen” (see you). Turn your back and walk, or limp, away.

Keep your hands low, don't shake hands, smile or wave. Keep it cool. Walk away as if the conversation never happened. What happens at the grasslands, stays at the grasslands.

If you happen to meet each other again by some crazy coincidence, continue the conversation where you left off the last time. As if no time has passed since.

Be instructed that if during the conversation it turns out both of you were on the same elementary school as kids, it doesn't affect the conversation a single bit. It remains exactly the same.

An identical encounter at the grasslands might take place when you're out there in the middle of the night. You're not seeking for peewit eggs, of course, but placing and emptying your illegal fish pods. Be careful with standing in and wading through the water, by the way. Know that swimming in ditches in province Friesland is tricky and nearly impossible. Not because of the massive numbers of the invasive species Chinese mitten crabs and red swamp crayfish. No, because you get entangled in fish pods all the time. Don't rely on Greenpeace cutting you free here.

It must be at night that you empty and place your fish pods, since there's no hiding at the flat, near treeless grasslands during the day. In other words, it might be crowded at the grasslands during the night.

But also then, under the full moon, the interactions and conversations are identical. Including the subject of seeking peewit eggs. Both of you will not, of course, admit doing something illegal at night. Frisians are masters in avoiding sensitive topics. What else, after centuries of being washed away regularly during great floods with great loss of life? They know how to bury emotions deep in a shallow sea. Besides that, can you trust the other that he won't empty or steal your fish pod? Only the way you lighten your pipe or cigarette goes with much more care, in order not to be noticed.

Good luck! and you know

“Doon deit lehren!”

(it’s learning by doing)


Note: 1 When you are curious why ‘birdwatchers’ are so abundant at the grasslands, yes even outnumbering birds itself, read our post What’s hip and happening at the grasslands.

Note 2 - The picture of the farmer named Jaldert Faber (1903-1983) is, indeed, family of one of the bastards of the Frisia Coast Trail. It's taken at the back of his farm at 25 Lytse Wyngaerden Rd. at the village of Langezwaag in province Friesland. Renown Dutch photographer Kors van Bennekom (1933-2016) is the one who took it, and the footage is being kept in the Nederlands Fotomuseum' Dutch photo-museum' in Rotterdam. De farm is long gone and replaced by something modern.

Remarkable is that the Jaldert Faber never spoke to anyone that Kors van Bennekom, or any other person (extremely doubtful if he had any clue who Kors van Bennekom was), had taken his picture. It was only in December 2017 that the bastard, his grandson, searched the web for an old black and white image of a Frisian farmer when suddenly this unknown portrait popped up. Another remarkable aspect of this picture is that Jaldert Faber didn't wear his cap. Our family has never seen him without it. We doubt even his wife. So, Kors van Bennekom must have had excellent communication skills with those sturdy Frisian countrymen at the grasslands.

Note 3 - The real pro in the egg-seeking-thing wouldn't say mantjse 'male' but âld instead for denoting a male peewit. Literally translated âld means 'old'. However, again like 'egg' the true noun -i.e. male- is being avoided.


Suggested music

Junkie XL & Elvis Presley, A Little Less Conversation (2002)

Further reading



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