The word friend seems to be a very straight-forward word that most English speakers associate with that warm feeling you get when someone does something thoughtful for you or the contentment you feel when you come in contact with someone that seems to look at the world in the same way that you do. We all know what it means to have a friend. I thought I understood the word friend in all of its senses; that was until I moved to Belgium. My move to Belgium is characterized in my mind by a general language upheaval, but the word friend occupies a particularly special spot because I was significantly confused and distressed about it.
Now, there is nothing particularly difficult about the Dutch word vriend as it can be easily recognized as the Dutch counterpart to the English friend. It is what happens when you put a possessive pronoun in front of that word, vriend, that makes it become something more significant.
There were many administrative things to be done during the first few months that I was living in Belgium. This was also the time period in which I was first being exposed to many new words in the Dutch language. I was holding on to tiny pieces of the language, grasping words with my mental fingertips and trying to fit those tiny clues into the bigger meaning of the conversation. Any native English speaker learning Dutch (or perhaps any other Germanic language for that matter) can begin to pluck familiar words out of sentences rather quickly. It is sometimes this plucking and misinterpreting that can lead to the moments of confusion that I experienced, and continue to experience, far too often.
As we were attempting to get our mountain of paperwork under control, I kept hearing my boyfriend refer to me as something that sounded similar to his friend, or so I thought. I remember at first being a bit offended. After all, I had decided to start my life here in Belgium with him so I thought he should feel comfortable sharing our relationship status in all situations. After initially feeling a bit offended, I then became a bit concerned. In order for me to stay here in Belgium we had to prove that we have an authentic relationship. I suddenly felt panicked at the thought that these people in this official office were under the impression that I was merely his friend.
The distress was short-lived because soon after, when I began my first level of Dutch class, the puzzle piece that I was missing suddenly appeared and I learned that Belgians refer to boyfriends and girlfriends as vriend and vriendin. It is the possessive pronoun mijn (my) in front of the words for friend that gives that more intimate meaning.
The language of love and the language of Dutch are sometimes tricky things.