Two years ago, I came as a trailing wife (with our then 4-year-old son) to my husband to Suriname. He goes there regularly to teach short courses in international development studies to master students. In Suriname, the only Dutch speaking country in Latin America, I came to appreciate the word genieten (verb)*. As a buitenlander (foreigner)**, I often hear this word from the Dutch but I seem to take it for granted because the word itself is too far from the English equivalent to enjoy, to like, or to relish.
A day before we flew to Paramaribo, my mother-in-law told us: “geniet van Suriname!” which is loosely translated to: “enjoy Suriname!” But of course, she also meant to appreciate everything such as the food, the tours, the people, the hotel and other things that one can derive pleasure from. For many Dutch tourists in Paramaribo, I noticed that they enjoy just lounging around the swimming pool the whole day, getting tanned. “Ze genieten van het warme weer” (they enjoy the warm weather) since Dutch the weather can be pretty irrational. For my 4-year old son: “Hij geniet van zwemmen en daarna patat eten” (Hij enjoys swimming and eating fries afterwards.) We spent most of our time in the swimming pool because my son’s concept of ‘genieten’ during vacation is swimming every day and eating his favourite snack. If you combine the two—that is “erg genieten van…” (super enjoying…)
Multicultural and natural
Besides the swimming pool, there are, of course, plenty of things to do in Suriname. It is next to Brazil so imagine how amazing its river systems and rainforests. Reading the brochures (which are mostly in English, Dutch, Spanish and German), the magic word genieten is used almost automatically. For example: “Hier kan je genieten van een welverdiende vakantie waarbij ook voldoende rust en ontspanning wordt geboden” (Here you can enjoy a well deserved holiday including plenty of rest and relaxation). “Je kunt er zwemmen, chillen in je hangmat en van het uitzicht genieten!” (You can swim, relax in your hammock and enjoy the view), says a brochure about a zip lining and quad riding adventure. For the less adventurous, there is dolphin watching in the afternoon. For about 30 euros per person (and 20% children discount), “geniet je van een drie uur durende boottocht met hapjes en drankjes en natuurlijk dolfijnen kijken!” (You enjoy a three-hour boat trip with snacks and drinks, and of course, dolphin watching!).
Personally, my favourite part of our trip to Suriname is the diverse food (Hindustani, Javanese, Chinese and Creole) and the wooden, colonial buildings in the UNESCO heritage part of old Paramaribo. “Ik zou zeggen: Ik heb genoten van de diverse maaltijden in Suriname en de koloniale, houten gebouwen in de stad Paramaribo.” (I wanna say that I enjoyed the diverse cuisine in Suriname and the colonial buildings in the city of Paramaribo).
For more about Suriname, please read Destination Suriname
So when we came back to the Netherlands, I automatically use geniet van almost every day, even during COVID lockdown. I would say to my neighbour “geniet van het weer” (enjoy the beautiful weather) or “geniet van het wandelen” (enjoy your leisurely walk) during a pleasant day. Whenever my son goes to school, I often tell him: “geniet van school” (enjoy school) or “geniet van leren” (enjoy learning!).
Genieten is the Dutch way of reminding us that we should enjoy and appreciate simple things and nature.
*Pronounced as he (rolling like your phlegm is coming out)-ni-ten (https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/genieten)
**I no longer consider myself a buitenlander since I feel so much integrated now and carrying in my sleeves proudly the Dutch citizenship.