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The language abilities of an ambassador, and his/her choice of language, can be a reflection of his/her qualifications and/or the face he/she chooses to present to the country to which they are appointed.

Pete Hoekstra was born in the Netherlands, to Dutch parents, and raised in the historically Dutch town of Holland, MI. Furthermore, he has historically taken an interest in the Netherlands and US-Netherlands relations. This suggests he might be able to speak Dutch.

However, in recent weeks, his prominent and widely shared interactions with the Dutch press have been entirely in English, and his Twitter feed contains a statement entirely in English on recent events.

Does the Ambassador speak Dutch? If so, to what extent?

  • This is on topic, but might be hard to answer. – James K Jan 12 '18 at 20:21
  • @JamesK: Respectfully disagree. This is about trivia (and hard to know for sure, at that). – Denis de Bernardy Jan 12 '18 at 22:05
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    It might be hard to prove a negative. But for other ambassadors the information can be found. Edwin Reischauer was the last US ambassador to Japan to be fluent in Japanese. Caroline Kennedy was not a Japanese speaker when appointed, which caused some to question her appointment. William Hagerty has functional Japanese, but uses translators for all important matters. Questions of political personalities are explictly on topic. – James K Jan 12 '18 at 22:21
  • Forcing the ambassador to know the local language could restrict too much the pool of available candidates. If knowing the local language was mandatory, how many people in the USA would have the skills, security background & other needed qualifications to be ambassador to Belarus? Or Sweden? Or even South Korea. And other countries with less population (= less possible candidates) would have even more issues. – SJuan76 Jan 12 '18 at 22:44
  • What does his LinkedIn say? :) – user4012 Jan 14 '18 at 18:15
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Below is a short quotation from an article in the Holland Sentinel ("Speaking Dutch in West Michigan"), published on 7 September 2008:

U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Holland, came to the United States at age 3. He said he thinks he is the only Dutch speaker in Congress. He visits the Netherlands and speaks some Dutch.

  • Well found, and welcome to Politics! – James K Jan 13 '18 at 9:19
  • This sort of begs the question why he doesn't speak Dutch when talking to Dutch journalists? – user11249 Jan 13 '18 at 23:51
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    @Carpetsmoker "some dutch" would mean that there is a considerable risk of saying something wrong. At best it would be something senseless or that cannot be understood, but at worst he could unadvertently say something offensive. It is always wise for an ambassador to avoid misunderstandings (doubly so if the ambassador did already say offensive things even before being appointed). – SJuan76 Jan 14 '18 at 1:50
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I haven't heard him speak Dutch, but that said he's as Dutch as anyone in politics over here gets. I'm a Hope College alumnus just like Pete, and in the four years I was there my Dutch professor had come across only one student who spoke better Dutch than myself, and I speak broken conversational Dutch.

The last significant immigrant Dutch waves to the United States were just after World War II to the Grand Rapids area in Michigan, northwestern Iowa, and eastern South Dakota, but mainly Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia. Based on my experience, I would not expect anyone born from that generation to speak Dutch fluently.

The fact that Pete speaks Dutch at all and has such a long history in politics makes him well-suited for this role.

In addition, Dutch people are generally very literate in English, especially those most interested in politics. Why is English inappropriate to use?

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    This doesn't really seem to answer the question. – Erik Nov 6 '18 at 18:38
  • It might be worth noting that Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia are not in the US. – phoog Nov 6 '18 at 22:56

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