Like many countries, the Netherlands has several subcultures. You can look at the Netherlands and the rest of the world from many different cultural points of view. However, there is a worldwide general image of the Netherlands, just as Dutch people have their believes about the Germans, Americans, Japanese, Russians etc. What do people form other countries find typical Dutch?
Imagine you are invited to a birthday party. Most Dutch visitors will be pretty straightforward in accepting or denying the invitation. For example, they would say:
“Thank you for your invitation! I will be there.” or
“ No, I am sorry, I can’t make it. Maybe next time.” or
“ I have to check, but I will let you know as soon as possible. “
When preparing a party, the Dutch usually know how many people will join the party and how many groceries to buy.
In other countries …
Recently, someone told me a story about a Chinese man who was invited for a job-interview at a Dutch company. He had the diplomas, the competencies, and the experience – a strong case for the prime candidate. Surprisingly, he didn’t get the job. The reasons given was he seemed too hesitant and shy since he made little eye-contact.
Imagine you are on your way to an important meeting, a job interview for example. You want to be on time and leave a good first impression. On your way you run into someone you admire, someone you respect, for example you former boss. He or she starts a long story, while you have to be at your appointment. He talks and talks and in the meantime you start to feel uncomfortable. If this conversation continues like this, you are going to be late. What do you do?
During my time at a big international hotel in Mallorca my team and I had the task to make sure the guests spent their money at the hotel. In order to do so, we hosted a big event every evening. The more engaging the program, the longer people stayed, and the more money was spent at the bar. To create excitement and hype for the evening it was important to get to know the guests during the day. We did this by playing sports and games, which wasn’t as easy as it sounds.
Let’s be honest: do you know any Dutch person who wakes up happy on King’s day because it’s the King’s birthday? I know I don’t. We do not particularly adore the King. Nonetheless, the Netherlands sees the most exuberant celebration of a King’s or Queen’s birthday in the world. The celebration’s most remarkable feature? Its flea market. Who wants to spend their free time selling old rubbish in the street?
So one arrives – with qualifications that aren’t valid – in a country with an unknown language and culture. And for animals of habit – which we are – this means there’s work to be done. Learning a new language and culture takes time and effort, as does getting used to a life and a country in which everything is different. Regardless of how well you prepare, it’s a process that has its ups and downs. And forget just popping in on family and friends – it’s simply no longer possible. In fact, your partner is the only support you have, certainly in the beginning.