“Do you have anything else other than milk?”, I cautiously asked looking at the range of milk but also cartons of fruit juice and of course the standard coffee and tea displayed on the table in front of me. “Oh yes, sir, we also have butter milk”. I silently sighed and ventured to ask for just water with some sarcasm in my voice. “Oh I’m sorry, but we don’t have water”. No water for lunch? After insisting a bit, I finally got some water from the faucet in the nearby pantry, along with lots of apologies. Probably a recognizable situation for many internationals in the Netherlands.
In the past months, as I was cycling past ‘Parkview’, the new student housing building on our TU/e-Science Park, I’ve seen the building rise at the high speed of one floor a week. The weeks passed by until the 13th week when much to my surprise construction suddenly stopped. I counted and recounted the numbers of levels, indeed thirteen (13), no more and no less. I immediately wondered who would like to live on the 13th floor of a housing building here in the Netherlands.
Alaaf vs nihao… was the choice I had to make regarding these two major cultural events that were back to back and overlapped this year. Indeed, the Chinese Spring Festival a.k.a. The Lunar New Year met Carnival a.k.a. Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras last week. But choosing was easy because Carnival has never meant much for me (not my culture… and I don’t like beer), whereas Chinese festivities as a whole trigger my curiosity and nourish my intercultural hunger. So I quickly decided to devote my time and energy to participating in the Chinese Spring Festival.
In my latest column in January, I described the cultural differences in greetings (bowing, kissing or shaking hands) around the world, and we saw that the Dutch and the French, for example, practice greetings or express wishes in different ways. Now let’s go deeper into the topic and examine habits in the more intimate, romantic and passionate kissing, a.k.a. French kissing.
These forms of greetings are actually the title of a book that reviews various business practices and greeting forms in about 60 countries. Needless to say, such general informative books are quickly outdated. But not so when it comes to greeting practices, the topic I want to tackle in this first column at the beginning of this new year 2016.
TU/e-employees will soon receive their Christmas gift box as a traditional sign of gratification for the hard work performed in the past year. The big tutti quanti box has been replaced by a smaller box with the traditional wine (and not one, but two bottles!) and a Bijenkorf gift card. This box is simple, easy to take home, and it fits the Calvinist approach to gift-giving. So far so good, although…
We all need symbols in life. Whether animals we venerate (like lions, roosters, cows, dragons, etc.), monuments we admire (i.e. Tour Eiffel, Gateway of India, Brandenburger Tor, etc.), or real or fictive characters we worship (such as gods and goddesses, kings and queens, celebrities, and Santa Claus and the like…). So what would count as a symbol for the Netherlands? Sinterklaas and his zwarte pieten? “Oh no, please, not again…”, I hear you say, right? This is far too controversial and doesn’t stand for the unity of the Dutchies. There’s fortunately one symbol that embraces all Dutch cultural characteristics and hence isn’t subject to any controversy: the fiets!
A native of Strasbourg, I’ve lived 33 years in the Netherlands and worked 30 years at TU/e. I teach intercultural communication in various forms and also help develop further our Community. As such culture and communication are part of my entire life and they activate my 5 senses all day long! And I like to share these impressions and experiences. So stay tuned for more!