Sint was thinking…


‘Sinterklaas was thinking, what should he give this year.’ Ha, crap, that doesn't rhyme, does it? Celebrating Sinterklaas with international colleagues: now that's a challenge!

How do you explain this phenomenon? What narrative can account for why an ancient man would come by boat from Madrid (read: inland Spain WITHOUT any direct connection to the sea, but okay I won't kick up a fuss about that right now) to give children in the Netherlands gifts? And I'm not even going to mention the 'Peters'.

As if this isn't enough of a challenge for the month of December, I've faced a much greater one. This week our research group is going on retreat. And as it is Sinterklaas, we are going 'to do surprises'. Try explaining that.

Amusing but silly

International colleague: “So you make something amusing for someone?” Me: “Um, well, yes in theory, but sometimes something amusing is actually something silly, you see?” Misunderstandings abound. How do you explain that a surprise is usually made with a touch of sarcasm, but that doesn't have to be the case? What is just the right note to strike? How big should that 'pinch' of truth be to stay just the right side of funny?

How do you subtlety let on that one colleague spends the entire day making irritating lip-smacking noises that drive you up the wall, or that another could perhaps for once try not hammering the keyboard quite so hard. Oh yes, if there's going to be any question of sharing the office after today, subtlety is going to be a must.

My mission started a few weeks ago with the preparation of a guidance document, ‘Sint Surprises for Dummies’, and facilitating ‘the road to December 5th’. This ‘road to’ involved me in various activities, such as spending a couple of hours of research time being creative with the scissors and colored paper. The hallway here is now adorned with a fabulously attractive, self-made chimney (including the head of Amerigo) where all our colleagues can hang up their wish lists. Which makes the surprises that little bit easier to invent.

Not that everything has gone quite so smoothly. For weeks we've had to listen to each other's whingeing and problems with the surprises. Trawling through Pinterest together in search of inspiration proved fruitless. English rhyming dictionary pages were clicked away ruthlessly; after all, all hope of creating a halfway decent poem was lost, wasn't it? But at the end of the day this hasn't all been in vain. However much of a failure the surprises soon turn out to be, it was still fun. And we've got to know another (strange) facet of the Netherlands.

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