“Help yourself with anything in the fridge, I’ll be back in a minute”, said my host as he was strolling away passed his kitchen door. This was in America where in traditional rural areas the kitchen is part of the public space of the house, visitors come and go through that rear door, and so is the fridge as equipment there. And they mean it: do take that beer yourself out of the fridge! as good peaches with a large public space usually do.
Answers to this simple question may prove diverse, basically affirmative or negative. For the one, it is stating the obvious, replying “Yes, of course (for the sake of privacy)”, but for the other, it goes more like: “Well no, why should I (I have nothing to hide)? Indeed, it is not so simple. Closing your curtains while turning the lights on in your living-room when it is getting dark outside to get some privacy has a cultural connotation, especially in The Netherlands.
“And I need this report ASAP!” Familiar? Who has never been confronted with this (possibly pushy) deadline in his/her professional life? ASAP (as soon as possible) is a common time expression in predominantly monochronic or linear cultures where people experience time as a continuum or a sequence. In global, modern management, it often means “right now, this minute” (or even preferably “yesterday”). However, it is subject to cultural interpretations. For people in more polychronic or synchronic societies, it can literally mean as soon as it is possible to make time for it, depending on various constraints or even fate, so maybe much later. This often results in misunderstandings or conflicts, especially when protagonists ignore each other’s...
“Class, I want your paper by Friday 5pm”. This is a classical deadline that is put to students who need to return an assignment before or by a certain time. As we all know, time is subject to multiple interpretations based on our cultural background or personal preferences. In my previous column, I dealt with the perception of the concepts of past, present and future that we have around the world. A term like deadline refers to the way we see the present or near future.
It was a beautiful sunny day and a man took his mother, wife and daughter for a trip on his rowing boat. All four people were delighted by this short voyage. But suddenly the weather deteriorated and a heavy storm set in. The boat came in great difficulties and eventually overturned and sank. The man, although equipped with strong arms, could carry only one of the three women with him swimming ashore. Which of the three did he take back to safety?
Jasper is a Dutch student who was doing an internship at an Indonesian company. One fine day, his local mentor Abdul and a few colleagues took him out on an excursion to a nearby ancient and famous Hindu temple. Upon arriving at the temple, they started to talk about religion. The Indonesians in the group were all Muslims. They asked Jasper about his religion. He spontaneously replied he didn’t have any religion and didn’t really believe in anything. For a moment there was an awkward silence among the Indonesians. Obviously Jasper’s choice to say that was not very wise. So what happened there? How should he have reacted to the question about his religion?
It was a sunny day in Amsterdam and I was doing some sightseeing with an Italian girlfriend. Walking past churches she would invariably ask about the names, after which saint they were called, etc. Passing near the Moses and Aaron Church I ventured to say that it was not used as a church anymore, but nowadays served for various cultural or social events. As I recalled from my own experience in my student years in Amsterdam, it also served as a meeting place for the local tax office.
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!