You have started your new life in a new country and the first months have flown by! You had to arrange many necessary things, such as a BSN number, bank account, a house, your health insurance and more. But now this is behind you and getting used to the Netherlands can really start... And then, you notice the Dutch are more distant than you are used to. It gives you a little culture shock, because in your culture things are a bit friendlier. What is the best way to deal with this? And also: is it really meant to be as blunt as it sometimes comes across?
What is the best way to recognize a Dutchman? Well, for instance, him being stingy. 'Going Dutch' is a well-known expression outside of the Netherlands for a reason… Everyone pays for themselves. Something the English found very rude a few centuries ago already....
But are the Dutch stingier than people from other cultures?... Daniëlle Braun, an anthropologist, said some time ago in the podcast 'Unfiltered' that in many cultures people like to make sure they keep a leash and a kind of debt to each other. 'One time I pay, another time you pay': that keeps the relationship flowing and means there will always be a next time.
The fact that the Dutch, often right after a drink or a dinner, start talking about sending a Tikkie (an app that allows everyone to pay their own share) has to do with equality. Dutch people find this very important within relationships and they also like it when they at least have the illusion that they contribute equally and that the score is back to zero after a date with each other.
The Dutch have an aversion to hierarchy and from this aversion they also feel that they are allowed and able to simply express their opinions. During a meeting, a Dutchman will therefore immediately say what he thinks of your idea, whether negative or positive. And you are then just expected to be able to handle this well. Regardless of where you come from.
What's more, they also expect you to just say what you think! For the Dutch this is quite normal, but for you it really takes some getting used to when this happens to you... Please know that this is not meant to put anyone off or to put you on the spot. It's just honesty and efficiency and certainly nothing personal. In doing so, it also gives you the opportunity to say what you think, so you and your colleagues can be clear with each other. Something that can move a project forward in a good way.
The Dutch also place great value on a 'promise'. You have to keep it. It really is a no go when you say yes, but mean no. Or saying you will meet the deadline when that is actually not realistic. They prefer you to say honestly and directly that the deadline is not feasible, but you are happy to think of solutions.
Other things that are sometimes a bit unusual about the Dutch? They always have the curtains open, you can just see everything of their house, but ringing the doorbell unexpectedly to join them for dinner is not a good idea. And as open as the windows are, conversations about salaries or which party you vote for are closed.
I could give many more examples, but if you work as an expat in the Netherlands yourself, you probably share more examples with other expats on a regular basis. Perhaps laughing out loud. I can often laugh about it myself and understand why things sometimes seem a bit strange... And it is then my job to make sure you are well prepared for our culture.
I do this by immersing myself in your background and making sure I have a good guideline to start the conversation with you. To do this, I use Geert Hofstede's theory and his 6 dimensions. One of my goals during such a conversation, is to manage expectations.
A few examples of Hofstede's dimensions I use to guide our expats;
- When someone comes from a hierarchical culture, I indicate that we interact a bit more 'informally'. A manager actually values your opinion. Share your opinion and thoughts during a meeting! You don't have to say 'yes and amen' to your supervisor.
- When someone comes from a more collective environment where 'we' and 'together' are very important, I tell them that the Dutchman is a bit more independent and works more from the 'I' point of view. That is why it is important that you inform people of your ideas. After all, you won't be asked. The Dutch trust everyone's own assertiveness. And don't be surprised if you don't speak to your direct colleague outside working hours. We like to keep that separate. Except for a World Cup football tournament, which we do like to watch together.
- When someone comes from a more masculine culture, I explain that the Netherlands has a more feminine culture, in other words, problems are solved because everything can be discussed and a compromise is sought. Something is not just decided for you. So it is also very important for you to discuss your problem.
When you move to a different country, there are so many things that astonish you, let alone when you start working entirely in a high tech environment. Then it's nice if someone can help you and explain things, so you don't face any surprises, but are prepared instead. This is where at ENTER I try to help our expats as much as possible. Nice advantage of that for me? I also learn something new from someone's culture every time.
Interested in reading more? Erica earlier wrote another blog: 'How we at ENTER mentor our expats'