Adjusting and settling into a new
country with its unique unspoken assumptions and predispositions is both
adventurous and overwhelming.
Feelings of unsettledness are common. Besides the change of geography, language, job, schools and housing, cultural differences also play an important role.
In fact, the importance of
understanding and adjusting to cultural differences can be overlooked due to
the focus on the necessities of housing, schooling and jobs. So what defines a
culture? According to Hofstede, known for his cultural dimensions theory, culture
is defined as being “the collective programming of the mind that distinguishes the members of one organisation from others."
Hence it is important to understand
the mindset of a collective culture to understand its people. Verbal and
non-verbal behaviours differ across cultures and do not translate easily which
can lead to misunderstandings. For example, within the Dutch egalitarian,
individualistic and liberal culture people speak their mind. In turn, for example the British are more subtle and bite their tongue more often. The Dutch tell it as they see it, which can be confronting and at times seem rude to others.
Interestingly facial expressions, often
perceived as universal in fact have subtle differences. Any typical four year
old can correctly define a facial expression into a feeling i.e. sad, happy,
excited, surprised etc. So although universally similar the degree to which
feelings are expressed vary from culture to culture. Human behaviors are driven by their values, beliefs, and attitudes, and it is helpful to consider how these invisible
aspects of culture drive these behaviors.
Therefore, understanding a culture’s
mannerisms can be beneficial and a true eye opener. Learning the language is a
great means to better understand a culture. It not only clarifies literal Dutch
to English translations, it also presents an insight and understanding into these cultural variances. On top of this, learning Dutch helps to break down the barrier of the ‘us’ versus ‘them’.
Upon learning the language, one
starts to understand and appreciate cultural words such as gezellig and expressions such as doe maar normaal, dan doe je gek genoeg which are both engraved into the Dutch culture. Normaal does not have a negative connotation in Dutch whereas the loose English translation of 'average' does. For example, Americans generally aim to be more than average and monetary achievements and successes are celebrated and recognized by others.
Buying a new Porsche due to hard work is therefore generally applauded by others. In The Netherlands however the opposite holds true. It is perceived as overstating your wealth. The phrase doe maar normaal dan doe je gek genoeg is very fitting for this example.
A second English expression which is
also fitting for the Dutch culture is going
Dutch. These insights and more allow for a better understanding of the Dutch
culture and in turn helps with the settling in period. A period of at least one year is typically required to settle in.
Still feeling confused and sometimes
speechless by the Dutch directness? Why don’t you try it yourself. Grab a rotten
apple at your supermarket and return it at check-out, stating the obvious, ‘it is rotten and I do not want it' or even better practice your Dutch, 'hij is beurs, ik hoef hem niet' . I suspect the check-out lady will not even notice your directness.
Go on, go Dutch!
Published : Hilversum Today, 2015