Friday, October 5, 2012

Becoming Dutch

Subconsciously, people absorb the thoughts, attitudes, and rituals of the people around them. Of course there are deep rooted values that you learned as a child and are difficult to ever get rid of, but without realizing it you will subtly become a bit more like those you spend time with. When living outside your home country, this subconscious adaptation process is perhaps more altering. The few visits I've made to the US during the past two years of living abroad have shown me how I've changed and perhaps picked up some of the habits of the people I've spent time with in the places I've lived. However  there are certain things that haven't changed and probably never will. As I study cross cultural management I've become perhaps too aware of culture differences and how they affect interactions, and how one changes in a different cultural setting. Through this study I've discovered how "Dutch" I really am. One of the books we're studying for the class is written by Geert Hofstede, a researcher who created dimensions of culture through cross cultural surveys. He attempted to quantify culture, something I don't entirely agree with, but something that can make for some interesting discussions and comparisons when thinking about all the places I've lived over the past few years. Excuse the nerdiness of this post but below is a graph comparing the scores for the US cultural dimensions and the Dutch cultural dimensions

Enough nerdiness, you can read about the cultural dimensions and how surprisingly similar Dutch and American culture is (at least surprising to me since I thought the Dutch were more like Germans). Why am I Dutch?

-My (Greek) roommate and I consume an unbelievably amount of bread and cheese per week. All of the Dutch I know diligently bring their lunches to school with them. A Dutch lunch generally simply consists of bread and cheese and perhaps a bit of lunch meet. What's humorous to me is seeing my classmates bring almost a whole loaf of bread to class and happily munch on it. I also bring my own lunch to school and unlike the US where most of my friend simply ate in the cafeteria, I contentedly eat my homemade sandwich with my similar Dutch friends.

-Bringing my lunch to school brings me to point number two: my frugality. My "frugality" (there are less positive words for it) has been one constant in every place I've lived and at every stage in my life. I seem to have been born with some instinct and desire to save money at all times. I actually derive great pleasure from saving money and coming up with clever ways to cut costs. Riding around a rusty old bike that I got a good deal on (also practical since bike theft is a real problem here)? Of course! But what's lovely about this country is that all the Dutch do the same. There is no pretentiousness here. Everyone rides a bike (including the mail man--a fact that brightens my day every time I see the mail delivered) and most people have their old trusty bikes. Although, I still am probably still more frugal than the average Dutch, I don't have to explain myself to my Dutch friends when I'm trying to find the cheapest possible cell phone deal. And the expression "Dutch pay" was named Dutch for a reason. Personally, I appreciate the practicality and frugality of the Dutch. I will never understand the concept of credit and spending money you don't have.

-Sarcasm. Unlike your average German (sorry Germans), the Dutch sense of humour is actually quite sarcastic. I often find myself in situations similar to undergrad (all boys) where I am constantly being made fun of. My spelling skills are currently sub-par at best due to four years of engineering professors who were unable to spell and living in countries filled with non-native English speakers for two years. I have unfortunately made spelling errors in front of my whole class (not good when you're one of few native speakers in the class). My Dutch friends are quick to ask "which country are you from again?" and my spelling skills frequently are the topic of many jokes. It is quite pleasant to effortlessly be sarcastic without having to explain myself.

While my first month here was a bit of an adjustment coming from a country where time is meaningless, the sun shines constantly, everyone has a good sense of rhythm, and I constantly stood out, now I'm settling into the pleasantness of life in Holland. Even though the weather is predictably miserable and often causes me to nearly be blown off my bike, I am learning to deeply appreciate the orderliness of this country, the friendliness of people, the ability to find nearly anything I could possibly want in the store (and not just one store but many right next to each other! Who knew there were so many choices?), and the simply luxury of fitting in for once. Lastly, I have an unhealthy addiction to stroopwaffels. If I am obese in a few months stroopwaffels will be the cause.

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