Zeg Jort

‘Zeg Jort, zou jij niet een utilistisch ballonnetje voor me kunnen oplaten in de media? Bij OP1 bijvoorbeeld. Die Ira Helsloot werd afgeserveerd, kreeg de gelegenheid gewoon niet.’

‘Als ik daarbij kan helpen Mark, is prima. Ik bel de redactie wel even. En als het ballonnetje knapt?’

‘Maak je geen illusies, dat doet die zeker, en dan ga ik het over een valse tegenstelling hebben. Sta jij in de kou. Maar we moeten de geesten laten rijpen.’

‘Ben ik gewend van je Mark! Je kunt op me rekenen’.

Het zou zomaar een telefoongesprek tussen Mark Rutte en vriend Jort Kelder geweest kunnen zijn. Rutte, hoog te paard in zijn strijd tegen het Corona virus. Jort, als een Sancho Pancha, in zijn schaduw. Rutte stond voor een duivels dilemma. Nederlanders verwachtten een kantiaanse redenatie: we moeten elk afzonderlijk leven respecteren en alles doen om dat te redden. Onze maatschappij is gebouwd is op de sociaalliberale traditie, waar individualisme, gelijkheid en solidariteit centraal staan. Maar hoe lang zouden we dit isolement volhouden? Wanneer zou Rutte zijn teugels laten vieren en zijn oren laten hangen naar de utilisten. Zij, die zeggen: weegt het leed van duizenden slachtoffers wel op tegen het potentiële verlies aan levensgeluk van miljoenen anderen? Hij mocht het denken, maar niet zomaar zeggen. Toen nog niet. De geesten moesten eerst rijpen.

De manier waarop onze leiders communiceren is bij uitstek bepaald door cultuur. De Franse President Emmanuel Macron en onze Mark Rutte spraken half maart hun volk toe. Historische toespraken waren het. Rutte deed ons beseffen dat ‘de realiteit is, dat het coronavirus onder ons is en voorlopig ook onder ons zal blijven.’ Macron gebruikte grotere woorden: ‘We zijn in oorlog,’ een retoriek dat hij herhaaldelijk gebruikte toen hij een nationale lockdown aankondigde. ‘Alle overtredingen worden bestraft,’ voegde Macron streng toe. Rutte daarentegen vroeg om verstand en solidariteit. ‘We moeten dit echt met 17 miljoen mensen doen…Let een beetje op elkaar.’ Niet veel later kondigde hij de intelligente lock-down en social distancing aan. De straten in zowel Parijs als Amsterdam waren nagenoeg leeg.

De Fransen en de Nederlanders gaan anders om met autoriteit en onzekerheid. Nederlanders communiceren op een andere manier dan bijna alle andere volken in de wereld. Verschillen in cultuur leiden tot verschillen in communicatiestijl, zeker bij crises. Hoe werkt dat dan met de cultuur? Stel je eens voor dat Texel de enige plek in Nederland is die nog virusvrij is. Toeristen uit de hele wereld zitten nog op het eiland. Ze halen de pont uit de vaart op en sluiten de poorten. Ze zijn volledig op zichzelf aangewezen. De bewoners komen bij elkaar en iedereen mag iets zeggen over hoe ze de nieuwe realiteit willen inrichten. Al snel gaat het over leiderschap, regels, handhaving, besluitvorming, de zwakkeren en de sterksten. Met nieuwe eilanders uit onder meer Nederland, India, China, de Verenigde Staten, Spanje, Zweden en Rusland wordt het geen gemakkelijke discussie. Maken we een pot, of krijg je wat je kunt betalen? Zoeken we consensus of bepaalt de baas? Hebben we regels nodig en hoe worden die dan gehandhaafd? Er blijkt fundamenteel verschil in inzicht te bestaan in zaken als autoriteit, individualisme, solidariteit, onzekerheid en lange termijn denken. Niet omdat de nieuwkomers het van huis uit zo gewend zijn, maar omdat ze anders zijn opgevoed; het gaat over hun normen en waarden. Het zijn de sociale dilemma’s die opgelost moeten worden om tot een stabiele samenleving te komen. Bij een acute crisis als we doormaakten zie je dat beter dan ooit, in de maatregelen en in de retoriek.

Macron die een Gaullistische toon aansloeg en de centrale macht van de Staat inzet. Rutte en zijn Zweedse collega die appelleren aan de solidariteit. Trump die eerst het China virus wegwuift en zich leek te verheugen op zijn grote succes door straks niet de door hem aangekondigde 100 tot 240 duizend doden te betreuren, maar slechts een miraculeuze 50 of 70 duizend. Inmiddels komt hij bedrogen uit. Hij strompelt van de ene naar de andere blunder, net als zijn maat Boris Johnson. Maar in een cultuur waar de zero-sum norm leidend is kan de oorzaak van iedere flater met gemak de tegenstander aangewreven worden. De Chinezen, de WHO, CNN en natuurlijk de Democraten kregen er al van langs. Aan de oevers van de Rijn waren we getuige van de wederopstanding van Merkel, die zelfs vanuit quarantaine, indruk maakte met een ingehouden en op feiten gebaseerd pleidooi voor naastenliefde en zorg voor elkaar.

Wij zijn ondertussen nog steeds trots op Rutte. Staatsman inmiddels, maar toch een van ons. Hij zette de hamsteraars op hun nummer en verzekerde dat we genoeg wc-papier hebben om 10 jaar te poepen. Een variant op Koning, Keizer Admiraal, wc-papier gebruiken we allemaal. En zo werden niet alleen de hamsteraars, maar ook Jort afgeserveerd door zijn vriend Mark, die zich bijna daags na diens optreden fel verzet tegen wat hij de ‘schijntegenstelling’ tussen economie en gezondheid noemt. ‘Die is er niet’. Rutte, zuchtte en worstelde, bleef verschoond van hoon, maar de geest was uit de fles. Dat is het proces dat nodig is bij Nederland. Niet de President bepaalt, maar wij bepalen, althans we willen graag denken dat we hebben kunnen meedenken. Rutte zorgde ondertussen zelfs voor volksvermaak. We mochten allemaal live meekijken hoe aanbieders van een corona-app als gladiatoren in een arena verscheurd werden door de leeuwen van de epidemiologie, gezondheidszorg, privacy, informatiebeveiliging en ict. Damnatio ad bestia. Toch wat van dat Romeinse in ons. Want hoe moest het verder, allereerst na 11 mei?

Het was de tijd om te realiseren waar we stonden en waar we willen zijn; wat werkelijk belangrijk is in ons leven en vooral dat van onze kinderen. Mijn dochter, aankomend schrijver en kritisch denker vroeg voor een artikel dat ze mocht schrijven: ‘Pap, wat is nu eigenlijk zo’n brievenbusfirma écht?’ Ik legde het uit en bevestigde wat ze al vreesde. Ze was verontwaardigd: ‘En dat vinden wij goed? Terwijl er niet genoeg onderwijzers, ic-bedden of mondkapjes waren?’ Ik dacht aan de mensen die deze firma’s bedenken, goedkeuren, faciliteren of hebben. Wat is de zin ervan? Waar is het geld gebleven? Is gewoon rijk al niet rijk genoeg?

Het was misschien een detail, maar in Nederland zagen we de afgelopen decennia een opmars van het neoliberalisme, een meer cynische kijk op het leven. Er waren zoveel vragen die we onszelf en onze omgeving, in dat bijzondere isolement dat we ondergingen, moesten stellen. Deze universele crisis heeft weeffouten in onze moderne samenleving blootgelegd. Het gaat nu niet alleen over het financiële systeem, over migratie, racisme of stikstof. Het gaat over hoe we samen willen voortleven. We kregen de kans om weer te worden wat het beste bij ons, bij Nederland, past.

De lockdown lijkt alweer lang geleden. De drukte neemt toe, we plannen weer en gaan van hot naar haar. De waan van de dag lijkt het virus meegevoerd te hebben. Althans voor diegenen die gezond zijn gebleven. Laat die waan deze nieuwe Rutte niet meevoeren want misschien neemt hij ons wel mee in een nieuwe richting. Een richting die veel beter bij ons past. Rutte voelde haarfijn aan wat we wilden horen en wist wat we moesten horen. We waren er klaar voor om tot onze zinnen te komen. Dat is wat wilde horen en wat we nog steeds moeten horen.

Online trainingen interculturele communicatie vind je hier.

 

 

 

Empty Streets in Paris and Amsterdam

French President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands both addressed their nations on Monday evening regarding the state of affairs around coronavirus Covid-19. Rutte said that “the reality is that the coronavirus is among us and will remain among us for the time being.” Macron used stronger words than Rutte and than in his earlier address: “We are at war.” He repeated this rhetoric multiple times during his announcement of a nationwide lockdown lasting at least 15 days. “All infractions will be punished,” Macron added sternly. “There will be checks and controls in place.”

Rutte, however, appealed to sensibility and solidarity. “…with all the uncertainties out there, one thing is absolutely clear: the task we are facing is very big and we really have to do this with 17 million people. Together we will overcome this difficult period. Look after each other a bit. I am counting on you.”

The Dutch and French deal with authority and uncertainty in different ways. Macron’s words would have caused uproar in the Netherlands, while he received respect in France. Rutte’s words would have generated less impact in France, while they gained him respect in the Netherlands.

The streets are empty in Paris and in Amsterdam.

These very fundamental and different views on social dilemmas, including our understanding of authority and uncertainty, generate a wide array of strategies to step up efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus in the culturally diverse European Union.

Not to the surprise of those observing intercultural communication. In the case of France and the Netherlands we have seen, for instance, how Air France and KLM have struggled to not only merge their airlines, but also the mindset of their leadership.

Lockdown: hints from a former hostage

In my early years as a manager I was captured and held hostage by Colombian guerillas. In spite of the sharp contrast with the lockdown most of us are facing today I apply some lessons learned, even from the comfort of my own home.

The Corona virus is a scary and invisible enemy. There is this illness looming, possible loss of income and social isolation. We do not know how long the ordeal will last and for how long we will be confined to our homes, or other places where we happened to be. The initial sensation of being grounded gave a sense of excitement, even happiness. Empty agendas, time to spend together or catching up with the unending to-do list. But as the days pass, discomfort, anxiety, boredom and irritations remind us that this is not something to take lightly. We are locked down. We need to protect our mental and physical health.

Rhythm

When I was held hostage, I did not have a real reason to rise early. No meetings to go to, no activities planned, no targets. My mission was to survive. To stay sane and not go nuts. My mission drove me to get up early and create structure in my day. Today, tomorrow and every other of the 248 days. What worked for me was that I had no real bed, so staying in the sack (yes, literally) was not very appealing. There I got lucky.

I started the day with exercises, which I repeated throughout the day and picked-up doing again now. Push-ups, running-in-place, crunches, lunges, yoga poses. Today, at home, the drill also includes running up and down the stairs. There are apps like 7minutes to support us and set targets. Twenty-five push-ups today and when you make the 75 push-ups, well, you never know, the virus may have come under control and you are free to go out again. One of the most important lessons I learned in isolation was to set goals.

Purpose

In this lockdown we often find our agendas empty with Netflix and the fridge calling; the day disappears like sand through our fingers. This is fine for a few days, we enjoy the break, but after a while the lackluster starts nagging. When this test is over, we want to be proud over what we have accomplished. Setting a (realistic) goal and achieving it makes you proud and looking forward to the next achievement. Create a mind map. The article or book you always wanted write, the book that has been eyeing you all this time, the painting you never painted. These are special times. Keep a diary. Your children and grandchildren will love to read how you experienced this historic episode. In my solitary confinement I wrote a book about my ordeal (published in Dutch and Spanish); I designed crossword puzzles; memorized the German grammatical cases and started drawing once I was finally given my first pencil. Each page I wrote, each drawing I completed or puzzle I designed filled me with pride and joy.

Denial and acceptance

When I was captured, I hoped that I would be set free after the weekend, next week, maybe one week later, early next month. Not knowing how long the confinement will take is frustrating. It is okay to be frustrated. It does not make sense to deny negative sentiments. It does help, however, not to see your lockdown as one big setback. Sitting in my cell, suffering from the cold, getting a blue butt because I had no chair, being annoyed with the stupid conversations of the guards and missing my wife and kids; I still tried to avoid being mad at the kidnap itself. I tried to focus on only one of the many misfortunes and come to peace with it. ‘I hate the cold, yes, and it is fine to detest it. But I have a pencil to draw with, I am supplied with some food (lentils…again!!) and I am still fit.’

Try to stay away from the avalanche of news which only creates negative energy. Turn off the internet every once in a while. Read news only twice a day and never before going to sleep. Trust the experts, not the social media. The future is uncertain. We have to release control. My adage is: I accept life as it is, but I try to let it be as I like it. This is the moment to contemplate on our pre-Corona lives. The moment to tune in with your feelings and perhaps the moment to look forward to transformation. When I was set free it was my first step away from the corporate world and a first step towards social entrepreneurship.

A small world

Make your world as small as the home you are confined to. Appreciate what you have. Appreciate the silence, the sounds, nature however remote. I will never forget the sound of the rustling leaves of the eucalyptus trees around the finca where I was held. The sound was soothing and the faint smell gave me a sense of peace and confidence. Do not forget to laugh. Humor was a lifesaver to me, in spite of all the hardship. LOL.

My experience is from solitary confinement. Being in isolation with a partner and children provides different dynamics. Much is written about how to stay on speaking terms, how to address individual and family needs, how to manage frustrations. Being married for more than 35 years qualifies me to say a few things on keeping the relationship healthy as well. However, I will not do that: your own sanity will contribute to that of your partner.

Het Meisje van Tota (published in Dutch)

Unraveling the Mysteries of Culture

Professor Geert Hofstede, one of the Netherlands’ most widely cited and translated scholars, passed away in February 2020, at the age of 91. Hofstede is known for his pioneering research on cross-cultural groups and organizations and has been a great source of inspiration to those who have tried to unravel the mysteries of culture. At the heart of Professor Hofstede’s work is the question: what are the mutual role expectations between the archetypical role pair of teacher and students in different cultures? The way these roles are played is guided by deeply-rooted values which lead to feelings about good and evil, right and wrong, rational and irrational, proper and improper. These feelings burden cross-cultural learning with premature judgments that can come from teachers, students and parents.

More egalitarian and individualistic cultures have developed a more conceptual learning style, requiring students to apply their knowledge in different situations

Social Dilemmas

Through his research, Geert Hofstede extracted four fundamental social dilemmas: the relationship to power (hierarchical or egalitarian), the relationship to the group (collectivistic or individualistic), the relationship to motivation and, finally, the relationship to uncertainty, culminating in his four cultural dimensions: the Hofstede Model. These dimensions have helped many people better understand the perplexities of cross-cultural education, most of which I have experienced and witnessed myself as an expat child, expat parent and intercultural trainer.

Educational Track

Consider the power dilemma and the different social positions teachers have in different cultures. In cultures that are more sensitive to hierarchy, as I witnessed as a child in Colombia, students from privileged families will often have access to a privileged educational track – private schools, private tutors and a wealth of learning resources – but not so in more egalitarian cultures. In the Netherlands, a teacher is nothing more or less than anybody else. The same applies to the students – one is not better than the other. The Dutch school system is anti-elitist and there are relatively few private schools in the country. Kids attending a private school are often seen as rich kids who do not have the intellectual capacity to successfully complete ‘normal’ schools. This egalitarian approach often baffles parents from cultures in which different school systems cater to the different needs of the various social groups in society.

Teaching Style

Adding the dimension of individualism to the equation, the differences become even larger. Contemplate the way knowledge is managed. In the Chinese Confucian tradition, the ‘teacher’ is the most respected profession. The Chinese and many other hierarchical and collectivistic cultures have developed a reverence for the tutor, the guru. These societies are more likely to have established a rote learning pattern, which, simply put, is the storage of the data in the brain, without necessarily understanding the concept. The teaching style is one-directional, and students become good at copy-pasting. It often involves a focus on the creation of tacit knowledge, knowing what to do or say rather than why.

Other, more egalitarian and individualistic cultures have developed a more conceptual learning style, requiring students to apply their knowledge in different situations. There is more focus on explicit knowledge – knowing how. Having switched from these different styles myself, from rote learning in Latin America to conceptual learning after returning to the Netherlands, I remember having been frustrated with the apparent disorder in my new Dutch classroom. I saw little respect for the teachers and could hardly develop respect myself for these teachers, who let us, children, find our own ways – creating what seemed to me a mess.

Curriculum

Hofstede has also described how societies have different inclinations to avoid uncertainty – this is demonstrated in how one society will focus on the relevance of the curriculum, while another will find a more flexible learning path acceptable. In the former, especially if these are more hierarchical and centralized, it is normal for the curriculum to be dictated ‘from above’. Methodology and content are closely monitored by the government. A teacher is expected to be the expert and have all the answers; deference and obedience are virtues. In other – individualistic and decentralized – cultures, such as the Netherlands, schools and their faculty have more freedom to develop their own curriculum and learning method. The learning outcomes are measured against a standard set by the Ministry of Education. Also, teachers in these cultures welcome and stimulate intellectual challenge by students. Critical thinking is seen as a skill that is important to develop and a great asset later in life, in the workplace.

Sixes

We have discussed how the differences in hierarchy, individualism and uncertainty affect cross- cultural education. The final difference in the Hofstede framework is in what motivates students. The Netherlands, often to the astonishment of expat parents, has what we call the zesjes culture: the culture of the sixes. A six, on a scale of ten, is a good enough score to pass their courses and gives the children spare time to enjoy other aspects of life. I attended university in the United States with a group of 18 Dutch students. Rather than trying to be the best in the class, we helped each other achieve our goal to earn our master’s degree, all the while allowing us to enjoy the pleasures of local Arizona life which included rafting, hiking, skiing and hot tubbing – pleasures we did not have back home. Later in life and back in the United States, my wife and I were put off by the high level of competition our son was subjected to in elementary school.

We cannot expect local schools to adapt their style and methods to the needs of all their expat students. We canexpect tutors, adolescent students and parents, however, to develop an awareness of the different roles and learning expectations that exist in cross-cultural education. “Thank you for helping me take off my cultural glasses,” said one expat parent after one of my workshops. “I am more confident now that my 11-year-old daughter will get the education we want her to have. And, I guess, she’d better become a more outspoken and a critical thinker in order to defend herself here in the Netherlands.” I was not sure her wink was one of relief or mockery.

Geert Hofstede has provided us with a unique and valuable systematic framework for assessing and differentiating national cultures and organizational cultures, even in education. We will honor Hofstede’s legacy by accepting his guidance and helping each other to recognize, understand, accept and reconciliate cultural differences. It will help us remove our prejudices and see that we have more in common than not.

Words are all we have

High Context

During the coffee break of an intercultural management training for expats in the Netherlands, Kamiko, a Japanese HR Manager, approached me; ‘I have been working in the Netherlands for seven months now. It has been a great experience so far. Thank you.’ There was more to come and rather than asking her directly I acknowledged her observation with a smile and allowed for a moment of silence. The other participants were off to catch a few rays of sun and nothing came between Kamiko, me and our silence. Then she continued: ‘I understand the way Dutch communicate and today you are helping me to understand why we use different words to express ourselves. I am trying to adapt, but my mind is often not aligned with my heart. And I’m often afraid the Dutch notice my reservation.” Kamiko had been clearly uncomfortable about the communication between her and her Dutch colleagues. She had been well-prepared; all travel guides for the Netherlands discuss the directness and bluntness in their speech. ‘Words are all we have,’ American writer Samuel Beckett once said. The Anglo Saxons, like the Dutch, are low-context speakers. What you hear is what you get. This is not so in many other cultures, including the Japanese.

In many cultures, people use high-context communication for a two key reasons. One reason is their sensitivity to social hierarchy, also described as the power-distance dimension in the Hofstede model for intercultural management. I experienced this firsthand during one of my first assignments as an expat country manager in Guatemala. I was welcomed very warmly into the company. My management approach was to allow the staff to take initiative, speak-up, focus on personal development etc. After a while I was bewildered with the lack of response. People worked hard, but they kept a distance from me (I wanted to be the facilitator rather than the boss). I soon found out, over a beer with one of the well-traveled seniors, that my staff had only one need. The need for me to be their boss, to be in charge, to provide clear instructions and to check on their progress. My ‘facilitator’ style made them insecure, although they would never show this, let alone tell me. Any feedback would be very reluctantly and indirect. From that point, I still encouraged employees to offer their suggestions, but I avoided leaving employees to manage their work themselves. Confiding in their ability to contact the boss if they would run into problems or have additional questions was clearly inefficient. In hierarchical cultures like Guatemala, people appreciate the boss paying interest in their work by checking it, even unnecessarily. In the egalitarian Netherlands there is a ‘no news is good news’ and ‘trust me, I can do it’ approach. ‘Problems? We tell you.’ Lees verder

Take it or leave it

“At one point I thought: take it or leave it,” said Marijke, a case manager for dementia in the City of Eindhoven. Marijke was one of the fifteen participants in my cultural awareness training. Marijke’s frustration was shared by her peers. “Migrant families do not always recognize or acknowledge dementia in a family member,” Marijke continued. “Those families are often unwilling to accept our help that is available to them.”

Ellen, from Rotterdam, portrayed one of her cases. “A Vietnamese family was assigned to me last year. The father had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and the one of the daughters had finally contacted us for support. Had she only called us earlier!” Ellen sighed, “Not only was the father in an advanced stage of dementia, but the eldest daughter was under a lot of strain. Her younger sister was the one who had called us. She had clearly gone against the wishes of her family to go outside for help. The family had slowly become isolated.”

Anneke, who is based in The Hague, said: “Well at least they had decided themselves that an outside agency was the best way to go.”

“The one daughter, yes,” responded Ellen. “But I agree: we are often facing reluctance and sometimes outright distrust.”

Dementia in migrant communities is an increasing problem in the Netherlands and worldwide. The number of patients diagnosed with dementia increases at a rate more than double of that of native Dutch. There are a number of reasons for this increase. Until recently, the mean age for migrants was well below 65.The original migrants are getting older now and these older, first generation, members of these communities are often more susceptible to the health risks associated with poor diet, lack of exercise and smoking and, consequently, to the risk of vascular dementia through conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. Individual cases become complex because of delayed consultation for diagnosis, fear of discrimination and cultural stigma.

Ellen, Anneke, Marijke and the others discussed different families with a migrant background – mostly families from South East Asia, Turkey, Eastern Europe, North Africa and the Caribbean – in their practice. They agreed that there were certain common tendencies amongst these families: lack of trust, concealing the dementia and keeping it within the family were only a few of the aspects mentioned.

I asked the group to discuss a few Dutch family cases in their practice and list the differences they observed from the migrant families. All agreed that the differences were profound and that this challenged them as caretakers: rather than using the ‘Dutch approach’, they had to now navigate carefully through the cultural nuances that were often “rough seas” for the families concerned. “Dutch families actively seek external help even if this is not yet assigned to them,” Ellen said. “There is immediate trust in the relief we can offer. That is in contrast with many of the migrant families.” The others agreed. There is no immediate trust.

“Would I trust external care takers as easily if I would be an expat?” It was Willem from Amsterdam posing this rhetorical question. The group was unanimous in their response.

“Yes, I think my initial reaction to the offer of external care would be to grant trust, as long as the organization involved is certified, of course.” Marijke voiced the sentiment of the group.

“Or is there more to it than just trust?” I asked. The group pondered my question. Trust for sure, but most had also sensed shame, a tendency ‘to keep it within the family’. And was it shame because of the stigma of dementia or the shame of being seen as letting the family down if one would not provide the care?

“In the Netherlands we might feel guilty of sending a parent off to a nursing home or have outside support services attend to the need of the elderly. But we do not feel shame. It is accepted that we have our own lives. Children, jobs, many activities. It is how our parents raised us; to lead our own lives,” said Julie.

“And we do not have a moral obligation to be the sole caretaker – this strong sense of needing to fulfill a duty, a deeply rooted obligation towards the elderly,” added Ellen. “The elder daughter of the Vietnamese family, a mom of three with a part-time job, was compelled, at her own expense, to go through great length in caring for her father. She once told me that she did this to gain his blessings.”

The group realized that in other cultures there is a precarious balance between shame, inner pride and duty. If a family member suffers from Alzheimer’s, this balance is put to the test. Perhaps, because of the stigma of dementia, to save face in the community but also because of fear of condemnation? The group summarized: “Trying to keep it within the family,” said one. “Conflict between shame and inner pride,” said another. The result is often a long stage of denial and concealment, and finally isolation.

“The Korean way of thinking, I was once told by a third-generation teenager with roots in Korea,” said Marijke, “is that caring for the elderly is a responsibility and fulfilling this obligation is associated with a deep feeling of ‘saving face’”.

The group of dedicated case managers recognized the deeply rooted cultural differences that emerge when family members become seriously ill, exacerbated in cases of dementia. By sharing their experiences and understanding the deeper values in these communities the Dutch care takers learned to accept that the relationship between individuals is developed differently in the Netherlands than in many other cultures. The Dutch society is built on individuality, many others on collectivism.

During the training the care takers’ frustration of not being accepted, let alone involved, in an early stage was transformed to understanding and accepting cross-cultural issues such as trust, saving face and obligation. ‘Take or leave it’ is not an option. The option is to accept and address these issues and provide enough opportunity to build trust, avoid loss of face and allow younger generations to fulfill their duties. Caring for these sentiments is caring for the person suffering from dementia as well as for the family doing their best to cope with difficult times and trying to be a local on foreign soil.

De Macht van Tijd

In 2006 was Hua Wei een van de belangrijkste kandidaten om de apparatuur te leveren voor een landelijk crisiscentrum in Sri Lanka. De communicatie verliep moeizaam en de haastig ingevlogen Australiër die het systeem alsnog aan de man moest brengen kwam te laat. Voor de technologie hadden we het niet hoeven laten, maar de communicatie tussen de vele internationale betrokkenen zou veel te wensen over hebben gelaten. Toch begrepen we toen al: Hua Wei, een bedrijf om in de gaten te houden.

In 2006 zagen we al dat China langzaam maar zeker de Europeanen en Amerikanen uit de markt aan het drukken waren. China kreeg steeds meer grip op de infrastructuur in het strategisch gelegen Sri Lanka. Later, toen China de vlag hees voor de nieuwe zijderoute, het OBOR project, beseften velen in het Westen pas hoe China de kaas van het brood had gegeten.

Maar al die tijd werkten de Chinezen aan iets veel groters, iets dat hen nog veel meer macht zou verschaffen: een virtuele zijderoute. Een route die loopt via onze mainframes, routers en mobiele telefoons. De virtuele vlag is in China allang gehesen en wij wrijven het slaapzand uit onze ogen.

Eigenlijk is er niets nieuws gebeurd. Bedrijven als Cisco, Microsoft en Apple zaten al onder onze huid. Alleen: de Chinezen hebben de tijd. Veel tijd. Geen kwartaalcijfers en verkiezingen. En dat is hun grootste troef.

House Pimping

It was early November. The leaves had turned yellow and were, with their last strength, still hanging onto their branches. The day was another record-breaking one, with temperatures soaring to a wonderful 15 degrees centigrade. The sun had just crawled above the buildings along the Prinsengracht and played a final trick with me. I cherished the moment, smartphone tucked away, sipping a cortado, and sitting back.

Tourists from all the countries I ever visited were passing by.  Lees verder

To your health!

Published in the Xpat Journal.

In most cultures, people have their own way of making a toast. People raise their glass and say things like na zradavi, egészségére, salud, santé, zum Wohl or ganbei. And proost! here in the Netherlands. These are all local expressions for wishing you good health.

“Luckily, there are destinations where good relationships are sealed by juices or tea”

In some cultures, you look your well-wisher in the eyes, in others, you take the spirit without a flinch and in a single gulp, and in yet others, you stand straight and pronounce a speech. And everywhere, the drink is to your health with an immediate breach of the pledge by having you take a glass of an often-fiery local substance that will normally not improve your health. During my many business travels, I have raised hundreds of glasses with colleagues, customers and suppliers. Small glasses in China, huge ones in Germany, sophisticated ones in France and cheap ones back home. I must be the healthiest person on earth with so many people wishing me all this well-being.

Going Dutch

In many cultures, the most important consideration is to ‘give face’ to your hosts. It is a good idea to deflect compliments while offering many to others; humility being a virtue. Being Dutch, however, it takes time to become aware of all the intercultural sensitivities surrounding a toast. If we are not careful, a few shots of alcohol might just be enough to awaken the Dutch bluntness in us, to the point where we feel free to point out a flaw or mistake, offending others at the table in the act. Expats in the Netherlands may have experienced this already. As we travel, however, it is we who need to be sensitive to other cultures. Let me share a few of my experiences from around the world – you will see how different they are! Lees verder

Nothing to Brag About

 

Cultural differences have an influence, in multiple ways, on the relationship between teachers and students, teachers and parents and between students. The ultimate learning outcome, short or long-term, may not be what parents, teachers or students expect if cultural differences are not recognized and reconciled. In this article, I will refer to three social dilemmas that have a significant impact on education: how people deal with authority, how people relate to each other and how people are motivated. Lees verder