Sunday, January 29, 2012

It is none of my business and I am going to tell you anyway

A few weeks ago, Rob & I had dim sum with some friends in Amsterdam (a fantastic day that involved day drinking Belgian beer and another great meal at Gandhi). Two of the women at the table, both ex-pats, work for the same Dutch-based international electronics company. As you can imagine, there was a good bit of BM&G-ing (Bitch, Moan & Groan) happening around the lazy Susan regarding work life in the Netherlands.
This discussion got me thinking about what I have learned in my four years working in Holland and how this might help those of you currently suffering the culture shock of the Dutch work environment. Here are four things to remember about your work environment in Holland. They also apply to life in general as an ex-pat in the Netherlands.
1. No one will welcome you
2. No one will adapt for you
3. If you want something, you must ask explicitly
4. Pro-active means to complain
Do not expect a welcome or an introduction from Dutch colleagues. If you are lucky, someone will ask you a lot of personal questions, but don’t mistake this for caring, she's just curious. The Dutch do not like foreigners and they have no problem expressing this fact.
Don’t expect to be included in coffee conversations, unless you are already fluent in Dutch ( don’t worry, they are just chatting about the weather and knocking each other down, since this what most jokes are based on). Tact and social graces are not a part of the working culture; get used to it.
Don’t expect your manager to pick up on subtle clues. If you want something or need to right a wrong, you must explicitly discuss it. Do not expect your manager to ask how you are getting along; she assumes that if something is wrong, you will come to her ( I use the pronoun "her" ironically here, since there are zero lady managers around here).
If you are wondering how to get promoted, don’t worry, it is easy, especially if you are young. Go to your manager and tell him you don’t like your current project. He will find another one, usually better and with more responsibility, to keep you happy, since you are young and valuable…oops, this only works if you are Dutch.
On the upside, the coffee is always flowing!