The train to Eindhoven

May 11, 2009

I had a trip down memory lane today; flying in the Amsterdam then getting the train down to Eindhoven for the kick off meeting on a Phillips LIghting project.  Now I used to do that journey a lot in DataSciences days and I always enjoyed the trip. Faster and more comfortable than flying direct and you get to see the Dutch countryside from the double decker trains. Also Eindhoven is different from Amsterdam, I made the mistake of saying they were in Holland on my first visit, so they called me English for a week or so until I learnt my lesson and talked about the Netherlands.

I also learnt about a key cultural difference. When someone from the UK says they will do something on Friday then all reasonable people know they mean Wednesday of next week (don’t panic Tony, I do mean this Friday). However the same statement from the Netherlands is in effect a verbal contract. Net result, UK staff used to think the Dutch were impossible as they always hung back from commitment, while the Dutch thought the Brits were a bunch of incompetents who never kept their word. The reason they did not easily commit, is that once they did they meant it. Language is very much a part of social context and a consequence of that context. You have to listen to the stories to get anywhere near understanding another culture. Given the common history between the Netherlands and the UK you wouldn’t expect major differences, but there are. How much more so where there is little history in common, or what there is, it is colonial in nature.

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