News - October 4, 2012

Confused by the Dutch directness

Recently I had troubles with the definition of the Dutch straightforwardness.

A colander can trigger a dispute?

Scene 1
In a meeting with my thesis Dutch supervisor, I was asked about my opinion on patents. I expressed my slight disdain to the story between Apple and Samsung: 'People are misusing patents for undeserved profits.' 'But do you know how much I pay to keep my patent?' she suddenly got serious. The gargantuan amount she told me shocked me; now I knew patents are not free. On the contrary, they can be very expensive. I still thought it a pleasant chat until the other day, when I emailed her for a figure. She replied: 'there is one thing I would like to discuss if you use the (confidential) knowledge/figure.' I finally realized it was a not random talk, but a feeler. I was flabbergasted: rather than testing circuitously if I'm a sieve, why not let me sign the confidentiality agreement directly?
Scene 2
During a tour of the lab, a Dutch PhD-student Mark showed me the use of Gas chromatograph (GC), which unfortunately was broken. He went to the analyst's office for help, who was talking with a professor. It was 5.10 p.m. He didn't go in but stood outside and murmured: 'come on, I don't want to be home late.' Obviously he lost patience about the talk inside. 'So why not just interrupt them and ask for help?' I asked. 'Because he's professor,' he asked. I was flabbergasted: actually the Dutch also have the sense of hierarchy. But in the classroom don't the Dutch interrupt the teacher's talk and ask questions? What's the difference?  
Scene 3
I was cooking in the kitchen. Later a Dutch corridor mate came in. 'Derek, may I use that vergiet?' He was pointing at the colander which I had put the endive in. 'Why? ' 'I need it to place to drain my pasta,' he said. 'But I'm using it, why not use another one?' I asked. 'Because that's the best one,' he said. 'Can't I use it for a second?' he asked again. 'Sorry I'm afraid you can't.' I insisted. 'Fine,' he left with grumbling, obviously he got cross. Thankfully the other two people in the kitchen survived the suffocating air by the time. I got confused: is my directness too blunt?
Why did my straightforwardness backfire? I'm afraid I oversimplifed the Dutch directness. Confucius teaches us to examine ourselves three times daily. I tried, but I haven't figured out my faults above. Maybe it's just a moment in life that I have to stumble, then stand up and move on.

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