Here I was, a 24-year-old starting her Master’s degree in the Netherlands. Coming from Suriname, where the language is the same as in the Netherlands, I thought this would be a piece of cake and there would be no big differences between the cultures. Well, I was wrong. It turned out I accidently insulted people by showing them respect in the Surinamese way.
A big difference I encountered was how students talk to their teachers, parents and other ‘older’ people. They use the personal pronoun jij instead of the more formal u. I still decided that I was going to use u, because I thought it would be more respectful. Oh was I wrong.
The first time I said u to my teacher – who is around 40 years old – he looked very upset. The second time I used it, he said, ‘Please don't say u to me, I'm still young’.
Having lived most of my life in Suriname I am used to addressing people older than me with u. And even people that are younger than you and have a higher position than you are addressed with u. So I was really surprised by the reactions I was getting. I noticed that here u is mostly associated with being really old or with formal, standoffish communication.
Having lived here for two years now I have learned that showing respect to others is not dependent on a little word but is always shown by attitude.
Nyasha Dakriet, MSc student of Aquaculture and marine resource management, from Suriname
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