Flowers for the Dutch
On a hot afternoon the new MSc students are given instructions on how to reach the centre of town from the ISOW building and told to buy flowers to hand out to people in the street. Their mission: to make contact with Dutch people and get to know a bit more about the town they have come to live in for the next year or so
After locating a florist one group of five decide to buy roses. The first to receive a flower are an elderly Dutch couple who clearly appreciate the gesture. When Bantwini Matika introduces himself as coming from South Africa the man tells the group that he travels to South Africa every year. The second victim is a young man window-shopping with his girlfriend. They are somewhat overwhelmed when introduced to men from Mozambique, South Africa, Kenya and Sri Lanka and a woman from Mexico. They tell the group that they both work, the girl at the cafe in the Hema. Conversation dries up pretty quickly. Things change when the charming Matika encounters four women sitting at a pavement cafe
Three of them make themselves scarce, but the fourth is happy to talk so everyone sits down for a while. Michael Onyango from Kenya joins the group accompanied by an enormous sunflower he has bought. The Dutch girl, who studied forestry and has been working for some years now, has lots to tell about the Netherlands. Her information on winter temperatures makes Onyango wonder how he will survive. Imelda Solis asks if they can expect snow. Sure, is the girl's reply. Matika remarks that he has never seen snow, and goes on to enquire why the Dutch drink so much tea and coffee. That's because they need an excuse to take a break, the girl explains
The group take their leave and continue their stroll through the centre of Wageningen. In the park three men are not receptive to the flowers offered by Solis and Onyango. An old woman on her way to buy milk is charmed by Armando Ussivane and Onyango. In no time they learn that her dog is called Bingo and she gives them her address
At three o'clock the groups reassemble at the ISOW building to recount their experiences. One group had tried to start up a conversation with some people in a bar, but were turned away when they didn't order anything to drink. This is a business not a bus station, they were informed by the bartender. Apart from this most impressions were positive, although three Asians discovered that no Dutch woman police officers in uniform accept flowers. Another group offered a flower to two girls with a dog. The girls refused but the dog accepted
The Dutch: practical, critical and organised
The introductory week for the international students included a lecture by Dutch anthropologist Marcel Oomen. The subject: getting to know the Dutch. The inhabitants of the Netherlands like to think that everyone is just as important as everybody else, Oomen begins. They like to act normal, and contrary to appearances, do not consider themselves arrogant. They do not accept authority blindly, but are usually critical of it. The Dutch are also very direct: they don't talk about family life for half an hour when they want something from you.
One of the main mechanisms permeating all levels of Dutch society is that known as consensus. The Dutch are happy to talk for ages in order to reach a compromise. This is best illustrated by the way political parties work together in what is nearly always a coalition government. The Dutch also tend to think in terms of results. They are goal oriented, take responsibility seriously, are loath to spend a lot of money on things they regard as frivolous, and are also very pragmatic. That's why our palaces are relatively small - we don't like conspicuous displays of wealth - and why there are so many bikes around, Oomen explains. Bikes are cheap, easy to maintain and a good form of transport in a country which is so flat
Oomen points out that the Dutch are very well organised. He advises the audience to attend a wedding or funeral if possible. They will be surprised: everything takes place on time. One consequence of this character trait is that the Dutch tend to lack spontaneity. Even children carry a diary around to make a note of their appointments. Oomen warns the students to be prepared for the Dutch love of regulations. When you walk out of this room you will see at least five signs about where to put your cups and spoons. he jokes
The Dutch value their privacy highly, and are very much into doing their own thing. That's why dress code is very liberal, but the other side of the coin is that if you are having difficulty finding the way, nobody will automatically offer help. Oomen describes the Dutch as trade-oriented and money-minded - Holland is the third foreign investor in the United States - but at the same time eager to tell others how they should run their lives. As a result they often find themselves caught up in what Oomen terms the preacher-merchant dilemma. Four keywords which capture the essence of the Dutch and are therefore almost impossible to translate, but are worth trying to understand: gezellig, zielig, normaal and zuinig
So far, so good
Armando Ussivana is already feeling pretty much at home in Holland. The 30 year-old Soil and Water student from Mozambique arrived in Wageningen four weeks ago. Living in the Bornsesteeg, which are self-catering flats, means that there's not much of a communal corridor feeling, he explains. But he's not lonely as he made friends quickly on the mathematics refresher course. On Sunday he phoned his wife and two children back home, and they are doing alright. Thanks to his brother-in-law, who lives in Germany, there's a good chance they'll be able to come to Europe for Christmas. So far, so good, is Ussivana's conclusion
The same goes for Bantwini Matika from South Africa. He's here for the Leisure and Environment course and is living in the Rijnsteeg. Everything is wonderful, he relates enthusiastically, The guys and girls on my corridor are all nice. Last Sunday he went to watch sports, especially the football, although rugby is his game. Sport is my life, without it I couldn't survive. Everything is wonderful, he repeats, But I'm still looking for beautiful girls!
Monika Berdowska from Poland, also here in Wageningen for the Leisure and Environment MSc programme, has just said goodbye to her husband, who is on his way back home. Maybe that's why she's not feeling at home yet. She's living in a flat on the Haarweg and found a written welcome on the blackboard in the kitchen from her flatmates. She's looking forward to participating in corridor life, but at the moment there are only three other students around
MAKS student Nicholas Ahiadorme from Ghana is settling down well in Wageningen. He's already written seven letters to his wife and three children at home. He's also living in the Bornsesteeg. His one complaint: The rent's too high.
Number of MSc-students in 1997