Wetenschap - 28 februari 2002

Column: Preference for the familiar

Column: Preference for the familiar

There is a battle that is raging within us. We are animals of great complexity. We have abandoned the natural world for the self-constructed isolation of the artificial. But, however we have changed externally, the primitive creature remains within. The question is just how many of our decisions in life are influenced by instinct? And just what effect does instinct have in a modern setting?

We have clouded our lives with much that is superficial, but somewhere in the dark recesses of our being there are forces motivating us to act as we do. Particularly in formative years our minds and bodies seem to have a completely different agenda. That contradiction is emphasised most strongly when there is a need to interact with others. Ask any employer and communication skills will appear high on their list of requirements for potential employees. It seems that in this time of mass information those who can put the facts across most effectively will be the most successful.

A university setting offers an ideal opportunity to meet a diverse selection of people. Social exchanges are an ever present ritual to be endured or enjoyed. There is a plethora of international students in Wageningen and I have never met a friendlier bunch of people. Local culture is all well and good but as the Lowlanders themselves insist, the cosy (gezellig) atmosphere is a uniquely Dutch characteristic.

They say birds of a feather flock together and the further you travel from your homeland the smaller the world seems. Having experiences in common, even if they are, for instance, just having the same native tongue can be the foundation for becoming firm friends. And conversely it is the great differences between us all that intrigue and perplex us to the extent that we are moved to learn more about each other.

It is such a thrill to meet fellow Britons in Wageningen as they are a rare breed here. You find the etiquette is less formal with your countrymen (or women) and it is truly therapeutic to just blurt out some nonsensical comment and have the conversation (almost) immediately understood. Accompanying the advantages of comprehension, however, comes the unfortunate side effect of attacks of verbal diarrhoea and the uncontrollable urge to relate your life story. The theory of six degrees of separation states that through a network of people who know one another the entire planet is acquainted.

At my university in Leeds, Northern England the struggle was more to present your own individuality, to stand out from the crowd and be noticed. From my experience of Wageningen there seems a reluctance to draw attention to yourself so the end result is for weirdos like myself to be even more conspicuous.

David Lee Hopkins

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