Organisation - October 8, 2009

Entertaining guests

During my first month in the Netherlands I invited some friends I had made during my introduction week in Wageningen to my place for dinner, to catch up with their latest news. At the end of a very pleasant evening of Greek food and inter-cultural conversation, I was stunned to be asked by one of my guests what was in her own words a 'typical Dutch question': whether she could contribute to the expenses of the meal! For a moment I was left speechless, since according to my culture this is a serious offence to the person that is hosting the dinner. But I immediately recovered and explained the impropriety of the suggestion.

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In Greece, entertaining guests at a dinner at home is considered to be a very important thing. We put great effort into preparing the meal, we deliberately over-cater because offering your guests second helpings is part of the decorum, and we make sure that we present the best of our cuisine. In fact the Greek word for hospitality, which we consider to be one of our defining characteristics is 'filoxenia' meaning love for strangers, people outside the family. Attempting to pay your Greek host for a dinner invitation is a grave insult to his/her efforts to share the best of his/her culture/home with you, and is the worst possible breach of the rules of etiquette.
In the three years that have passed since then, I look at this strange incident in a completely different way. Dutch culture has several unique characteristics that I still find completely fascinating: lack of social pressure, or in other words a great level of tolerance, a great respect for the rights of the individual, directness and open mindedness that means people do not hesitate to deal even with the most unthinkable issues (euthanasia, rights of homosexuals, and legalization of soft drugs, to mention but a few). I now understand that the desire 'not to impose oneself on others' in the Netherlands is very strong and that this culture allows people to express bluntly even things that it is unthinkable to discuss in many other countries. However, since it is impossible for people to interact without 'imposing' on each other at some level I still find that attempts such as this to put a price on everything can be meaningless and even immoral. /Elissavet Gkogka, PhD Laboratory of Food Microbiology.
Do you have a nice anecdote about your experience of going Dutch? Send it in! Describe an encounter with Dutch culture in detail and comment on it briefly.
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