News - May 27, 2010

Informal & Equal?


Before coming to Netherlands, I was already told that being informal and equal were typical of Dutch social style in daily life.

Yes, mister
The first week I started my study, I experienced what 'informal  and equal' truly meant. One day I made an appointment with my study advisor to discuss my courses. During our conversation, I always called him Mister or ended my sentences with the word Sir. At the end of our discussion, he asked me to call him by his first name!  He said it was fine to do so. 
For me it is not fine. In my country Indonesia, it is considered extremely impolite to call your lecturers by name. Calling a professor by his title, for example, is the form of respect and appreciation. It took me months to get use to the way Dutch students speak with lecturers. Every time my Dutch friend called our professor by name, my ears tingled! However, the professor didn't seem to mind at all. He even didn't mind opening the door for me: something that I wouldn't expect to happen if I were in my country.
Not only are the Dutch 'informal', they are also quite equal when it comes to tasks. The cleaning duty is my best example. In the department where I did my research, we had an annual cleanup which is done every year in the middle of December. What surprised me was that the cleaning must be done by all the people in the department. No exception is made, even for lecturers.  You can imagine how I felt when I cleaned the lab table with my supervisor.  
Those daily life experiences make me realize how cultures can be so different, yet astonishing and enriching. Now, I don't find it awkward anymore to call my lecturers by their first name. As a matter of fact, it makes me feel closer to them and makes it easier to talk. Nonetheless, there is one thing for you to keep in mind: although now I call them by name, my respect for them is well maintained. 
Herda Bolly, MSc Food Technology