As a freshman on my Bachelor’s programme in Maastricht, I had my first big misunderstanding with Dutch culture. I went to the faculty secretariat because I wanted my high school diploma back. For the enrolment process I had sent them the original document, not a certified copy. My bad, of course. But when I asked if I could have the document back, the secretary immediately denied all responsibility for retrieving the diploma, on her own and her colleagues’ behalf.
The secretary blushed, her face became alarmed and angry. She said: ‘Don’t speak to me in that tone, or I will have to ask you to leave the room!’ Oh oh, I was SO unsettled. I swear I was not using an impolite tone. However, considering that I was a foreigner and the one that needed a service, I apologized for my reaction. The secretary returned to her professional and polite manners. She reassured me that she would try to trace the diploma. She did, within just 3 days.
The lesson I learned: insistence will not pay off with dutiful Dutch clerks. Quite the opposite, it might be interpreted as distrust and impoliteness, blocking the cooperation you were trying to obtain.
Camilla Ponte, MSc student of International develoment studies.