Here I was, a 24-year-old starting her Master’s degree in the Netherlands. Coming from Suriname, where the language is the same as in the Netherlands, I thought this would be a piece of cake and there would be no big differences between the cultures. Well, I was wrong. It turned out I accidently insulted people by showing them respect in the Surinamese way.
A big difference I encountered was how students talk to their teachers, parents and other ‘older’ people. They use the personal pronoun jij instead of the more formal u. I still decided that I was going to use u, because I thought it would be more respectful. Oh was I wrong.
The first time I said u to my teacher – who is around 40 years old – he looked very upset. The second time I used it, he said, ‘Please don't say u to me, I'm still young’.
Having lived most of my life in Suriname I am used to addressing people older than me with u. And even people that are younger than you and have a higher position than you are addressed with u. So I was really surprised by the reactions I was getting. I noticed that here u is mostly associated with being really old or with formal, standoffish communication.
Having lived here for two years now I have learned that showing respect to others is not dependent on a little word but is always shown by attitude.
Nyasha Dakriet, MSc student of Aquaculture and marine resource management, from Suriname
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NL: Beledigd door 'u'
Dat wordt een eitje, dacht Nyasha Dakriet toen ze naar Nederland vertrok om te studeren. Als Surinaamse sprak ze al Nederlands en veel cultuurverschillen verwachtte ze niet. Het viel haar wel direct op dat Nederlanders tegen Jan en alleman ‘je’ zeggen. Maar zelf hield ze voor de zekerheid vast aan het respectvolle ‘u’ dat ze thuis gewend was. Totdat ze de beledigde blik van haar docent zag. ‘Ik ben nog jong hoor!’ Sindsdien weet ze dat respect niet in een woordje zit, maar in je houding.