Wetenschap - 25 juli 2002

Sport and betting liven up lab routine

Sport and betting liven up lab routine

The Laboratory of Microbiology may well win the prize for the most international research group in Wageningen. Many nationalities are present, ranging from the Balkans to China. While they have quite different habits and attitudes, betting on the Tour de France, table tennis games and other social activities bring them together.

The microbiologists do a lot to encourage integration, ranging from weekly soccer games to daily table tennis sessions in the lab. As you enter the lab you can?t miss the posters advertising the Tour de France. The researchers have compiled their own fictitious cycling team and bet money that they will be among the first ten of various legs of the Tour. Some have selected only sprinters like Robbie McEwen and Jaan Kirsipuu, and are doing well. Others are more chauvinistic, with a team consisting solely of fellow countrymen.

Each morning the microbiologists cycle up their own 'mountain' to reach their place of work on the Wageningse berg, the only mountain in the area the foreigners complain. On arrival however they forget the mountain and slip into the international setting. The Laboratory of Molecular Ecology has a very wide variety of nationalities. "Altogether we have eight Dutch researchers and thirteen from other countries," says Dutch PhD student Kees Roest. "They come from France, Portugal, Bulgaria, Serbia, Ireland, Germany, Belgium, Tunisia and China, and we're expecting more from Estonia and the United States."

What Roest and his colleagues share is their interest in micro-organisms, which they examine at length under microscopes. But inevitably their different cultural backgrounds give way to surprises and sometimes misunderstandings. "The foreigners tend to take long lunch breaks," says Roest. "One and a half hours is not uncommon, and instead of a sandwich they prefer a warm lunch at home." Some try to cope with Dutch food, like Yuan Zhao, recently arrived from China: "I would like to bring a meal with rice to the lab, but I can't warm it up here. The ovens are only meant for chemicals."

Bulgarian Vesela Tzeneva also finds it difficult to get used to Dutch eating habits, despite being married to a Dutchman. "I've never had a good meal here. I can't believe for example that people combine zuurkool with apples, raisins and a sausage."

During work the different social backgrounds also emerge. Serbian Mirjana Rajilic puts her finger of one of the essential parts of Dutch culture: "In my home country I tend to socialise at work when I want to, which means chatting and drinking coffee at unpredictable times. But the Dutch seem to have to schedule coffee breaks and other breaks to the minute." Roest responds: "We really need to organise the social activities. The coffee break at ten sharp in the morning is very important for socialising, and so are the soccer games and barbecues." The work in the lab, procedures that require a lot of concentration such as counting bacteria, is not endangered by the many social activities, he thinks. People work much more keenly knowing they will play table tennis during the lunch break, which in turn refreshes them for the work period to come.

Hugo Bouter

Photo: Guy Ackermans

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