Student - August 31, 2006

Table manners, kissing and traffic lights

Last week, students from all over the world came to Wageningen to start their MSc at the University. That every one has their own culture, habits and ways of communicating became clear during the Intercultural Communication Course given during the introduction days (AID).

‘She is far too late,’ says a Dutch girl agitatedly. ‘But I’m going to start eating anyway.’ Her neighbour from Tanzania looks at her and shakes his head. He and a third person sitting at the table continue waiting patiently for the fourth dinner guest who is already fifteen minutes late. The scene is a group of new MSc students performing in a role playing game.

Msalale Lupindu, also from Tanzania, has noticed the punctuality of Dutch people, who seem to get agitated, like the girl at the dinner table, when someone is only ten minutes late. But he is even more surprised about Dutch people’s strict observance of the law, especially traffic rules. ‘A driver waits at a red traffic light even when he is the only one at the crossing! Why is that?’ he wonders. Yuan Zheng from China was surprised by the way people in Wageningen greet each other. ‘Three kisses!’ she exclaims with her eyes wide open. While it is quite normal for Dutch people to kiss friends on the cheek when they meet, kissing in China is reserved for couples only.

How to behave at table during a simple meal loses all logic, however, when it involves people from four different cultures. By now the Dutch girl in the role-play is leaning back with her feet up on the table, her plate already empty. The others meanwhile have waited until the latecomer arrives, but manners continue to differ. One is still saying grace out loud while the other says ‘bon appetit’ and starts eating in silence. There is shy giggling from the public, but this erupts into loud laughter when it comes to the discussion about who’s going to pay the bill. Going Dutch is a strange concept in many cultures. / Laurien Holtjer

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