Organisation - June 9, 2010

The perfect guests...or the perfect hosts?

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Politeness takes different forms in different countries. In the Netherlands you say what you mean; in some other countries you say many things out of politeness, without really meaning it. 'Shall I help with the dishes?' is a good example.

'Shall I help with the dishes?'
The Dutch can be good hosts and welcome you in their homes pretty soon! A few weeks after arriving in the Netherlands for the first time, I was invited for dinner together with a Portuguese professor who was on a short sabbatical in the Netherlands, at the house of René Wijffels, our boss at that time. Dinner went pretty normally, I thought...until the Portuguese professor decided to be polite and ask if we could help with doing the dishes...In Southern Europe, 99.999% of hosts would have given the expected answer: No! But in the Netherlands you mean what you say and in addition, guests can do the dishes! So the dinner ended with the two Portuguese guests in the kitchen with their hands on the dirty dishes!
It was hilarious to hear the traditional Portuguese professor analyzing the situation, which he could not understand. How can you let your guests do the dishes? Even a professor?! As for me, I have stopped asking if I should help with the dishes, unless I am really prepared to do it.   However, I do ask myself why guests in Portugal cannot do the dishes and why we ask things we do not really mean, and call it politeness./Maria Barbosa, researcher Biobased Products and involved at AlgaeParc.
Do you have a nice anecdote about your experience of going Dutch? Send it in! Describe an encounter with Dutch culture in detail and comment on it briefly. 300 words max. Send it to resource@wur.nl and earn fifty euro and Dutch candy.

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