I am often asked (okay, my mum asked once) how the working environment over here differs to that in the UK. Well, it’s different, that’s for sure.
I remember my first day in the office and the first encounter that I had with my boss. He came over to me, shook my hand firmly and said, “now, the only piece of advice that I can give you is…try not to be too British.” I smiled nervously, knowing that I had already failed whatever weird test he was giving me because I was British. He might as well have said, ‘don’t be too white or too ridiculous’ – two things that were an inherent part of me. I was white, ridiculous and British. He continued, “you see, us Dutch, we say what we think and if we don’t agree with something that you say, we will say it. It doesn’t mean that we don’t like you,” he paused, there was more to come. “Unless,” he winked, “we actually don’t like you – try not be too sensitive.” Oh god.
I took from that interaction the following –
- My boss hated me
- He already hated all my ideas (despite not having heard any yet)
The working environment over here is much flatter than the UK in terms of hierarchy – meaning that everyone gets to say anything to anyone. It’s just a much more open forum than the UK. In the UK, if there was a meeting and some poor chump was presenting an idea, when they finished, everyone would clap and say, ‘excellent idea’ and then we would wait until he left the room before ripping him apart. ‘What a terrible idea!’ we all would say. ‘That guy is an idiot!’ You get the picture. Over here, people tell it straight – they don’t wait for someone to leave the room. You grow a skin thicker than your average African elephant, but at least you know where you stand.
This ‘flat hierarchy’ that the Dutch have becomes more interesting the more nationalities that you have within a company. For instance, the Germans tend to favour a stricter hierarchical structure – as history has shown us – and so they rarely speak out. Often, the battle between the authority-fearing Germans and the straight-talking Dutch leaves me somewhere in the middle, sitting on a large fence, not wanting to rock any boats – I couldn’t be more British. The longer I am here, the more English I am becoming. I find myself saying things like ‘cheerio’ and ‘bob’s your uncle’ and things that I never really said before. It’s like an allergic reaction to Holland.
On a personal level, a piece of advice. If you date a Dutch man and you come to ask him that question – does my bum look big in this? You better be sure that your arse does not look big in that because if it does, he’s going to tell you.
I have to say, one year on, I am still convinced that my boss hates me but at least I have learnt to be more confrontational in the work place – even if I do cry alone in a toilet cubicle immediately afterwards, it’s a start.