Whenever you deal with people outside your own country, you have to find ways to bridge cultural divides. Try and do business in Japan and you can easily think you are doing great but nothing will ever happen — this is because the Japanese simply won’t say no. It is not the way they do things. In contrast, the Dutch could be considered the anti-Japanese. They are so forthright and blunt.
To an American or Brit, it can come off as offensive – though no offense is intended. In time, we came to appreciate this character trait; it lets you know where you stand. It means you don’t waste time. We also learned it is just a clear expression of how someone stands at the moment. Over time, we have found our Dutch friends are actually quite flexible – adjusting their firmly stated positions to new information.
We sent Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to see what nuances of communication she could glean in Holland:
Fasten your seatbelts, or more pointedly, shift your bicycle gears and cultural mores for the launch of The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference, November 2-4 in Holland, which promises to be a unique, dynamic ride. [All the while, watch out for speeding cyclists — the Netherlands has more bikes than people, including energetic, health-conscious produce executives routinely peddling to work and racing toward a competive edge.]
For newcomers to the Dutch culture, or attendees being reaquainted with it, gleaning insight into the nuanced social and business sensibilities could help jumpstart and cement strategic partnerships, and avoid some unfortunate communication mishaps. In an enriching pre-Show visit to Holland to meet with produce industry leaders and explore and report on the exciting and important things to do and know, a reoccuring, playful phrase resonated amid my travels: “There’s a Dutch saying…”, the conversation would go, proceeded by a colorful anecdote and wink to a valuable piece of advice, or an intuitive understanding.
One industry executive in particular seemed to master the art of provocative proverbial recitation so vibrantly and humorously, I felt an overwhelming desire to share his favorite Dutch sayings to inspire attendees. In fact, Nic Jooste, a partner, and director of marketing, corporate communication for Dutch importer-distributor Cool Fresh international, headquartered in Ridderkerk, The Netherlands, is actually South African, further informing his perspective.
DUTCH NICKNAMES: (Left) Nic Jooste, Director of Marketing, Corporate Communication at Cool Fresh International. His informal fun moniker in the office is ‘Vliegende Kip’ – directly translated ‘Flying Chicken’. This is a Dutch title for a person who does many different jobs. In English it could also be ‘general dogsbody’, ‘gofer’, ‘grunt’ or lackey’.
(In the middle) Karel van der Linde, Retail Executive who runs the firm’s retail programs across Europe, using his official name!
(Right) Paul van Douwen – Commercial Executive. His job is split 50/50 between servicing clients all over Europe, and managing import programs for avocados, pomegranates and dates. Of Paul, associates say he is ‘Het zonnetje in huis’. Translated literally, ‘Paul is the sun in our house’. This means he is always happy and smiling, and brings joy into everyday life.
Amsterdam Produce Show exhibitors will both come from Holland and far away — South Africa, Peru, America, Israel, etc. Speakers will be heavy to Holland, with an international presence as well. On the buyer side, there will be a lot of people from the Benelux countries. We also will have buyers from across Europe, America, Asia, etc., much as we do at our New York and London Produce Shows. But the Amsterdam Produce Show will definitely have its own identity!
Dutch sayings to ponder (courtesy of Nic Jooste):
‘Doe maar gewoon, dan doe je al gek genoeg’
Dutch people like normalcy.The Dutch expression ‘Doe Normaal’ roughly translates to “just be normal!” So, just what does “being normal” actually mean in the Netherlands? Well, the easiest way to define acceptable normal Dutch behavior is to list the biggest offenders of non-normalcy. They are, in no particular order:
2. Showing off or acting pretentious
3. Discussing money (or how much you have)
4. Showing a little too much personality
5. Showing overt public displays of anger or emotion
6. Not following the ever-important rules and regulations
7. Acting or being anything else perceived to be “weird”, “different” “disobedient” or “foreign”
When asked to define the Dutch character, 9 out of 10 Dutch people will quote the following saying:Doe maar gewoon, dan doe je al gek genoeg. Translation: just act normal, that’s already crazy enough!!
‘Ik doe het met twee vingers in de neus’
Literally it means being able to do something “with two fingers in your nose”. This informal expression says that something is very easy for you to do. For instance: ‘The Dutch can solve logistics problems with two fingers in the nose’.
This is a model of negotiation in which the parties keep on negotiating until consensus is reached. The polder model has been described as ‘a pragmatic recognition of pluriformity’ and ‘cooperation despite differences.”
One explanation of this term refers to a unique aspect of the Netherlands, that it consists in large part of polders, (land reclaimed from the sea), which requires constant pumping and maintenance of the dykes. So ever since the Middle Ages, when the process of land reclamation began, different societies living in the same polder have been forced to cooperate because without unanimous agreement on shared responsibility for maintenance of the dykes and pumping stations, the polders would have flooded and everyone would have suffered. Crucially, even when different cities in the same polder were at war, they still had to cooperate in this respect.
This is thought to have taught the Dutch to set aside differences for a greater purpose. The current Dutch polder model is said to have begun with the Wassenaar Accords of 1982, when unions, employers, and government decided on a comprehensive plan to revitalize the economy involving shorter working times and less pay on the one hand, and more employment on the other. This polder model, combined with a neoliberal economic policy of privatization and budget cuts, has been held to be responsible for the Dutch economic miracle of the late 1990s.
‘Door de zure appel bijten’
Literally: finish eating the sour apple. This means that you have to go through something difficult or uncomfortable, in any case for the moment. Afterwards it will get better…..
‘Uit je neus zitten eten’
Literally: the process of nose picking and consuming the harvest. Meaning: sitting and doing nothing.
‘De kool en de geit willen sparen’
Translated literally: ‘Saving the cabbage AND the goat’. It means keeping everybody happy, especially as it relates to parties with conflicting interests. In English: Run with the hare and hunt with the hounds.
How do these Dutch sayings and the underlying meanings compare to those adages passed through generations at the myriad countries being represented at the Amsterdam Show? Jooste points to “cultural grand canyons” between certain countries and generations and the need to adapt and distinguish strategies based on those schisms. However, he argues a major exception is Generation Z, the cohort following the Millennials, raised in the Internet and social media craze, which has created a global cultural commonality, acknowledging, “Reaching young people requires a different mindset, and for many of us, communicating in a foreign way.”
One thing is certain, uniting in person and generating first-hand connections at The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference will go a long way to bridging communication and cultural gaps. Get ready to emmerse yourself in innovation, meet intriguing people, and tap into unchartered business opportunities and diverse, burgeoning markets. Exchange ideas with the produce industry movers and shakers to capitalize on the greatest industry thruway for global fresh fruit and vegetable trade in the heart of Europe.
If we forget about Antarctica – we have industry members from every continent at The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference. Yet the whole concept is intimate. People come for the Opening cocktail reception, they stay at the Amsterdam Hilton, they see the same people at the bar, at the gym, in the hotel restaurant. They sit at the breakfast together, go to seminars and workshops together, interact at the trade show and chef demos, enjoy a free evening together and go on tours together.
It is the kind of quality of interaction that leads to, well, understanding and that leads to business and to friendship.
So come join us in Amsterdam, to network, to learn, to do business and to #CelebrateFresh
You can register on the link right here or at the door. Don’t forget the Opening Cocktail Reception tonight at 6:30pm and the Opening Thought Leader Breakfast at 7:30am on Thursday. Tours depart the Amsterdam Hilton between 7:30 and 8:00 AM on Friday.
See you at the Opening Cocktail Reception!