Yes, here we are in the Netherlands for a nice on-site assignment and we meet our Dutch colleagues and our Dutch boss, exciting people and all is going well and good. It is easy to work with the Dutch, very understanding and helpful. And the Dutch, in turn, have been successful working with Indians and we make a nice team. Speaking from a professional perspective, no matter who you work with or whom you employ there could be some preconception in your mind about how the colleague/worker performs or behaves. The Dutch also have some preconceptions about Indian professionals. The following characteristics will be “applied” to you regardless of who you really are… just because you are from the subcontinent called India 🙂
- Always says ‘yes’: They say that we Indians never open our mind and say what the real status of the work is, instead we just try to make them happy by saying the work is over or is just about to complete etc.
- Whatever ‘I’ say happens: Suppose a Dutch colleague gives us a suggestion about doing some work, we say “yes, that can be done” nothing more. Ideally, we should be sharing with them what ‘we’ think about it. And the Dutch expects that input from us.
- Shake head sideways to say yes and up and down to say no: This one takes cake :). I have no idea how they got into that conclusion. A colleague of mine did ask me this. Silly 🙂
- This input I got from a very friendly colleague. You cannot hear it that easily from them. “See.. there is a kind of smell I get from you and some other Indians here… sorry to say this but is it just me or do you feel the same?”: If what my colleague told is true then there are 2 reasons. 1) Spice smell on clothes and shoulder bags 2) The groundnut oil applied on the skin by certain people. We get it in the Netherlands because of the climate and closed architecture in houses. And is difficult to spot since we get used to it here. The irony is that because of me, my Dutch colleague might expect this ‘smell’ from other fellow countrymen who may not really have it!:D That is the theory of preconception 🙂
- Poor table manners. I have heard a friend of mine say that Indians belch and won’t apologise at a dinner table(we don’t even realise we belched). And they say that we chew with our mouth open. Of course, they won’t say it looking into our eyes. If we have done it by chance, then they would have noticed it, that is 100% sure!
- Indians are not pro-active. Sometimes working with the Dutch can be a humiliating experience especially when you are a pro-active person. Even before you join a project you could be tagged as non-proactive. I sometimes feel sorry for Indians working offshore. No one can defend successfully to a non-proactive accusation as it is non-measurable and singling out some countrymen is nothing but unfair. If pro-activeness need to be ascertained/improved then a system should be in place and all people in the company should be measured on that. If not this should be considered harassment.
- Some say the Indian nurses, when they first come to the Netherlands, speak in low voices. And seem to be less confident about themselves. But as they integrate this changes.
- Emails with “please do the needful” are frowned upon, no matter how much clarity one brings with that sentence. One is supposed to mention clearly what needs to be done instead of generalising and escaping.
- Old men from Brabant region might remind you of a particular Heineken-daily-wage-slave-story because migrants remind them of that. This is racism and should be reported.
One thing worth noting is that even among the Dutch if someone says ‘yes’ just out of politeness, he/she loses respect. And one mistake Indian expats make is that seeing the freedom of expression in the Netherlands they tend to be a bit more direct than usual. Well, the thing is, in Dutch directness, there is a boundary kept.. a boundary of respect and decency. It in itself is an art to find the boundary. But make sure not to cross that.
It would be nice when you start working with a Dutch company that you present your colleagues or your manager with something like “I know that there are these things said about Indians that we always say ‘yes’ and that we blah blah… So if that happens in our case instantly notify me”. This way you make yourself more approachable and entrust confidence in them. Instant notification is important else if it comes up in annual performance review then you won’t have any defense. Of course, not everyone has these preconceptions, we are just facilitating, just in case…
One funny thing is that most of the things mentioned here were applicable to a Portuguese colleague I came across. Just Portuguese? you might ask :). “Yes-man” term is applied to all human beings regardless of their origin. Well… the Dutch think the traits mentioned above are just applicable to Indians alone!
From a social perspective, Indians are considered to be vegetarians or those who do not eat Beef due to religious restrictions. And they know about our arranged marriages and pressure from parents.
Now, this is from my personal experience: there is this Dutch who has an Indian as his/her friend. And they think all Indians are like him. This Indian had an arranged marriage so all Indians have arranged marriages! This Indian went to Ooty for honeymoon so all Indians…. 🙂
One thing I do not like about the Dutch behavior is that they are experts on making ‘blanket statements’. If you know what that means. They want to consider all Indians are equal at any cost and never bothers to understand an individual. An individual is measured on the ‘blanket’ parameters and not for what they really are. Well, 80% of the Dutch I see do it(just to make sure I am not making one 😉 ). But again in the Netherlands, the social divide is less and is a small country hence the Dutch is used to treating the country as a boundary for everything. They are not aware what a subcontinent means. If someone still wants to use such a blanket to cover India then a humongous blanket needs to be prepared… 🙂
I also find it interesting how the Dutch sees India as a country. As a tourist, most have travelled the Sri Lanka, Malaysia route. But everybody is interested to visit India. Once a colleague of mine said, “I love India, I could train for my IT certification and see places!”. A lady I met recently asked me “Is there a tiger reserve near your town?”. I said no, I worked in Banglore…”How about your hometown, is there a tiger reserve there?” :D. Everyone sees our country differently based on their tastes. After all, that is what India is all about, right? And there are those who go completely mum as they have no idea at all about a country called India!
The smile-n-screw-aunty: Once I met a middle-aged Dutch woman. She seemed to be very happy talking to me. Told me about her friend’s experience in India. She said everyone was looking at him, even when he was sitting inside the car. I said well, generally Indians are curious about white-skinned people. Then she gave me a freakish smile.. she had that “I got ya” look on her face. She told me with an even wider smile “he was not a white.. he was a Suriname guy!”. The satisfaction on her face was immense. She told me that it was from a book written by this Suriname person. Now that she proved a point, she did not talk to me much after this. And that was the first time since I lived in the Netherlands I heard someone saying good things about a Surinamese :P.
When it comes to working, the Dutch are tigers. They achieve so much in their 8 hours work. And as professionals, the reason why we work with the Dutch is that they see commitment and quality in the work we do. There are some issues to address regarding preconceptions but overall the freedom and directness that comes along with it make it an ideal platform for a performer.
And finally, as an Indo-Dutch what do I think about Indians: Take a 100 mt square in Kerala(a state in India), say an apartment, every single family in that apartment will have different unpredictable personality traits. More different than a Dutch and Italian. Based on the social and economic status of the male-dominant of the family. This father guy alone can screw that family or take them to glory. You might find it hard to believe but it is true. I know a father who did not allow his daughter to sit for an exam because if she passes then the husband has to be more qualified and hence costs more dowry(she was my classmate)!
Also would be interesting to check out these Dutch news articles & blogs and of course the comments by the Dutch readers.