Asia vs. Europe - Chapter 2
July 8th, 2016
Hello! I am Hung Chu! I think people in IceMobile know me because I am the only East Asian looking person who cannot speak proper Dutch. I was born in Taiwan and I have stayed in the Netherlands for almost four years. I can say I have experienced many cultural shocks during these years. I want to share some of the interesting phenomenons I observed here related to the cultural differences.
Of course I am Taiwanese, so the Asian culture I meant is more related to Taiwanese culture. However, most of East Asian countries have some core cultural values in common, and Taiwanese culture is very much influenced by Chinese and Japanese culture. So I think in general when Asians start to work in the Netherlands, they will probably have the similar cultural shock as I :)
I am sorry if I am too straight forward, but it is just me
In general, the hierarchy in Taiwanese company is not as high as in Japanese company, but in the team project, Taiwanese tend to follow the decision of the leader. Most likely, the leader announces the decision among the team instead of throwing out a discussion. If the team member does not agree with the decision, the team member can express the opinion in a polite way without challenging the leader’s reputation (there is a chance if the leader feels disrespected, your opinion will never be taken into account). Team members can try to influence the decision making, but eventually it is the leader who decides which way to go. This is quite different than the situation in the Netherlands. Here before a decision is made, the leader will involve every team member to share his/her opinions, and really take those opinions into account. You can disagree with your senior in front of people, and don’t need to be afraid you might be framed by your senior in the future. People in general speak out what they thought in their mind to whomever they want to say it to. The most common words I heard from Dutch are “Sorry in advance if I am too straight forward. You know, I am Dutch.” This is what I call the “Dutch politeness”; they will apologize, but they will not change ;)
I remembered the first time when I saw two Dutch “discussing” in the meeting, I was shocked because the discussion was so intense that made me get some goosebumps on my arms (it was more like a fight for me). However, it turned out that they were just trying to convince each other, and they were chatting so normally in the coffee break right after the meeting, like nothing happened. Well…I would say if this happened in Taiwan, the atmosphere between those two would stay awkward for quite a while.
The other interesting thing about Dutch just being themselves is the casual attitude to life. Wearing jeans, a T-shirt and sneakers to work is very common here. Also it is normal to see people going out for a walk on a sunny day after lunch, or grabbing their sandwiches with their bare hands (without washing their hands) and putting their sandwiches on the table if there is no plate (I don’t know why Dutch don’t get sick from the bacteria they ate, probably it’s related to their DNA?). Actually I quite appreciate this casual attitude. Overall the company hires you for what is in your head instead of how look on the outside, and we should always enjoy life around us, right? ;) So now I also wear a T-shirt to work, have some coffee breaks during work hours, eat sandwiches without washing my hands, but unfortunately still get sick quite often.
If you don’t like something, try to change it proactively!
In general, Asian are emotional but very thoughtful. Team bonding in the group is strong! If the employees feel like they are part of the project team, they are willing to sacrifice their private time to make the project better (that is one of the reasons why the working hours in Asia are higher). But! If they don’t feel they are engaged in the team, they might not even give a shit to the project (and some people will not even tell you the reason, so you have to figure it out why this person is so passive and negative). One time my Dutch friend asked me why his Chinese teammate didn’t show up in the meeting and didn’t do any teamwork. I told him that maybe his Chinese teammate didn’t feel he was part of the team, so he didn’t care about the project. Maybe it would help if one of the teammates made some effort to involve him in the team. Then my friend responded me saying that he was not his baby-sitter. His Chinese teammate should talk to them and do something proactively to join the team. I was a bit shocked that my friend was waiting for his Chinese teammate to take the action instead of making effort to help him. However, this is just the Dutch way. Dutch would give some suggestions if someone needs help, but that person should solve the problem proactively.
Eating is something that keeps people alive
Everyone knows how much Asian enjoy eating. We have so many different methods to cook food, and we are very experimental to create new recipes with all kinds of ingredients. Moreover, we love hot food! You can understand how much we love hot food by watching us drinking hot soup outdoors in the humid hot summer days (33 degrees). So you can imagine how frustrated I was when eating Dutch lunch. For me, salad and bread are breakfast or a side dish. I can hardly believe that how less Dutch care about food. One time I heard from my Dutch friend saying that he considers eating is just a functional thing to keep him alive, and he asked me why I spent so much money and time on eating. Hummm…actually it is a hard question for me to answer. Eating good food is kind of a ritual for me. Thank god that there are people at IceMobile who do care about food, and lunch at IceMobile is in fact much better than the lunch in most of the Dutch companies. I really appreciate that (maybe warm food day would extend to two days…?)!