Mental Health & Sanity

Fish Discover Water Last

By Chris Smit

The old Arab proverb “Fish will discover water last” is a very useful term to describe, in a cultural context, how people only realize that they have a culture of their own when you take them out of their own culture

Only then they will realize that the other culture they find themselves in is different from their own (and mostly these differences are experienced and expressed as being negative).

In other words, people don’t question their everyday and current situation and surroundings. The other implication of this is that, generally, people find it difficult to describe their own culture but easier to describe the ‘other’ culture.

By the time of this writing (June 2019), I’ve been living outside of the Netherlands for 13 years (I live in Belgium, and yes, that culture is very, very different from the Dutch culture). So, to some extent I’m the fish that has discovered water and who is outside of his own bowl.

This has given me the opportunity to view and see the Dutch with different eyes. I really like going back home to see friends and family. And I’m also really happy to leave as well and go back to beautiful Belgium.

VOLARATION


When Ajax loses in the quarter final of the Champions league, this can be dragged out for a week of more talking about that missed chance'

Listen to the Radio

The Dutch love to talk, talk, and then talk a bit more. The main reason, from a cultural perspective, is that the Dutch are rather consensus-oriented. And this consensus is often reached by discussions… and more talking.


In both the Netherlands and in Belgium there is a public radio station called Radio-1. The Dutch Radio-1 is a 24-hour news/talk radio. It offers news from all over the world and a lot of Dutch news of course as well.


The Belgian Radio-1 is supposedly also a news/talk radio station. But there, the talking is limited to about 30% of the time, with news from mainly Flanders. The rest of the time there’s just music.


Once, at a TEDx event my youngest daughter helped organize, I had the opportunity to talk to a Belgian Radio-1 journalist and she told me that the Dutch format of news-radio simply would not work in Belgium. “We Belgians are not as talkative as you Dutch”. I wasn’t upset. At all.

My Mental Health

Having lived outside of the Netherlands for so many years has made me realize that the Dutch do talk an enormous amount. About everything and then some. They, it doesn’t matter who, have an opinion about everything. Even if they don’t really have an opinion.


Yesterday’s news is chewed over the day after, again. Current news items are discussed by a panel of people. TV shows are discussed the day after. And when there is a football match on TV, whereby Ajax loses in the quarter final of the Champions league, this can be dragged out for a week of more talking about that missed chance.


It drives me insane.


For once, simply stop talking.


The good thing about radio (& TV) is that you can switch channels or simply turn it off. I do that frequently. Just to keep my mental sanity.

VOLARATION


'News items that happened years ago but for some reason have to be talked about again. And again. And, yes, again.'

Recurring Subjects

The news that is discussed comes from all directions. Mainly from the Netherlands, but there is also very good international coverage. This takes up the majority of the time and is done very professionally.


But then there are these recurring subjects. News items that happened years ago but for some reason have to be talked about again. And again. And, yes, again. All with the purpose of reaching some sort of consensus.

Here’s an incomplete list of subjects that keep coming back time and again, and when they started:

  • The Muslim massacre in Srebrenica (1995)
  • The downing of Malaysian Airlines MH17 (2014)
  • The recurring earthquakes in the province of Groningen due to gas exploitations (first one 1986)
  • The black-peter (Zwarte Piet) discussion; in connection with the annual December 5 Sinterklaas festivities (2014)
  • The legalizing (or not) of soft-drugs (forever)
  • The prohibition of fireworks around new year (forever)

...

All of these subjects will come back sooner or later in the news. Without necessarily adding anything new.

The Golden Tip

This brings me to the best tip I ever received from a Belgian woman about how to best do business with the Belgians as a Dutchman. It was to simply… “shut up”.


I’ll drink to that!

Want to better understand the Dutch and learn how to work with them? Get in touch with Chris Smit at culturematters.com or write an email at chris.smit@culturematters.com.