The joys of working for a Dutch boss

Ah, one of the symbols of success in the professional world: working for a multinational company!

A place where people from different cultures come together to work with one another in a collaborative manner. A place where you can open the door to legitimately racist jokes underlined by undeniable xenophobia:

-“Dear cultural cliches, please come in and take a seat with us expats. Let’s have a little chat.”   

Ah! I can hear some people behind their screen, fuming as they read these sentences, already boiling over with how offended they feel by this absolute truth. I can hear them ready to reply, “Who, me? I’m not xenphobic… it’s the others who are racist!” 

Yeah, right. 

You are going to tell me you have never thought to yourself ironically:”Hmmmm, this inhumanly tall person with his love for eating unappealing sandwiches twice a day, does he really know what life is all about?”

Or perhaps this occurred to you the last time you spoke to an annoying French lady, yes, the one who always has a barbed counterargument at the ready: “Hell to the French, they love nothing but themselves and going on strike.”

Or, as you once might have noted to yourself:”Wow, this person sure has a lot of last names.” 

Day after day, country after country, all these comments pile up in the offices of MNCs all around the world. And that is why I honestly love working for MNCs as an expat: I have free tickets to an excellent front-seat view of cultural cliches. As Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage” and my stage is my office. 

I have worked for political organizations ( The EU delegation in Vietnam and the French Embassy in Singapore) and I have worked in South Korea. I have worked in countries where the hierarchy was very strong. And no, this did not mean that all my bosses acted like entitled, pompous reincarnations of Louis XIV. On the contrary, they were quite accommodating when it came to letting the plebe have their say. 

We were always encouraged to share our opinions, but the final word was that of the manager’s. Up till now, I had thought that that was the only way to go. Until I was assigned to him, the Batavian boss, Mr. Henk-Jan van de something. 

Having a Dutch boss: democracy, democracy 

Mr. Henk-Jan is of average height, 1m92, with massive hands, which are quite useless because all day long he only uses them either to type or to funnel his Old Amsterdammer sandwich down his throat. As you can notice, Mr. Henk-Jan has highly refined tastes in cheese.

Every week, we have our team meeting. And six months ago, with his powerful voice, Mr. Henk-jan declared:

-“We are going to hire someone to assist our team. How do you imagine his or her role? What do we need?”  

I will spare you the details of this exciting two-hour long meeting. It riled us up in a sheer flurry of interest as we battled out our disagreements on the details of her/his job description. But we finally concurred that we wanted to dump all our most boring tasks on this new employee. 

Ah! We felt good to have shared our envies, our opinions with our boss. And we thought that that would be the end of it there and then; that he would gather the information and then, wait for it, make a decision. 

But he is Dutch, after all.

We needed EVERYONE to agree on the job description. 

The Mexican, the Frenchie, the North Italian, the South Italian, the Dutchie, the Swede, the Mainland Chinese, the Indonesian and the South African all needed to come to an agreement. 

The standoff lasted for weeks. 

Eventually, we did get around to hiring someone, if for the singular reason that we had all agreed on wanting an extra pair of hands. But we never managed to create a proper job description… because we could never agree on the details. 

Because it is impossible to impose a real democracy upon human beings in a business environment! 

But while the majority agree that we can’t ALL agree, Mr Dutchie doesn’t agree and strangely enough his opinion prevails on that one…  

Having a Dutch boss: honesty is not such a lonely word after all

It always puts me in awe to see how the Dutch can juggle two diametrically opposite reasonings: on the one hand, they want an absolute communist decision-making process to make the group ‘get along”, while on the other they do not shy away from absolute honesty.

Mr Henk-Jan is well-known in our company for saying things in a “dropje” manner, as I call it – it looks good, but it always leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

He rather enjoys chatting up a storm with one of our junior accountants. She is young, cute, but perhaps not that comfortable or well-settled into her own skin; nearly every week, she comes into the office with a new hairstyle.

Mr. Henk-Jan always notices her new stylish ‘do, even when most of us have long since lost track (not to mention interest.) One day, I overheard him saying,

-«  You have a new cut. What do you think about it ? »

-« I like it. Don’t you? » She asked.

-« No, I don’t. » He replied laconically, ending all possible conversation there and then. This was followed by awkward silence.

Mr. Henk-Jan was lacking in intentional meanness, but he was also lacking a brain-to-mouth filter. If he thinks it, it comes out his piehole. Talk about playing out the typical Dutch cliche: they are more direct and honest than your own mother! There is a Dutch saying they embody very well: keep your heart on the tip of your tongue. Meaning you can say whatever you want as long as you mean well. 

I wonder how he would take it if I were to tell him he had gained weight.

Working in an MNC in the Netherlands: what have I become? 

I realized how much I have changed since I started working for a Dutch boss

In my everyday life, I lean left wing. However, as soon as I enter a meeting that is being mediated by a Dutch manager, I pray for a violent coup d’etat, I fantasize about a strong iron fist, I want a dictator: now.  Since starting work in the Netherlands, I have never hated this word more: democracy.

I am all about integration, and endorse the saying: when in Rome, do as the Romans do. But my cultural assimilation has its limits. I want two hot meals a day, I want some decision-making, and I f@cken hate dropjes!  

The saddest thing about all is that I can say all of it with zero remorse, all because I am an expat; I am your friendly neighbourhood European bitch. However, if I were an immigrant of a different nature, I would have long since been booted back through customs with a big kick in my little rear. 

Because let’s be clear: not everyone can be honest in this democracy. Ultimately, it all comes down to status.

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