Royal Glitter in the Sober Dutch Egalitarian Culture

(Versión en español sigue el inglés)

In preparation for the exciting inauguration of the new Dutch king and his Argentinian-born queen tomorrow, I am pleased to be able to share with you an article that Cultural Detective The Netherlands co-author Eleonore Breukel has co-written with Marcelo Baudino. It is indeed curious that the Netherlands has a Monarch, and always amazing how current events can so well illustrate the values in a Values Lens. Read on to learn how.

Is there a Dutch identity? Is there respect without titles and formalities? The multicolored Dutch manage to combine royal glitter and soberness. They place their King in the middle of the egalitarian society. Together they guarantee freedom and democracy.

Who are the Dutch?
The Argentinean born Princess Maxima of the Netherlands once said in an official speech “There is no Dutch identity”. That statement was not well received by the Dutch public. What she meant was that the Netherlands is so multicultural that it is hard to label it with one single identity. In large cities in the Netherlands, English is heard more often than Dutch and a range of skin tones can dominate in crowded streets.

fietsenAMS-sOver the centuries people from all continents have come to the Netherlands in search of jobs, education, freedom of speech, a strong social system, and tolerance of race, religion and sexual orientation. Some came for the cannabis. It is a melting pot of people and languages. Immigration laws have become stringent. However, due to the open labor market of the European Union there is a large influx of European migrants, many come from Eastern Europe. Over time most immigrants adapt to the mainstream culture while changing that mainstream culture at the same time.

tulipspa0605_800x5391How egalitarian are you?
In the Dutch egalitarian society all people have the same rights and are treated equally under the same circumstances. The CEO of Shell or the Mayor of Amsterdam will be fined if they fail to pay a parking ticket or if they do not clean up after their dog poops on the street. The Dutch believe in equal rights, equal responsibilities and equal treatment – with the law as the authority – no matter who you are.

CEOs get their own coffee at work, the prime minister often commutes on his bicycle, and Princess Maxima’s kids go to a regular public school. A position of great responsibility doesn’t come with expectations of special rights or special treatment. This often confuses foreigners visiting Dutch organizations. Without formalities around status it can be hard to distinguish who the boss is. The Dutch communication style is also very informal and very direct. Respect is earned by training trust rather than through formalities, job titles or academic achievements.

Do Freedom and Trust sleep on the same cushion?
In the Netherlands they do. Freedom of speech, euthanasia, and use of soft drugs, are all permitted, but strictly regulated. There are laws, procedures and permits for just about everything. You even need a permit to cut down a tree in your own garden. All these regulations exist to protect both individuals and businesses. On one hand they slow down business processes but on the other hand it inspires trust. Like other Northern European countries, the Dutch trust the ability of their national institutions and the government to function well. Favoritism or bribing is punished severely. It is this trust which makes the social economic climate of the northern countries pleasant and predictable.

Soberness and glitter boost the economy
There is soberness in the Dutch culture, which contrasts greatly with the glamour and glitter of the Monarch’s annual ride in their golden carriage. Extravagance is often seen as wasteful and is met with disapproval. This has proved to be a positive trait during tough economic times when, but it can be very embarrassing if one brings an unexpected guest for dinner – meals are rarely prepared with the intention of having left overs.

This soberness, or rather disapproval of abundance and excesses, is rooted in history in the various forms of Protestantism of the Northern European countries originating in the 16th century. Each individual had to earn his salvation through soberness, honesty and hard work. The Protestants opposed the Catholic papal supremacy and authority and they condemned the grandeur of the Catholic ceremonies, the lavish and sinful lifestyle of its clergy, and the adornment of gold, precious stones and paintings in their churches. The Protestant houses of worship were large and empty, with simple ceremonies and no adornments that might distract from worshiping God. The Dutch followed the severe Calvinist doctrine within Protestantism.

Of course the Dutch have changed and very few still practice any form of religion. However some of the old values are expressed in new ways. The Dutch will prefer a solid car like a Volkswagen over a show piece such as a Lamborghini and many prefer to have more vacation days than a higher salary. Often couples decide that one of the partners will not work for some years after having children to prioritize time for family life over the luxury of two salaries.

DEN HAAG-PRINSJESDAG-BINNENHOFEven the royal family does not excel in extravagance or spending lavishly. Their expenses are always scrutinized by the public. They are thought of as walking advertisements for the country. Their beautiful clothes are often the work of Dutch fashion designers. Willem Alexander promotes Dutch water management and sports around the world. The royal family plays a large role in the local and global economy. Not only are they related to many wealthy European royal families, they are also part of an enormous network of the most important and powerful people of the world – from Barrack Obama to Nelson Mandela and from Ratan Tata to Bill Gates. Many of these people are not just acquaintances but personal friends.

When making state visits, large trade delegations accompany the royals. Dutch businessmen are introduced to local companies but also have the opportunity to talk to the royal family during their trip. It is always good to be “seen with your queen”.

Who wants to be queen?
Ask any woman in the street if she wants to switch positions with Maxima and the answer will be, “Oh heavens no, the poor girl”. It is hard to find anyone who wants to be king, queen or a member of the royal family. Status, glitter, travels, and money are not seen as attractive compensation for the responsibilities required. Members of the royal family are always in the public eye and must exercise great restraint airing their own opinions or simply being themselves. Even though Willem Alexander and Maxima have taken steps away from protocol to be closer to the people, every move, smile, and sentence is scrutinized. What will happen to the lively, enthusiastic and charming Maxima when she becomes queen? The country is waiting to see how she will balance these national contradictions.

About the authors
Eleonore Breukel
– Director of Intercultural Communication bv in Amsterdam  •

Marcelo Baudino
– Socio Consultor Iceberg Intelligencia Cultural in Buenos Aires                      •


Brillo real en la sobria e igualitaria cultura holandesa
¿Existe una identidad holandesa? Existe respeto pero sin los títulos y las formalidades. Los multicoloridos holandeses lograron combinar al brillo real con la sobriedad. Ubican a su rey en el medio de una sociedad igualitaria. Juntos garantizan libertad y democracia.

¿Quiénes son esos holandeses?
Máxima, la princesa argentina de los Países Bajos, una vez dijo en un discurso oficial: “no existe una identidad holandesa”. Esta afirmación no fue bien recibida. Lo que quiso decir fue que los Países Bajos son tan multiculturales que es difícil identificar una sola identidad. Es un verdadero desafío incluso detectar una persona holandesa blanca en la multitud de colores cuando se camina en las calles de las grandes ciudades holandesas. Con frecuencia, el inglés es  más escuchado que el idioma holandés.

A lo largo de los siglos, personas de todos los continentes han emigrado hacia los Países Bajos en búsqueda de trabajo, estudio, libertad de expresión, tolerancia de razas, religión y orientación sexual, un sistema social sólido y algunos llegaron en búsqueda del cannabis. Un verdadero crisol de personas e idiomas. Las leyes de inmigración son más rigurosas hoy en día, sin embargo, debido al libre mercado laboral de la Unión Europea, la llegada de otros europeos, especialmente del este de Europa, es enorme.

Con el tiempo, todos los inmigrantes se adaptan a la cultura dominante mientras cambian que, al mismo tiempo, cambian a la cultura dominante.

¿Qué tan igualitario eres tú?
En una sociedad igualitaria como la holandesa, todas las personas tienen los mismos derechos y son tratados equitativamente en iguales circunstancias. El CEO de Shell o el alcalde de Ámsterdam serán multados si no pagan el estacionamiento cuando deben o si no limpian la suciedad que deja sus perros en la calle. Iguales derechos, iguales responsabilidades e igual trato, no importa quién eres. La ley es la autoridad.

Un CEO se sirve su propio café en el trabajo. El primer ministro suele ir a trabajar en bicicleta tal como lo hacen muchas otras personas. Los hijos de Máxima asisten a una escuela pública regular. Por más que uno tenga una posición con  mucha responsabilidad, no puede esperar obtener derechos especiales o un trato particular.

Esto puedo confundir a los extranjeros que visitan organizaciones holandesas, ya que es difícil distinguir quienes son los superiores cuando no existen formalidades específicas con respecto a las jerarquías. El estilo de comunicación holandés también es muy informal y directo. El respeto no se obtiene a través de formalidades, del trabajo o de títulos académicos, sino a través de ganarse la confianza.

¿La libertad y la confianza duermen en la misma cama?
En los países bajos sí. La libertad de expresión, eutanasia, drogas suaves, etc. son libertadas aunque estén estrictamente reguladas. Existen regulaciones, procedimientos y permisos para prácticamente todo. Necesitas un permiso hasta para cortar un árbol en tu propio jardín. Todas estas regulaciones buscan proteger a los individuos y a las empresas. Por más que hagan más lentos los procesos de negocios, también inspiran confianza.

Como cualquier otro país del norte de Europa, los holandeses confían en el correcto funcionamiento de sus instituciones y el gobierno. El favoritismo y los sobornos son castigados severamente. Es la confianza en la ley lo que define al clima social y económico como amable y predecible.

La sobriedad y el brillo impulsan la economía
Hay sobriedad en la cultura holandesa. Es un gran contraste con el glamur y el brillo de paseo anual en al carruaje de oro del monarca. Las extravagancias suelen ser vistas como un desperdicio. Los holandeses no son frugales pero no aprueban el derroche, un rasgo positivo en la época de las sustentabilidad de recursos. Si alguien llega con un invitado inesperado a una cena, puede causar mucha incomodidad en los anfitriones holandeses. Cuatro porciones son exactamente cuatro porciones y no cinco.

Esta sobriedad o rechazo de la abundancia y los excesos se retrae a las varias formas de Protestantismo de los países de Europa del norte en el siglo 16. Cada individuo debía ganarse su propia salvación a través de la moderación, la honestidad y el trabajo duro. Los protestantes estaban en contra de la autoridad católica suprema del papa y condenaban la grandeza de las ceremonias católicas, la vida de lujo y pecaminosa de su clero, los adornos de oro, piedras preciosas y pinturas en sus iglesias.

Los lugares de culto de los protestantes eran grandes y vacíos, con ceremonias simples y sin adornos o cualquier otra distracción que no sea la de venerar a su dios. Los holandeses siguieron la severa doctrina calvinista dentro del protestantismo.

Por supuesto que los holandeses han cambiado y las religiones se han desvanecido. Aun así, prefieren un auto sólido como un Volkswagen por encima de una pieza de arte como un Lamborghini. Muchos prefieren tener más días de vacaciones que un salario más alto. A veces las parejas deciden que sólo uno de ellos trabajo durante los primeros años luego de tener un hijo. Una buena vida por encima del lujo de dos salarios.

Incluso la familia real no se destaca por la extravagancia y por gastar profusamente. Sus gastos son siempre escrutados por la gente. Sus hermosos vestidos suelen ser de diseñadores de moda holandeses. Guillermo Alejandro es un promotor global de la gestión de agua holandesa y los deportes. La familia real juega un rol clave en la economía local y global. Además de estar relacionados con muchas realezas europeas, tienen una enorme red global de contactos importantes y poderosos. Desde Barack Obama hasta Nelson Mandela y desde Ratan Tata hasta Bill Gates. Muchas de estas relaciones no solo son conocidos, sino también amigos personales. En sus visitas de estado, los acompañan grandes delegaciones comerciales. Los empresarios holandeses son presentados a las compañías locales, pero también tienen la oportunidad de hablar a sus reyes durante el viaje. Siempre es bueno ser visto con tu reina.

¿Quién quiere ser reina?
Pregúntale a cualquier mujer en las calles de los Países Bajos si les gustaría intercambiar posiciones con Máxima y la respuesta será: “Por dios no, la pobre niña”. Es difícil encontrar a alguien que quisiera ser rey, reina o miembro de la familia real. Estatus, lujos, viajes, dinero no siempre compensan las difíciles tareas que tienen. Siempre en el ojo del público. Nunca poder ventilar tus propias opiniones. Nunca ser tú mismo. ¿Qué le pasará a la entusiasta y encantadora Máxima cuando se convierta en reina? Aun cuando los nuevos reyes decidan prestar menos atención al protocolo y estar más cerca de la gente, cada sonrisa, movimiento y oración serán pesados en una balanza de oro.

This article is a reprint, with permission, of the original. They’ve written a second article as well, entitled “Influence on Dutch Economy of the New King and Queen of Netherlands.”

Using Social Media to Rebrand Culture

What's the story...?

What’s the story…?

This is the sixth in a series. (#1#2#3#4 and #5 are here.)

Stories can be made to say what we want them to say. I went shopping this evening and, at the checkout, the cashier, seeing the bandage on my nose, asked what happened to me. To her horror, I explained it this way: “A couple days ago, I had an encounter with a young man, who had me held down and cut me with the blade that he had in his hand.”

Her reaction naturally changed to one of amusement and empathy, the moment I mentioned that the young man in question was my surgeon, and the immobilization was being strapped to the operating table! There is no untruth in the first story, but the discourse it calls forth depends on who the listener is, and evokes a substantially different discourse with the omission or addition of a few details. Had I told the same to my policeman neighbor, I’m sure a different automatic discourse would have sprung up for him, and he would have started to ask different questions, though, knowing him, I am sure he would have had a hearty, guys-will-be-guys laugh at the end. The key to the ultimate meaning of stories is intentionality. I was taking advantage of my strange appearance to lighten my pain and have a little fun. Understanding intentionality is the key to cultural competence, not just recognizing difference and learning to adapt behaviors to the situation.

How can new media be used to shape discourse and create culture?
We are forever telling stories, in old as well as new media. So, let’s move on from the question we discussed last time about what messages new-media themselves may bear. Let’s turn our attention to the second question, namely, how we use these media, deliberately or unconsciously to create, change or maintain certain forms of discourse as cultural building blocks. Can, for example, the interactivity of social media play an important role in reshaping cultural discourse and cultural identity? What has been done, accomplished, what is being done to create the stories that articulate today’s and tomorrow’s cultural realities?

Creating stories to do this is not new. We’ve created identity stories throughout history and we do it all the time. Recently a friend of mine sent me a photograph of mother dog instructing seven puppies, with a story which ends: “…and then the mean old kitty stole all of the doggie treats and ran down the street, and that is why we chase cats to this day.”


This doggy story is humorous, because it is so true. Patriots and dictators, oppressors and the oppressed each create their own story, not only of who they are but of how they are defined in reaction to others, usually seen as “the bad guys.” They expect mothers and teachers to pass it on. In the USA, when the Berlin wall came tumbling down and the Communist bloc shrank, after a brief period of euphoria, we started to need a real enemy to feel good about ourselves. There had to be some bad guys, some rustlers out there. Though it is not essential, identity myths pick up currency by emphasizing superiority, whether racial, moral, military or cultural as well as by identifying outside threats.

Branding a Nation
Nonetheless, to discuss what is being done, or what we might do with contemporary media in this respect, it might be instructive to look at a classical case of rebranding, not of a product, but of a nation, something that occurred at a time when mass media could largely be described in two words: newspaper and radio.

Dr. Hatice Sitki, a colleague in Australia, has done impressive work on the marketing and branding of national identity. If you think marketing is not relevant to cultural identity, think again. The whole idea of marketing is to create a discourse, which people take as their reality, a discourse that usually deals with them, sometimes with them as citizens, but more often today as consumers. Using a national example can tell us about commercial branding as well. What Hatice did was study the mythology, the brand, the discourse of Turkish identity, and connect it to the search for European identity, a topic that has been surfacing from time to time since the creation of the European Union—usually in times of stress, like the current financial crisis.

The most interesting part of Hatice’s work was the description of how Kemal Ataturk (literally so renamed as “Father of the Turks) selected from the myths the stories of origins and heroes that existed in Ottoman lore, and recombined them, rephrased them into a discourse, which gave a “real” national identity to Turks. There had been a tribal identity, an ethnic identity for Turks before this, but in the Ottoman Empire there was no sense of a specific Turkish nationality or citizenship. One belonged to the Empire. It was just that way.

So Hatice took a look at the marketing of identity not only historically, but also in terms of the future potential of marketing to the EU. She went on to explore how some of the current myths could be rebranded, so that the discourse about Turkey not being really European might be shifted, even integrated with the myths and discourse of European identity. After all, if one really looks at the Ottoman Empire in European history, it’s played a powerful role. It was frequently an ally of European countries against each other. World War I was only the tragic final act in this drama. Yet today Europeans are struggling with, “Can it be a part of Europe? “Can it join the European Union?” European resistance to the idea, among other factors, seems to be fueling a return to stronger Islamic identity after three quarters of a century of existence as a proud secular republic in the Islamic world.


When I first explored ideas about the flow of culture in a webinar addressed to a study group of the Project Management Institute, one of the participants from India remarked, “I think there’s a hidden morale in this presentation. At the PMI we need to understand the cultural difference, find common ground for all stakeholders to work as one.” How true, because if we think about image of the river, it’s carrying, integrating all these different waters, from all their different sources into one powerful flow toward the sea, and if we think of ourselves as collaborators in an organization, the diversity that our colleagues bring, whether personal, ethnic, or wherever it originates, as a resource.

The metaphor of the river is valid for understanding organizations as well as for exploring group and individual identity. Training multicultural teams to work in global environments, many of whom work almost entirely virtually, requires not only constant exploration of cultural discourse but efforts to shape a “third culture,” the agreed set of discourses by which team members will collaborate. Cultural Detective: Global Teamwork is an example of a tool that was developed by a virtual team to help teams identify and meet the key challenges of virtual collaboration. While such teams often have their own platforms, it is not uncommon for members to use social media to explore and solidify their connections with each other. In an academic context, it happens not infrequently that while students are provided with online tools by the university, many will eschew these for Facebook and other social media when they actually get down to working together on a common project, creating their group culture together on such sites. While we tend to think of deep culture as enduring and resurgent, we should not turn a blind eye to the functional but transitory cultures that are easily built as well as dismantled by new media tools. Even here it is a matter of sharing and shared discourse. If anything, impermanence may be a hallmark of much digital culture where the object of new media utterances is not to “build a monument more lasting than bronze” (Horace, Ode 3.30) but to learn habits that enrich the everyday with timely discourse for what we do to best meet our needs.

The river of discourse is a rich, rich resource. We need to know how to tap into its fullness. If not, the likelihood is what I described toward the end of the Culture’s Flow poem. It will flood over us, wash us away. I often think of colonialism and now rampant globalization as the human, cultural equivalent of burning down the rain forests. Most of us only see the destruction of environments from afar, but at the micro level what is going on is the extermination of species or discourse that will not return, resources that might play, in fact, very important roles in our well being.

We know that humans have created some very dangerous, even genocidal cultures, discourse about others that enables us to kill them en masse. Yet these realities and their consequences stem from our constructed discourse. Once we realize that we are enmeshed in all of these worlds of discourse, it asks us, how can we look at this, how should we look at what’s real, and, what’s really real may be simply our capacity to recognize different discourses for what they are, stories created in time to serve a purpose, hopefully to serve a good purpose, hopefully to help us succeed and survive in our environment. But so many of them have been dangerous; have been deadly, so it’s about getting the point that realities are ours to create.

What do new media bring to this challenge? A great freedom to question. Unparalleled contact with the diversity of others. A great liberty to seek out new discourses of identity. A vast universe of opportunities in which to discover, engage and enroll kindred souls. A limitless playground for new ideas and a place to grow up, space for our discourses to be questioned, to be reshaped, and to be created in unprecedented ways. The opportunity to create a critical mass of discourse that might just change some of the seemingly endless games we have been playing. The tools are there to shape our primitive discourses in ways that will humanely and constructively prevail. This will not happen by itself, nor will the media per se deliver this message. Rather it is we, the storytellers and our intentions, that will make a difference. Do new media guarantee change? Certainly, but not without risks. It is up to us, to our intentionality and our ability to share it that will determine the direction and results of that change.

This post originally appeared in the blog of the Center for Intercultural New Media Research and is provided with the assistance of its editor Anastacia Kurylo.

More Cultural Appropriation: The Swastika

The story we published recently about cultural appropriation reminded me of one of my favorite incidents in our series. It resides in the Cultural Detective Global Business Ethics package, and involves a corporate newsletter publishing photos from the office in India. One photo, taken at a temple, shows a swastika.

Outraged, an anonymous writer emails the newsletter editor to complain about a lack of cultural sensitivity, a lack of commitment to diversity and inclusion. The newsletter editor is crestfallen; the comment saps all his energy. It is exactly his commitment to inclusion and diversity that has motivated him to include posts from offices worldwide! How much harder can he try?

The swastika is sadly a symbol of genocide and the Holocaust for many; something to be reviled. There was an unsuccessful effort to ban the use of the swastika in the European Union. Seeing this symbol can bring forth indescribable pain and outrage for many people.

Swastika is a Sanskrit word, a religious symbol of good fortune used by Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and others worldwide. It can be seen in the art of the Egyptians, Romans, Greeks, Celts, Native Americans, and Persians as well.

To me, the swastika is one of the world’s most horrifying misappropriations of a cultural symbol! I’d welcome hearing from anyone who knows the history of Hitler’s and the Nazis’ appropriation of this symbol.

It is important for us to understand both of these very different realities. To some, the swastika symbolizes genocide and hate. To others it symbolizes beauty, the steps of Buddha. Does this therefore mean we should not use it? That we should? Can we transform its use through ongoing learning and dialogue?

Back to the incident, learning to make the most of learning opportunities such as these, to encourage cultures (organizations, communities) in which people listen to, respect and collaborate with one another, is what Cultural Detective is all about. Thank you all for joining us in this mission!

What was the only economy in Europe that did not suffer a contraction in the global debt crisis of 2008-2009?

What was the only economy in Europe that did not suffer a contraction in the global debt crisis of 2008-2009?

Think before you read! Do you know the answer???

Poland! And you have a terrific resource at your fingertips for doing business in Poland and working with Poles: Cultural Detective Poland.

Here are some reasons you want to keep your eyes on Poland, as explained by CNN:

“Ever since it broke from the Soviet Union back in 1989, Poland has been racing to make up for last time, as a member in good standing of Western Europe. Today Warsaw is the far side of the moon from the decadence and growing indebtedness of Moscow. Poland is staid, predictable, with no wild parties even on weekdays or outrageous displays of new wealth. Since joining the European Union in 2004, Poland has been working hard to meet the additional requirements of joining the Eurozone, which sets very specific targets for government deficits, debt, and other keys to economic stability like inflation and long-term interest rates. While many states that already belong to the Eurozone (from Greece to Spain) failed to achieve these targets, Poland largely succeeded, which is why it was in such good position to weather the crisis of 2008.

Today things look so good that Poland has the most vibrant labor market in Europe, creating jobs at a pace so rapid that many immigrant Poles are returning from the United Kingdom and other hard-hit nations to find work at home. Poland’s success was quite unusual – the only other EU economy in a similar position is the Czech Republic – but it does show that Europe can be a model for growth, at least for those who follow the rules.”