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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Tilburg, Netherlands

What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?

Tilburg

Did you receive any cross-cultural training for your move abroad? If yes, was it before or after the move?

No specific cultural training beforehand, but a lot of extensive reading and research on the web.

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If they speak another language in your new country, do you speak the language? If yes, did you learn the language before you moved or while abroad? If no, are you planning to learn the language?

Yes the Dutch speak another language, and yes I did manage to learn quite well Dutch since I've arrived here, which is almost one year ago.

Were you worried or concerned about culture shock before you moved abroad?

Not really, no... although I've expected (and it did happen) a major cultural shock, as Dutch are quite different than the majority of the inhabitants of the countries I've been before (and I did have been in more than 60 countries up to date).

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How significant was the culture shock you experienced when you moved abroad?

The most relevant ones were the social and mental attitude shock. As "easy going" as they might seem, Dutch are very much for themselves and not very sociable. They are more or less direct in their approach, usually straight to the point in discussions, but cold. For a sociable "warm blooded" person who likes to meet people and make friends (usually from Southern and Eastern Europe) the Dutch mentality of the easy approach to the coldness of their social relations is quite a "cold shower". Other then that, it is fine once you get to know more about their history, traditions, culture and habits. Especially when beginning to master Dutch language to a certain degree. Then social conversation gets more inter-active. Not that mastering Dutch cuts any corners in helping you making new friends with much more ease.

Expats often talk about going through the "stages of culture shock." Examples include the honeymoon phase, the irritation-to-anger stage, the rejection of the culture stage, and the cultural adjustment phase. Do you feel like you went through these or any other stages as you settled into the new culture?

No, I dare say I haven't experienced any of the above. Except, perhaps to a certain degree, the adjustment phase which, I think, every expat has to go through at a certain stage when relocating to another country.

What, if any, were some of the changes you noticed in yourself that might have been caused by culture shock? These might include things such as anger, depression, anxiety, increased eating or drinking, frustration, homesickness, etc.

Sort off!:) Like for example, being much more "on my guard" when meeting new people, although I do want to meet more people and make new friends. I sort of have picked some of the mentalities and especially social habits of the locals. In a way, one has to adjust to this way of living if one wants to get better integrated (hence, accepted) into the community where he/she lives.As for the rest of the "symptoms" you've mentioned, I can't say it happen to me.

What are some things you appreciate most about the new culture?

Being and talking, most of the time, in a straight forward manner. Sort of 'business like', not losing any time with additional "chit-chat". And fairness as a general trade of the Dutch. I come to enjoy them both.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

First learning the language. Although I do speak 5 languages, Dutch is by far one of the most difficult languages I've ever studied. Second, overcoming the social barrier between you and the Dutch. It is pretty hard for a "vremdelingen" (foreigner) to get accepted by Dutch to the extent to exchange invitations to dinner or going out in a weekend trip together both families. Third, although they don't say it loud or make an obvious point of it, Dutch tend to consider themselves better than many other nations. And in some respects (quite a lot) they are better than most.

Did you "commit" any embarrassing or humorous cultural blunders? If you did and you'd like to share them, please do tell!

One that I think I will remember for the rest of my life would be in the early stages of my Dutch period, when a Dutch family I've befriended, invited me to the beach. It was a time when my Dutch knowledge was at "frog’s leg level". So they’ve invited me to join them on the beach, and I’ve told them to wait for a couple of minutes so I can grab my “lichaam dookije” (literally “body towel”). When they’ve heard that expression they laughed until their eyes were full of tears. My assumption at the time was based on the fact that as they have the word describing “hand towel”, there must be a word for the “body towel” (or bad towel). But as it happens usually, while the expression “bad towel” does exist in Dutch, the “body towel” does not. But the effect of my choice of words was hilarious for them.

Do you have any advice or thoughts about culture shock you would like to share?

Well, yeap... Study as much about the country you are planning to move to: history, geography, habits and traditions, language and customs. Try to learn as much about the country and its people before you actually move there. Especially when it comes to the Netherlands where the difference between provinces can be quite obvious in many respects.

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