Week 12

Cultural Reflection
9th - 16th April
If someone were to have asked me before I left for The Netherlands what the two things I was most anxious about, I think I would have possibly answered with language and culture. Well after three months here I can say that the language can still be a bit of a problem. Most of the time communication is not a problem as I have picked up many phrases and the majority of Dutch people have some English, but there are always the few tricky situations that have caused problems. On the way home from placement one day we missed the bus because the bus driver couldn’t understand where we wished to go, down to a misunderstanding in the pronunciation.
As for the culture I feel like I have become a part of it, it has been an exciting adventure learning what is common here in The Netherlands and participating in that way. It has also been an added bonus being able to experience many other cultures from living with our Erasmus class. We were able to share our cultural tradition of cooking pancakes on Shrove Tuesday with the some of the students on our floor. Tiina who is from Finland also made typical Finnish buns filled with jam and cream on the same day which is tradition in her country. I must say they were really delicious!
As well as this we had the opportunity to attend the carnival celebrations during Spring break. For weeks before we were due to get off we had heard about these celebrations, our lecturers had told us about the costumes they were making and the plans that were being made. I had really no idea what was entailed but eager to embrace all opportunities of particpating in Dutch culture we headed off for the day to Den Bosch to see what all the hype was about. I can definitely say I was not disappointed, the streets were packed to capacity with people all dressed in outrageous costumes and in a very jolly mood. Apparently there is a ‘Carnival Committee’ set up every year whose sole aim is to stop anybody from being serious during carnival time. Looking back it was a great day, there was a brilliant atmosphere, parades on the streets to keep us entertained, brass bands playing music and to add to it it was the first proper day of sunshine.
After such a good day I was curious to know where carnival originated. I found out that it is a day that the Dutch adopted as the last chance to eat, drink and be merry prior to the forty days fasting before Easter, when no meat was to pass the lips. It was surprising too read that it is mainly celebrated in the south of the country which is predominantly Catholic. In many ways these celebrations reminded me of St. Patricks Day traditions in Ireland which are mainly celebrated by Catholics. As a Protestant and living in Southern Ireland I was part of the Girl Guides who always took part in the parades on St. Patricks Day. Just like Carnival in The Netherlands I would say these were always days of light heartedness, fun and enjoyment. From my experiences here I would say that we all need to lose the religious ties and integrate as people for even just a day to have fun, enjoyment and laughter just as I seen during carnival.
As well as this there have been many smaller yet prominent aspects of Dutch culture that have both surprised me and made me reflect on our culture back at home. The Dutch greet people they know well with three kisses alternating on both cheeks. At first I must say I was quite taken back seeing this! I realised how reserved we are back home with a hug being the closest contact and that only being with a person you know very well. Having become more accustomed to this greeting and having the opportunity to experience it when saying my last goodbye to my teacher on teaching practice I must admit it is very personal and nice. In saying this I don’t think it is something I will take home with me, I can’t imagine my friends taking kindly to it at all!
On the first day we arrived here, Tom our ‘chauffeur’ made sure to tell us to go shopping as all the shops would be shut on Sunday.  This was something I found very surprising as it is always amusing to see people at home filling their trolleys when there is a bank holiday and the shops are shut. Personally I like that shops are shut on a Sunday here. People plan ahead and make sure they have enough food in, it means everybody has a day off on a Sunday to spend with their families.
In saying this there are certain aspects of Dutch culture I have been quite shocked with. I have come to realise that the Irish are generally very polite and mannerly people when it comes to interacting with others. In supermarkets when a new till opens, people don’t allow those in the front of the queue who have waited the longest to go to it. Instead it’s a case of whoever gets there first, I’d say my face was priceless the first time I seen this happening. As well as this I have noticed people don’t hold the door open for you or stand back and let someone else through the door. Personally I think these are simple gestures that add to a culture of people. Even though I have come to participate fully in the Dutch culture, I haven’t let the Irish side down; we are still as polite and mannerly as ever!
Personally I am really enjoying participating in another culture; it is definitely a learning curve. There are things which I will take back with me when I leave The Netherlands but there are other aspects I won’t be adopting. What John Abbott says is true of me having experienced many cultures on this Erasmus experience. He states “Every man’s ability may be strengthened or increased by culture.” My knowledge has been broadened and I am open to new ways of participating in society. As I have said I feel like I have become a part of the culture, one could compare this with the words of Marcel Proust, seeing with new eyes. I feel with this broader outlook it will benefit me as a teacher in including and providing for children of different cultures in my classes in the future.


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