Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Lesson in Planning (the other kind of planning)

I am a planner by title. In the ad world that just means strategist; however, outside of the industry people relate "planner" with the thought of coordinating schedules and putting on events. I'm then left to explain that I'm no where close to that kind of planner and that if tasked with that kind of responsibility I would most likely crumble in a fit of anxiety and die.

Okay, so this isn't exactly true. I'm actually good at managing projects and coordinating things and putting on events. It's just not my favorite thing to do. I much prefer having the freedom to collaborate with teams openly and think freely (hippie), and I find that it's far less stressful. Regardless of all of this, I've got to say, I do love a good committee. It's in my blood. Throughout both my high school and college days I was that annoying-over-achiever-kid, completely and utterly too involved.

It's been a while since I was on any kind of a committee...

Word recently got out that we needed to form a holiday party committee at work and I jumped at the offer. Going into the experience bright-eyed and eager, I was quickly taken aback. While I work in Holland at an international agency, there is one culture I've had very little experience integrating with on a professional level. Over the last year I've learned to adapt to multitude of different cultures and I've really grown through this experience. Unfortunately the one culture I haven't had too much pressure to adapt to has actually been the Dutch. Sounds strange, huh?

And so our committee was formed and we were three expats and three Dutchies and for the most part everything went great... Until things started to become lost in translation. When this happened, our Dutch counterparts would begin speaking Nederlands and clarity would go back and forth skipping over each half the group. Nederlands is an interesting language too. Sometimes when people speak Nederlands, there is an element of "politeness" that simply doesn't translate.

For example if you were at the market and wanted to know how much something cost, in English you might say, "Excuse me sir, can you please tell me how much this is?" or shortened you would say, "Hello, how much is this?" In Nederlands you would simply say, "Kosta?!" There are good things to be said for this kind of directness. For one, it's efficient and you don't waste anytime worrying whether or not you've insulted someone with too much or too little "fluff." It's just that if you're not used to it, bursts into Nederlands can sound a bit like unintentional shouting. And I'm sure bursts in English sound like long pointless chit-chat.

This was then followed by the frustration the Dutch had with the expats. It was clear that we weren't used to the everyone-has-an-equal-say-in-everything form of discussion and decision making. I quickly learned that in my mind, when something needs to be decided, I assume that responsibility to whomever is in charge of it in a majority-rules-but-in-the-end-you-just-decide fashion. I also learned that this comes comes across as inconsiderate and rude.

Somedays I would leave our meetings excited for party, other days I was completely frustrated and yanking my hair out. In the end, I'm glad I've had this cross-cultural lesson in coordination and planning. What I've learned the most from working abroad and this particular experience is that in order to hold up a mirror and really see yourself for who you are, you need to/have to work with people from different cultures.

When I talk to people about Amsterdam, I sometimes refer to it as an "international starter city" meaning that the Dutch are so welcoming and tolerant that you can move here, refuse to learn their language and in return they'll speak to you in beautiful English. They are willing to put up with us and I'm glad. I wouldn't learn enough about myself without this experience and I'm afraid I wouldn't have grown as much as I have over this last year without them. So to all of my Dutch friends, colleagues, and neighbors, thank you!

Oh, by the way, the party turned out AMAZING. Shows what you can accomplish when you come together. Here are some stills thrown into a video for your viewing pleasure:

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