Category Archives: Dutch Experiences

Status symbols in the Netherlands

The Netherlands is a country very representative of Max Weber’s “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism”. This means that status symbols are both rare and subtle. Cars are small (for easy parking and reduced taxes), government ministers bike to work, and you won’t see much jewelry on women below 60 years of age. But today I stumbled upon a status symbol that seems to be as important to Dutch people as golden necklaces were to nouveaux riches in Russia of the early ’90s: flowers. I was walking down the street with a huge (and probably expensive) bouquet I got from colleagues on my first day at work, and boy did I get some looks from passers-by! Some people were amused, some stood in admiration, and some were clearly jealous! Strangers started talking to me and made jokes (which I unfortunately didn’t understand, because of the local Limburg accent…). I’ve never had 10 different people strike up a conversation to me in Holland during a 15-minute walk! So, next time you want to show off in the land of tulips: buy flowers!

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PR the Dutch Way

Dutch people are known for always telling it like it is and for legalizing marijuana, prostitution and gay marriages. You’d think there is little else this liberal country can surprise the world with. And yet they did.

You might have heard about the Big Donor Show aired on Dutch TV last month. The idea of the programme (made by the TV channel which invented the Big Brother show) was in having three patients in need of a kidney transplant compete against each other. The final decision on who will get her kidney was made by a terminally ill woman who was shown throughout the program. TV viewers could sms their preferences (think of American Idol for patients).

Boy did that show create a stir! Dutch society was split over the morality of such show; the Prime Minister expressed concern, and some politicians suggested the show be banned. Holland made international headlines for the first time since I-don’t-know-when. I only realized how big the thing was when my granny told me over the phone “she heard there was something weird going on on TV in the Netherlands”.

Well, I didn’t watch the show, but many people did, although even more people claimed they would not watch it because it was unethical. The show made international headlines the next day again – this time with a different tone. It had all been a hoax, aimed at drawing attention to the very real problem of lack of organ donors and long waiting lines for transplants in the Netherlands. The potential donor was an actress, while the three patients were real patiens waiting for a kidney transplant. This was revealed live on TV at the moment when she was about to announce “the winner”.

Wow. The public was stunned. Beautiful execution of the stunt left critics speechless. Talk about putting a name to your cause! Now, there is still debate about how ethical the show was. So far over 20 thousand people downloaded a donor form as a direct result of the show. And there are more coming, so the officials say the real effect can only be estimated in about two months. But it is already clear that a very worthy cause was put high on the public agenda, urging thousands of people to take immediate action. I take my hat off to BNN.

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Dutch gas company being user-friendly

This brochure on gas safety has a “scratch-and-sniff’ spot to teach people about what gas smells like. Great idea: very simple and, what is important, easy to understand by people whose mother tongue is not Dutch (the message about the free helpline number is provided in several languages).

P.S. You can also “sniff” it online!

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