One day, my daughter wasn’t feeling well, so I took her to the doctor. Wanting the receptionist to take me seriously, I started the conversation by listing all possible symptoms my daughter had: A fever, a cough, a congested nose.
After I was done with the litany, the receptionist asked: “So what do you want?”
I was stunned. Hadn’t I just taken care to explain everything to her in great detail?
Before I moved to the Netherlands, I thought I was well prepared to deal with the challenges of interacting with different cultures. Born and raised in Poland, I’d also lived in Canada and Germany, and managed each move with relative ease.
But the Netherlands threw me for a loop. My biggest struggle was, and still is, with Dutch directness.
Time after time, I find myself taken aback by this cultural trait. Another day, I was with my family at the playground. My husband was watching our toddler while I was nursing the baby. Suddenly a woman sat down next to me and said, “I think it’s really important that you breastfeed.” I know many women would feel validated by this comment, given how controversial nursing in public has become. But I was surprised to get parenting advice from a stranger, and particularly while I have one breast whipped out and am trying to get a fussy baby to feed.
In attempting to navigate the cultural divide, I’ve found the theory of communication put forth in the 1994 book When Cultures Collide, by the linguist Richard Lewis, particularly useful. According to Lewis, there are two kinds of communicators—“circular” and “linear” ones.
Circular communicators start with lighter topics such as the weather, then slowly get to the point. According to Eleonore Breukel, a trainer in intercultural communication, this seems to be the preferred communication style in most cultures around the world. And it’s the way I talk, too. “You are obviously a circular communicator,” she told me.
Read more at Quartz.