Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Your Best? Hah!

I don't know about you, but I need a break from the news.  I don't know how others feel about this, but to me, one of the worst by products of our 'news-as-entertainment' culture is how it has turned everyone, their Aunt Fanny, her dog, the dog's dog walker,  his girlfriend (and me) into a pundit.  Now normally, although these opinions can bug me at times, I also find some kind of entertainment value in reading blowhards and particularly the people who make comments to the blowhard's columns, blogs or whatever.  Sometimes it is entertainment and sometimes it is just good 'ol rubbernecking (not being able to look away from a car crash).  But after the past week or so, I've decided I need a break from this.  Between reading harrowing and heartbreaking stories about Haiti (and feeling powerless to help in a tangible way other than cash) to the other end of the spectrum, the late night wars (Go Conan!), which is another tale of heartbreak, the heartbreak of greed and the quest for profits (ahem, I mean ratings), I just need some radio silence from news.  So, instead I am going to shamelessly pontificate. So, if you are looking for some escapism, try this. 

So, any American that has ever lived abroad will know what I am talking about here, which is anyone who has spent any significant amount of time outside of the borders of 'ol glory' will know that the American level of service is much higher than in many other parts of the world.  Everyone laughs at Americans and their 'have a nice day mentality' but it's true, America is a service oriented country, sometimes even annoyingly so (No, you cannot ******* help me, I just want to look around without having you trying to grab me a size, a dressing room or a lovely scarf to go with that, even if they are buy one get one free!).  Still, abroad it is an entirely different story.

Now I could go into a whole sociology or economic lecture on why this is and why it has to do with the nature of the capitalist system and all that but I think it is just a lot more fun to play my favorite sport (and that of nearly anyone who lives abroad) which is the fun, family game of "Why Where I come From is Better Than Where I am".  Come on, wanna play?

One of the things that really makes me laugh and in times infuriates me about life in the Netherlands is that there is no real  incentive for excellence here.  From my 'sea to shining sea' conditioning the Netherlands is a bastion of socialism and socialism pervades every part of society here.  In many respects this is a good thing (there aren't millions of people without healthcare or basic human services).  But one of the downsides (in my modest, not at all out there point of view) is that socialism breeds mediocrity.  There is just no reason to excel here.  There is very little social mobility, they basically decide at age 12 whether or not a kid is headed to university or not.  If that decision for me would have been made at age 12, guess what, I'd still be shelpping spag at The Olive Garden. 

The Dutch system of employment means that nearly everyone works on a contract, after a certain amount of time, if you stay with the same employer, they must offer you what is known as a permanent contract which is kind of like tenure.  It basically means that they must have grounds to fire you, like the company has to be going broke.  They cannot just fire you on a whim or because of one mistake (which in and of itself is a good thing). Even if you are a total incompetent and don't show up for work most of the time, they need to be able to demonstrate that you have a 'history' of underperformance and that means you have to build a 'file' in order to do it.  But the downside of this is that there is just no incentive to do anything but the minimum required.  There is no reason at all to think outside the box (and decades of this system means that the Dutch are conditioned this way) or to hustle.  They actually discourage this.  When I first met my husband Leo, I was living in Israel and I mentioned on our first date that I put in a lot of hours at my job, working nights and often weekends at the office.  He told me that he also, because of the nature of his work had to put in a lot of hours too.  So, I very innocently in that getting-to-know-you-want-to-show-how-caring-and-wonderful-I-am (remember dating?) asked him how late he usually works and he said usually 6.00 PM but sometimes even as late as 7.00 PM. Even though this was 9 years ago I remember having to focus so I didn't have Shiraz coming out of my nose. Looking back, that was my first glimpse of Dutch culture. 

The nature of the system here, because, among other reasons, there is such a high degree of job security means that there is just no point in going the extra mile or even kilometer (which would be a little less).  There is nothing in the whole socio-economic structure which points to sticking your neck out as a good thing. 

In the Dutch language, one of the most common responses to a request is 'ik doe mijn best' meaning 'I will do my best' but my friends and colleagues always laugh at me when I tell them this phrase literally translated means I am not going to lift a finger for you.  The security that socialism provides, because even if you lost your job you will still be able to pay your mortgage means that there is no reason to change your name to Charlie Hustle.  Of course, the Dutch also bemoan the lack of service and talk often about how bad the service is here but after their coffee break is finished, they go right back to their desks, cars, cash registers and do their best!

In Israel by contrast the level of service was also nothing like what Americans are used to and is more or less comparable with the Netherlands  The difference is that the Israeli attitude is more like, 'hey, I don't give a crap about you and I am not doing anything for you'.  While the Dutch are talking nicely and calmly about doing their best but still doing nothing or very little.  Somehow, to me anyway there was something just more honest about the Israeli approach which made it less annoying to me.  Their (sometimes brutal) honesty somehow made me accept their standards (using the term loosely) of service better than that of the Dutch.  In Israel persistence is a virtue and actually if you are persistent you can actually get an Israeli to hustle for you if you show them you are not going to back down.  In Holland any sort of protest is futile and actually fuels my fire even more while the Dutch innocently smile and tell you that they will do their best and then go and grab a cup of coffee.

So I guess in the 'World Cup o'Dana' we are looking at Israel 1, the Netherlands 0.  Thanks for playing!

No comments:

Post a Comment