Cultural differences are one of the major sources of complications during an international assignment. This is also the case when expatriates are sent to nearby countries, for example within Europe. Much research focuses on expatriates who are on assignment in countries obviously different from their own – for example Americans in Japan, or the other way around – but it is also important to look at intra-European assignments, because there are many cultural differences in a relatively small geographical area. It is often thought that expats on assignment within Europe will not have too hard a time adjusting, as many people assume that the culture is not very different. True, you won’t get any hardship premiums or danger pay when you’re sent to the Netherlands or to the UK, but lack of awareness of cultural differences can lie at the root of many problems.
“I could have been better prepared. Many people think that all countries in Europe are the same, but this is on the surface only […] I would have liked to have known more about English culture, especially within companies” (Dutch expatriate on first assignment in the UK)
One strategy to deal with cultural differences is to get in touch with locals. Oberg already said it in his famous article on culture shock (1):
“What can you do to get over culture shock as quickly as possible? The answer is to get to know the people of the host country.”
It looks like this might not be as easy in the Netherlands as in other countries, according to the Expat Explorer Survey (2). They asked expatriates how easy it was to make local friends, and Netherlands, Belgium, the UK, Germany and Switzerland came out at the bottom of the list. The multitude of reactions (or complaints) on various forums suggests that the Netherlands indeed is not a piece of cake for everyone (3).
What do you think? Are some countries ‘easier’ to adjust to than others? How easy have you found it to adjust to living and working in the Netherlands?
(1) Oberg, K. (1960). Cultural shock. Adjustment to new cultural environments. Practical Anthropology, 7, p. 182
(2) This finding is mentioned in the 2010 report. For the 2011 and 2012 reports they did ask the same question, but unfortunately the report does not list the countries in order of how easy or difficult it is to make local friends. http://www.expatexplorer.hsbc.com
(3) For example the Expatica forum about Dutch culture http://community.expatica.com/forums/24