Saturday, February 26, 2011

Flip sides

I'm leaving Maastricht for good next Tuesday. My things have been moved, arrangements have been made for the furniture, and good wishes for my future have been passed around. I tidied up my desk on Friday, filing the gazillion-and-a-half papers that I'd accumulated; tossed another gazillion-and-a-half papers into the recycling box, gave away my Gogo army, and passed on the last protocol.

I also had a meeting with the "career mobility" center (loopbaancentrum), which is a department that helps people who are leaving Maastricht find a new job. It was just an intake interview--like medical school, I'll probably never see the lady I interviewed with again--but nevertheless I was, once again, confronted with that legendary "Dutch directness" in a way that I'm not so sure I can get around.

During our conversation it came up that I am "a bit shy". I won't deny that, but then the HR guy went on to say that I need to be able to "talk about myself" and "emphasize the positives", by which he meant "bragging about myself like I'm God's gift to mankind". To me, that sounds like "being an unspeakably arrogant brat". The HR guy assured me, though, that this is just another aspect of the Dutch, and masquerading as one, that I'd have to get used to.

It also came up that most vacancies in the Netherlands are not filled as a result of job applicants applying to various job openings on job sites (monsterboard and the like), but because of someone hearing about a job opening that might suit a friend of a friend. Networking is a really big part of the work culture here, but it's not "networking" in the sense of going to a career fair and passing out your business card. It's "networking" in the sense of telling everybody and their grandmother, "Hey, I'm looking for a job, you got anything?" What seems a tad on the nepotistic side is just business as usual.

It just goes to show how much of our outlook depends on the culture that we grew up in--and how hard it is to change. I've been living and working in the Netherlands for a little less than four and three years, respectively, and I'm still having problems wrapping my head around the fact that I need to talk about myself to get a job...

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