Strange behaviour in its cultural context

October 2003 -
Cover Vreemd Volk

Why do people from non-western countries frame their diplomas and hang them on the wall? How come they do not like DYI but do like business cards? How can that doctor from the Netherlands be reliable if he is not even wearing a white coat? Why is it that this Western tourist does not want to come and meet my whole family?

It is often difficult to understand other cultures. Author Jacob Vossestein believes this is caused by a lack of knowledge. His book Vreemd Volk (Strange People) lends insight into the behaviour of people in other cultures.

Jacob Vossestein is an inter-cultural trainer at the Royal Tropics Institute in Amsterdam. He has had contact with an extremely wide variety of peoples, both through his work and during his extensive travels. These range from American students and Vietnamese doctors to Zambian development experts and Russian businessmen. His years of experience are bundled in Vreemd Volk.

In the apparent chaos of behaviour and habits, Vossestein unravels patterns. He puts ideas within the context of their culture: Western individualism versus behaviour on collectivistic societies, where people have more rights and obligations within the group. This distinction forms the basis for other differences: pride in your work versus pride in your family, 'be yourself' versus status sensitivity, and impersonal government assistance versus help from neighbours.

The author strives to avoid rough generalisations. He writes about 'many Dutch' or 'most people' who 'often' or 'usually' do this or that. He balances this vague wording with numerous concrete examples. The book concludes with a series of recommendations for dealing with other cultures.

Vreemd Volk is part of the Leven en werken in andere culturen (Living and working in other cultures) series of practical manuals in Dutch and English published by KIT Publishers. Dealing with the Dutch/ Zo werkt dat in Nederland by Jacob Vossestein was published earlier in the series.

Jacob Vossestein, Vreemd volk. Over gedrag in andere culturen. KIT Publishers, € 15,00
 Available from bookstores or by order via the KIT website