Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Ten Things You Don't Know about The Netherlands and the Dutch Until You Move Here (Part 4)

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The typical Dutch stereotype consists of cheese eating, clog wearing tall people talking a dialect of German with a backdrop of windmills sailing round on the flatlands. However, there is much more to this small country and the people who live in it than the rest of the world thinks. Here's the fourth part of a series on things you don't necessarily know about the Dutch and their country until you move here.

7. The Education System is Complicated
In the UK, you go to school at the age of 5, when it becomes compulsory and you generally plod along through the education system until you are eighteen (it used to be sixteen when I was a lass). You choose a few specialist subjects as you go along and you do a few exams. Then you either go get a job or go into further education.

Photo: Cienpies Design
In the Netherlands, it already starts off a bit strange. If you want, you may send your four year old to school. But you don't have to. When your child turns five, they absolutely, positively must go to school. So, as a parent, you're already faced with a question at the age of four.

But wait, it gets complicated I promise. Before junior has even left primary school, he or she is tested (Cito toets) and, based on the results and a talk between parents and teacher, is then streamed into different levels of education. Yes, at the age of eleven already. It is selective and ability based - much different to most European systems.

And then the Dutch education system throws acronyms at parents and doesn't stop until the kids go out and work (and then there are a whole set of new ones):
  • VMBO (Voorbereidend Middelbaar Beroepsonderwijs)
  • HAVO (Hoger Algemeen Voortgezet Onderwijs)
  • VWO (Voorbereidend wetenschappelijk onderwijs)
I have been practicing for years to remember what VMBO, HAVO and VWO stand for (and actually mean) but with no success. Luckily I have another seven years to get to grips with it.

8. Dutch Customer Service Hasn't Been Invented 
I've said it before and I'll say it again.... many companies here may as well just shut down their customer service departments as they antagonise more than they help. Oh, I'm sure there are exceptions but in ten years not one company comes straight to mind for their outstanding contribution to Dutch customer service.

Photo: Len-k-a

The Undutchables book explains this as a historical, culture issue - everyone working in customer service roles don't see themselves as a representative of the company they work for (hence the common sentence uttered from CSRs "It's not my fault - it's the company") but as an individual equal to the customer. Everything is taken quite personally. Or they just don't care - whether or not you get a solution or are happy as you leave the store, the person serving you gets paid at the end of the week or month.

And Dutch people tend to accept customer service for what it is - and that's it.

I'll give you an example: I have a mobile phone. It's a pre-paid account with Telfort which I've had for close to ten years here. Recently money started evaporating from my phone. It literally disappeared over night continuously over the space of a month. So obviously I contacted Telfort. The end result was that Telfort could not help me. Or should that be, Telfort would not help me. They indicated they could not see where that money has gone (50 euro in total) and that the solution was to change my number... yes, the number I have had for nearly ten years and use for The Writing Well. Needless to say I am following up (through OPTA) and changing provider, taking my number with me.

I have plenty more examples but I won't bore you with them - if you live here, you have your own stories......  Who knew it was so bad?

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