It has been a while since I blogged. And frankly, not just blogging has been a bit on the low side, all my social media presence has. It’s due to all that is been going on in the last few months in the world and that has me and I guess many others too reeling and trying to make sense of it all.
During my opening at Social Connections in Amsterdam on November 30th a few weeks back I tried to make a link between how the Dutch culture of ‘Consensus decision making’ that was formed by hundreds of years of fighting together against the rising water levels and social business relate to each other.
Water to The Netherlands traditionally is both a blessing (as it gives us opportunities for trade and access to the rest of the world) as well as a curse (as it is a constant threat with 1/3 of the country being below sea level). It forces us to constantly reinvent ourselves and our environment and forces us to work together on all levels. It has shaped the way we do business, do politics and live together and resulted in a flat hierarchy system focused on collaborating for a common goal with strong ties outwards. Which is underwritten by this report by DHL on the global state of connectedness where The Netherlands is ranked first out of 140 nations.
So does that make The Netherlands better at ‘social’?
I think it certainly helps as social business thrives in flat hierarchy systems and collaborative environments… but what do you think? Does national/regional culture help or not and if so, what aspects of your culture do you see that play a role in how Social Business is taking off (or not!)?
Ok, I’ll admit it, this has got me stumped for a while now but “WHAT’S UP WITH ALL THE BACON?!?” there isn’t a day without someone in my social networks mentioning or referring to ‘bacon’ in some way, there even is a bacon day, a bacon society and a bacon ipsum generator. Searching for answers I came across the most eclectic collection of bacon-products imaginable.
I even posted a question about this in a Skype chat I’m part of. That resulted in one of the weirdest conversations I ever had (edited it a bit to make it somewhat coherent)
<Me>: Ok, at the risk of sounding very blond, or ignorant or both…. But what is this fascination with bacon all about?!? I constantly see people on FB and Twitter making references to it and so called funny remarks…. I’m sure I’m missing something here but what’s up with that or is it just my imagination???
<UK-girl>: I like bacon, but not to that extent. Marmite – well that is a different matter
<Me>: Ok going from the weird to the disgusting here… 😉
<UK-girl>: noooooo! Marmite is AWESOME
<US-guy>: Mmm. Bacon.
<UK-girl>: marmite bacon .. double mmmmm
<Me>: Mmm… Not getting very far this way, do I 🙂
<UK-girl>: you think you are going to get a serious answer out of people talking about bacon?
<Me>: And why not??? Arggg, really getting confused about bacon here
<US-guy>: Bacon is serious. And good with anything, including chocolate. I fully admit that I am from the South, so loving bacon is genetic.
<Me>: Ok so it is just in my head that I see all these bacon references and think there is a second meaning to it that I don’t get?!?
<UK-girl>: no .. there is lots of bacon, I noticed it too
<US-guy>: True. I would say Canadians are also misguided, but then they actually call theirs ‘peameal’.
<Me>: @<UK-girl> Ah! So I’m not alone in noticing!
<Me>: But no clue why?
<US-guy>: It is important to not think about where bacon comes from, but instead just worship the awesomeness. 😉
<Me>: Hope we didn’t offend the gods of Bacon then with this conversation… 😉
<UK-girl>: they will be getting ready to fry or grill us 😀
Right…. after a good chuckle I gave up on the idea of ever getting a serious answer from this group as you can imagine.
But it does highlight an important factor and that is that we all bring certain cultural or social aspects and concepts into the mix that others might not be familiar with. Nothing wrong there but it could lead to misunderstandings and confusions.
Now me not understanding the US/Canadian bacon mania is one thing but misunderstandings in communications can cause serious problems, especially where people from different backgrounds get more direct interaction with each other like in social business environments. Take for instance Belgium and The Netherlands. In both countries Dutch (Flemish) is spoken and geographically spoken most foreigners won’t even know where one ends and the other starts. Our cultural etiquette though has some very distinct differences. Dutch are often seen by their Belgium neighbors as too direct and harsh where the Dutch sometimes perceive their Belgium counterparts as unnecessary formal and overly cautious. Nothing wrong there if you are aware of this but sometimes it can be a good idea to give new social platform users that are not familiar with communicating through social platforms or with people in other cultures a bit of an explanation and awareness of social etiquette before turning them loose.
After all the whole idea of getting people to adopt social business is to get them more productive and ‘bringing home the bacon’, not burn it.
Last Friday I visited TEDx Dordrecht. An independently organized TED event in my home town listing 12 speakers on topics related to Sustainability and Food. It was a good event. There were some excellent speakers, good food, a nice venue and enough breaks to socialize with some of the other visitors.
The last speaker of the night was a 19 year old student and member of the Dutch national youth council for sustainability. Excited and in the heat of her youthful exuberance she used some words during her speech that where, well… how do I put it….
Ok she used the word ‘F*ck’ more then a couple of times. Now to be fair, using that word in Dutch is, although still seen as a swear word better to be avoided, really not to big a deal. Especially as it is an incorporated English word and therefore doesn’t really have the same weight to it as it would have in English. It is often used to stress a point or an exclamation of annoyance among younger generations. So using it in a Dutch context, although frowned upon, wouldn’t normally cause much of a reaction. Probably also because we aren’t that easily shocked. The session however was in English and was being broadcasted to 35 countries world wide.
Right…. now that mischievous word suddenly became a full blown profanity and probably caused some stirs around the world as was hinted on afterwards by the host.
It is funny as it emphasized to me the subtle differences in language. To my shame I have to admit I too use that word on occasion. Most times though, not in an English or public context as I know the word really does have a bigger weight to it in English then it does in Dutch.
In fact, it seems more and more people prefer using foreign swear words. As if swearing in a different language has less impact then saying a similar swear word in Dutch. And it probably does, as to a lot of people, the word becomes just that: ‘a word’. It’s original context and meaning fade a bit and it becomes a word on its own. Yes, everybody still knows it is a profanity but it is seen less connected to what it actually describes. Especially as the Dutch translation of the word (verb) ‘F*ck’ isn’t officially classified as a swear word at all. It is somewhat of a taboo word, not to be used often or in a formal or public conversation but it isn’t considered a real profanity either.
Somehow, not having the same context, makes swearing in another language less harsh then using a similar swear word in your own language. And it’s not just the Dutch that do that or have a fascination for foreign swear words. I’ve had numerous situations where foreigners of all nationalities proud to show off their skills, start reciting all the Dutch words and sentences they know. Stumbling their way through the obligatory ‘Hallo’, ‘welkom’, ‘goedemiddag’, ‘mijn naam is…’ unto some pretty harsh Dutch swear words… often with a big grin to their face.
In that regard, using foreign swear words seems to allow us to be that little kid again trying out the new forbidden vocabulary we picked up in the school yard…. It reminds us of the good old times when innocent as we were we really didn’t know yet what all those words meant, the actions it described and the cultural load it had.
No wonder there are so many sites around that will teach you the most gruesome swear words in almost any language around. I guess some fascinations just never die, do they…. 🙂