Why do sheep swing?

The results are out – the Dutch elections took place last week and the VVD (right wing, liberal) won by a small margin. Second is PvdA (socialists), third… PVV (nationalistic, anti Islam). I voted none of the above and am now wondering how the parties are going to put their coalition together. According to the votes, the Dutch want a right wing government: VVD, PVV and ? (CDA – Christian Democrats – declined).

As a Cross Cultural Psychologist, I am interested in several questions. First, according to the polls, PVV would not win seats with such a margin. So why did the Dutch defy the predictors and vote for Geert Wilders’ party?

Secondly, in Belgium for the first time in 180 years a party (N-VA) that wants to split Belgium into two (Flanders en Wallonia) has become the most popular. Although this party is not like PVV in terms of the anti-Islam policies,  one Dutch broadsheet is now wondering if it’s intellectually acceptable to vote nationalistic (NRC http://weblogs.nrc.nl/expertdiscussies/zijn-nationalistische-partijen-salonfahig-geworden/)

Some may argue that the smaller countries are fed up with people coming in, unsettling an established culture in a country that has been occupied by foreign entities in the past and thus likely to be allergic to those who impose their views that deviate from the ‘tolerant’ norm. Hence, is there a need for the basics as per Maslow’s pyramid, to be satisfied? Lock the doors,  send a strong message to the established parties that Joe and Jane Bloggs want to be heard and sort out nationalistic interests? Interesting, but the Dutch are not known for their nationalism. At the most the Dutch would don their orange and support ‘Holland’ during the football (2-0 against Denmark, since you asked).

However, while I was in the Netherlands in April, I was intrigued to view a tv documentary on the BNP that exaggerated the support for this party among Britons. The media in the Netherlands was telling the Dutch that the British would vote BNP. They didn’t, but was this media hype enough for the Dutch to think, I’ll vote PVV since everybody else is too and I am fed up with the current politically correct climate? Certainly, things aren’t so simplistic, but my point is… why this swing? Why did the Dutch and now the Belgians vote nationalistic? Why follow each other like sheep but why did the British abstain from voting for the BNP?

I’m digging around the World Value Survey data to find out. Me thinks its something to do with pragmatic pluralism…

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No (wo)man is an island: Discussing self serving bias on Saaremaa.

The title of this blog isn’t even a metaphor. For a consultancy project I travelled to Tallinn in Estonia, where we boarded a bus to travel a further 4 hours to an island off the coast called Saaremaa. The 2-day session of the Virtex project (http://www.aeht.eu/en/european-projects/virtex) brought together educators from Estonia, Turkey, the Netherlands, Czech Republic, Spain and the UK. As an outsider, I observed their discussions on how to best assess students on their abilities in the hotel and tourism industry. It was interesting to watch videos that showed off the students’ language abilities and the ways that they interacted with their guests. It made me remember that people in their late teens/early twenties have guts – some move to another country without knowing much about the customs or language, having to organise a place to stay, a bank account, etc.

I talked about this project on this blog back in March and it’s interesting to be able to reflect back on the session now. The topic of cultural differences elicits mixed reactions – people either firmly believe in globalisation (i.e., we’re pretty much the same and differences cause little concern) or they believe that there are cultural differences and they do cause concern sometimes. My aim was to provide the teachers with materials that can be used to help the students understand the ‘why’ of cultural differences before they start their internship. Facts can be obtained from the CIA website (www.cia.gov) and do’s and don’ts are also available on websites such as wikipedia. Mind, websites like these are not without bias. As is proven by the brilliant uncyclopedia (http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/Estonia)

As a consultant, it is important to select your materials carefully as illustrative videos depicting differences can generate a debate on the reality of the cultural prototypes that are displayed, rather than have a fruitful discussion on the ‘why’ behind these differences. Also, I don’t think it’s in the interest to show a student a video on the do’s and don’ts of the country they’re about to visit – prototypes quickly become stereotypes. Secondly, none of these materials are relevant if the student isn’t aware that he/she isn’t neutral and that the first step may be to consider how others perceive them as visitors/guests/employees.

I was reading Jeanne Brett’s Negotiating Globally during my time away. Interestingly, she mentions that international negotiators forget to consider their opponent’s BATNA (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement) and focus only on their own needs and perceptions. The message is clear: we humans suffer from a self-serving bias. It’s probably innate. And, by Brett’s account, even happens to Harvard educated MBA students. Education may make students aware of this bias, however, so I hope that the training I developed may help some of the students of the VIRTEX project to feel a little bit more confident when they’re abroad.

My time on the island and in Tallinn was invigorating, by the way. All the members of the team that I met were kind and, rightfully so, very proud of their students and curriculum. Estonia’s Nordic calm, boundless nature and stoic friendliness was a welcome change from busy London. As a Dutch person I felt strangely at home…

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