On first-name terms

It was shortly after I started my Master’s at WUR that I had to write an email to one of my professors for the first time. I wrote the way I would back in my home country, starting with ‘Dear Mr/Mrs’, keeping to a formal tone, and ending with ‘Sincerely’.
Illustration: Henk van Ruitenbeek

Imagine the culture shock I experienced when my professor used my first name in her greeting, wrote in what to me was a very informal tone, and signed off using her first name! As I’d been brought up in a society that places great importance on social ranks and formalities, I was not used to professors treating me as an equal, in correspondence even less than in ‘real life’ situations.

Almost three years passed since this first encounter with the way Dutch people do ‘formal’. By now, I start all my emails using a person’s first name, and I also sign them with only my name. I have started to love the informality of Dutch correspondence and the informality of the society overall. Not having to use all their titles and names, but instead expressing your respect for someone directly by the way you act towards them, feels a lot less restrictive.

 Thanks to Dutch informality I’ll never panic about writing a formal email again 

Using emojis in emails to my supervisor because my experiment went well? You bet! Being completely unfazed when our lab assistant replies to my email at 23:00, ‘sent from my iPhone’-style? Yep! I am quite sure Dutch informality has made it impossible for me to ever have a panic attack over writing a formal email again.

Kristina Ledl, an MSc student of Biotechnology, from Slovenia

Do you have a nice anecdote about your experience of going Dutch? Send it in! Describe an encounter with Dutch culture in detail and comment on it briefly. 300 words max. Send it to resource@wur.nl and earn fifty euro and Dutch candy.

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