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Dutch Articulations

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    Even though the topic discussed was transcultural, and certainly not specifically Dutch, as mentioned, I felt this particular texts showed what I called Dutch articulations in the text. Students had indeed recognized the global, or at least western, the relevance of the text and made intertextual references to American and English soaps and films. I asked students whether they felt that this issue would have been written about in a similar way in an English magazine aimed at men. As I describe in more detail in Chapter 4, my own interpretation had been that the extreme traditional positioning of women as needing to find fulfilment through motherhood, would not have been acceptable in an English publication, not even in a men’s one. This discourse was made more acceptable by another discourse which also carried a Dutch flavour: that of therapy and self-development, which, I thought, would equally have been out of place in an English magazine aimed at men.

    In the fragment below I am trying to bring this discussion into the foreground. The exchange student, Marijke, responded as I had expected, saying that this kind of discourse certainly does not surprise her, but the regular students of the class did not seem to want to pursue this line of analysis. As in the previous set of data, they ‘talked around the text’ and focused on the difference in conventions in how people talk about relationships: what can you say and what not? The students are relating it to previous knowledge and experience gained when living in the Netherlands. Marijke took on the role of ‘learner’ about English culture. The discussion which I had hoped to kick-start on whether there was Dutch articulation to some of the discourses employed, became a content-oriented one, based on personal experience, or at least what they had inferred and observed about differences in relationships in England and the Netherlands:

    Claire: Ja, maar ik moet zeggen ik heb in MH in Engeland gekijkt wanneer ik was in Waterstone’s en MH in Engeland is niks te doen, of er is een klein artikel over seks maar al andere artikelen zijn over sport en health hoe je kan een betere sixpack hebben.

    G: Ja, wasbord dus.

    Marijke: [lacht]

    Claire: Ja, en een betere… ’deze schoenen voor voetbal’.

    G: Niets over relaties.

    Claire: Nee, niets over relaties.


    Marijke: Maar denk… dan wat je ook zei dat over MH dat het alleen maar over sport gaat, dat praten over relaties, dat dat niet helemaal kan, dat dat te open is?

    Claire: In Engeland het kan niet ja, ik denk dat in Engeland je kan het niet publiceren in een Engelse mannelijke publicatie.

    G: En dan met name het vrij serieuze over relaties en het therapeutische gedeelte…?

    Claire: Nee, nee want ik denk dat in Engeland we praten niet over deze soort dingen, want ik denk mannen, maar ook vrouwen praten niet in dezelfde manier over seks.

    Emma: Nee.

    Claire: In Nederland is het heel... je hebt 6 mannen en 6 vrouwen die woont bij elkaar en misschien ik weet het niet, praat je over seks en dat soort dingen.

    Marijke: [lacht]

    Claire: Maar je praat over relaties.

    Marijke: Ja, dat gaat.

    Claire: Maar ik denk in Engeland ik praat niet met mijn vrienden over mijn relatie behalve dan in een meer generale manier.


    Claire: Yes, but I have to say, when I was in Waterstone’s I had a look, and in MH in England there is nothing, or just a small article about sex, and all other articles are about sport and health… how you can have a better ‘sixpack’…

    G: Yes, ‘wasbord’.

    Marijke: [laughs]

    Claire: Yes, and a better these shoes for football.

    G: Nothing about relationships.

    Claire: No, nothing about relationships.


    Marijke: But do you think, that what you said, that MH is only about sport, that talking about relationships that it is not possible/acceptable, that it is too open?

    Claire: In England you can’t do it, yes, I think that in England you can’t publish it in an English publication for men.

    G: And then particularly the fairly serious tone about relationships, that therapeutic part?

    Claire: No, because I think in England we don’t talk about these kind of things, because I think men, but also women, don’t talk in the same way about sex.

    Emma: No.

    Claire: In the Netherlands it is very… you have 6 men and 6 women who live together and maybe, I don’t know, you talk about sex and that kind of thing…

    Marijke: [laughs]

    Claire: But you talk about relationships.

    Marijke: Yes, that is…

    Claire: But I think in England I don’t talk with my friends about my relationship except in a more general way.

    Claire had taken an intercultural stance by looking at an English version of Men’s Health for comparison. Her analysis, that it did not contain anything about relationships, was taken further by Marijke. She was interested to what degree you could infer whether there is more of a taboo on talking about relationships in England than in the Netherlands. The exchange is perhaps a little essentialist in its focus and conducted at a very general level, but I had encouraged that by my initial questioning about ‘Dutchness’. Whilst the dialogue was not leading to discourses in Dutch society regarding women, that I had scaffolded the discussion towards, the dialogue was nevertheless intercultural. An interesting side effect was that the intercultural dialogue was taking place in both directions: the statements about English society made by Claire, led Marijke to ask further questions. Interesting is that the English students were more confident in their observations about cultural difference. Marijke did not focus on cultural differences and, in her interview ,she said she had no idea what ‘Dutch values’ were, as she, as a native speaker, had never thought about it in those terms.

    The students may have taken on an intercultural stance in the sense that they were thinking about the issue of the wider cultural context in the Netherlands and Britain, but they were not extending this to continuing the position of critique of discourses. Nevertheless, the students were reflecting; Claire used both the evidence of what she had inferred from the article and something which Marijke had said earlier on in the discussion and then related it to her own experience. On the other hand, the discussion did not rise above the level of stereotypes, and students were not aware of the fact that they were colluding in stereotypes.

    I then aim to bring the discussion back from the ‘talk around the text’ to the pedagogical task at hand, i.e. looking at the underpinning values in the text and whether these could be said to constitute a Dutch articulation. I want to find out from Marijke whether she feels the underpinning values in the text are in any way ‘recognisable’ to her:

    G: [question directed at Marijke] Wat vind jij, heb je het gevoel dat… komt dit op jou vrij herkenbaar over, dat je deze waarden in een tijdschrift hebt of vind je dat ook vreemd, als je tenminste in ogenschouw neemt dat dit tijdschrift op mannen is gericht?

    Marijke: Ik vind het niet vreemd dat ze iets zoals dit publiceren. Ik heb niet het idee dat dit heel erg buiten de toon valt van wat er verder in Nederland te lezen is, nee.

    Claire: Dit is een normaal artikel in MH in Nederland.

    Marijke: Ja, niet dat ik MH lees, maar… [lacht]


    Eve: Er is veel meer vrijheid in Nederland om te schrijven wat jij bedoelen wat jou mening is, veel Nederlanders geven hun mening zoveel makkelijker aan dan Engelse mensen. Het is meer sociaal acceptabeler om te zeggen wat je voelen over hoe het dan is, want dat is jouw mening.

    Claire: Je hoeft niet te vragen over hun mening want ze zegt het…

    [door elkaar praten]

    Emma: Maar dat [Nederlandse, GQ] mannen makkelijker over gevoelens praten of makkelijker dan Engelse mannen over gevoelens praten, dat kan ik je wel vertellen. ‘t Is echt tanden trekken soms.


    [door elkaar praten]

    Claire: ...over seks ik denk dat seks is niet zo problematisch en een soort idee. In Nederland er is meer sex education op school, je bent jonger, ‘t is meer…

    Emma: Het is gewoon in Nederland.

    Claire: ‘t Is normaal, het is topical.

    Eve: De Engelsen vinden het zo moeilijk om over seks te praten.

    G: Actueel.

    Claire: Ja, actueel en in Engeland het is taboe.

    Emma: Het is alledaags bijna in Nederland, niet dat iedereen de hele dag over seks praat, maar…

    [door elkaar praten]

    G: ...maar hier in deze tijdschriften kom je dat toch ook tegen in Engeland, in Cosmopolitan heb je toch ook een heleboel seks.

    Emma: Ja, maar dat is…

    Claire: Dat is niet…

    Eve and Emma: Dat is voor vrouwen…

    Claire: Ook het is over goede seks…

    Emma: Ja, maar dat is ook echt niet…


    Claire: Ze zegt dat seks is niet altijd perfect en het gaat niet altijd goed en dat in relaties zijn er momenten dat je hebt problemen, maar in Engeland is het altijd, ja je moet, hoe zeg je ‘orgasm’ in het Nederlands?

    Emma: Orgasme.

    Eve: Het is elke keer, ja je moet een multiple orgasm…

    Claire: Ja, precies.

    [lachen en door elkaar praten]

    Emma: [onverstaanbaar]… seksueel

    Claire: Ja, ze moeten over seks praten in een soort closed of, ja, het is een soort perfect idee, ja en je praat over dit perfecte idee, maar het is alleen maar…

    Eve: Alleen maar de ‘beautiful people’.

    Claire: Ja, en je bent niet in hetzelfde soort...

    Marijke: Het is niet persoonlijk?

    Claire: Ja precies, het is een soort ideaal


    G: [question directed at Marijke] What do you think? Do you have the feeling that… does this come across as fairly recognisable… that you find these values in a magazine, or do you find that strange as well, considering this magazine is aimed at men?

    Marijke: I don’t find it unusual that they publish something like this. I don’t think this is very different from other things you can read in the Netherlands. No.

    Claire: This is a normal article in Men’s Health in the Netherlands.

    Marijke: Yes, well not that I read Men’s Health, but…


    Eve: There is more freedom in the Netherlands to write what you think, what your opinion is, so many Dutch people give their opinion so much easier than English people, it is more socially acceptable to say what you feel, to say how it is because that is your opinion.

    Claire: You don’t have to ask their opinion, because they say it.

    [Students all talk at once]

    Emma: But [Dutch, GQ] men talk more easily about their own feelings than English men talk about their feelings, that much I can tell you. Sometimes you really have to pull it out of them.

    [Students all talk at once]

    Claire: …about sex I think that sex is not so problematic and a kind of idea in the Netherlands, there is more sex education at school. You are younger, it is more…

    Emma: It is normal in the Netherlands.

    Eve: The English find it so difficult to talk about sex.

    Claire: …and in England it is taboo.

    Emma: It is almost everyday in the Netherlands, not that everyone talks about sex all day, but…

    G: But in the magazines here in England, in Cosmopolitan there is also a lot of sex.

    Emma: Yes, but that is not…

    Claire: that is not…

    Eve and Emma: That is for women…

    Claire: And it is about good sex…

    Emma: Yes, but that is not really…


    Claire: She says that sex is not always perfect and it doesn’t always go well, and that there are moments in relationships that you have problems, but in England, it is always, yes, you have got to… how do you say ‘orgasm’ in Dutch?

    Emma: ‘Orgasme’.

    Eve: It is every time, yes, you must [have] a multiple orgasm…

    Claire: Yes, exactly.

    [Laughter and everyone talks at the same time]

    Emma: Yes, it is very extreme… [not audible]

    Eve: [not audible] Sexual.

    Claire: Yes, they have to talk about sex in a kind of closed, or yes, it is a kind of idea about perfection, yes, and you talk about this ‘perfect-idea’, but it is only…

    Eve: Only beautiful people.

    Claire: And you are not in the same [league?]

    Marijke: It is not personal?

    Claire: Yes exactly, it is a kind of ideal.

    Marijke indeed feels the values reflected in the article are similar to those in other publications in the Netherlands, which might suggest there may be a Dutch articulation to some aspects of the text. My question was aimed at discourses in the media, and Marijke’s answer does indeed focus on this. However, the students did not follow up on the representations in the media but instead continued the theme of attitudes of ‘openness’ in attitudes and communication, which the discussion around the text had thrown up for them. In comparing these attitudes between the Netherlands and England, students followed essentialist notions of national cultures. Eve’s general observation that Dutch people have a direct style of communication is applied by Emma to different communicative behaviours between English and Dutch men when it comes to talking about feelings. She seems to make use of her own personal experiences by emphasising: ‘that much I can tell you’.

    From that point, the discussion starts to focus on sex, but Claire relates this to her cultural knowledge of the Netherlands. She suggests that because there is sex education at schools, it is easier for people to talk about sex. However, rather than just making an observation, using her cognitive schemata, she touches on a more complex point; she says that talking about sex is ‘a kind of idea’ (een soort idee). Claire seems to suggest that because sex is talked about from a younger age at school, it becomes part of culture, almost like a discourse. The other students do not pursue the more complex point Claire is making, but they confirm the fact that talking about sex is just more common in the Netherlands.

    When Eve focuses on the comparative element (‘the English find it so difficult to talk about sex’) both Emma and Claire confirm this, but I feel that the students are colluding in a stereotype. I want them to query this further and I counter their comments by stating that there is a lot of talk about sex in English magazines as well. This leads students to consider the way Dutch magazines write about sex compared to English publications, such as Cosmopolitan. It is Claire again who considers these differences and she suggests that Dutch magazines will write about sex in the context of relationships and that they would also focus on the fact that sex is not always perfect. English magazines (i.e. Cosmopolitan), on the other hand, write in a ‘closed way’ about sex, as if sex should be perfect all the time; it is not about personal experiences, but an ‘ideal’ to live up to (Eve: ‘multiple orgasms’). Again Claire comes close to suggesting that there are different discourses surrounding sex, i.e. conventions in talking about sex and the assumptions and expectations which surround it. Also interestingly, Claire focused again on the pressure that glossy magazines exert to conform to the image of an ‘idealised’ lifestyle, which Claire mentioned a few times in relation to the article in Men’s Health.

    Whilst I had wanted to focus on Dutch articulation and discourses in the Men’s Health text, students changed that focus to a comparative one, looking at the differences in the Netherlands and England in communicative styles in the way people talk about feelings and about sex. Whilst partly I felt students were colluding in stereotypes, they also, Claire, in particular, attempted to relate both their personal experience and their cognitive and lifeworld knowledge to reflect on these differences.

    I felt slightly uncomfortable about discussing issues comparatively, as this so easily leads to an unproblematic confirming of national stereotypes. Of course, I had encouraged the comparative stance in trying to make students consider the idea of a Dutch articulation, but articulation focuses on discourses, rather than on the ‘facts’ of people’s behaviour, which is how the discussion was developing. On the other hand, students were reflecting on their own experiences when they had been in the Netherlands during their residency abroad. Whilst I think students were in danger of over-essentializing their experiences, Claire points towards a way in which topics like these could be debated in a more constructive and intercultural way, with students reflecting critically on their own experiences. She hints at the fact that there are discourses, which she referred to as ‘kinds of ideas’, surrounding sex, which may differ from country to country (or indeed from social group to social group), because of historically developed attitudes, or indeed, as Claire suggests, because of the educational curriculum, which is a powerful conductor of values and discourses. Focusing on discourses rather than the ‘facts’ of people’s behaviour, allows for a more comprehensive and problematised view of the notion of possible national articulation.

    In comparing the two different sets of data, i.e. the one where students were engaged critically in mapping discourses and were discussing these on a transcultural basis, the data set above relating to Dutch articulation, in contrast, reverted the topic onto a national level. These different data show the tension between these perspectives, transcultural and national, which I think are part and parcel of language teaching which takes into account the complexities of language and culture. Both sets of data showed students engaged in ‘dialoguing’ about issues related to culture, language and clearly to students’ own lives. The data also show the importance of collaboration in the meaning-making process. The fact that one set of data showed students taking a more complex stance to the topic in hand, and a more essentialist approach in the second one, also shows that the context of the discussion is important. This context was partly created by me by asking students to focus on Dutch articulation. But students themselves also created the context together. If one student introduced a different perspective, i.e. Eve in the last set of data introducing the notion of differences in communication styles between the English and Dutch, then others were prepared to follow that line of conversation. In doing so, students showed responsibility and engagement towards one another in their discussions, as well as an intellectual curiosity towards new and other perspectives.

    This page titled Dutch Articulations is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Gerdi Quist (Ubiquity Press) .

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