Saturday, January 19, 2008

Druk, druk, druk

The Dutch Word of the Day often seems remarkably apt: it produced "Piekeren" (to worry, to brood, to ponder) on the days that we were having a management offsite to ponder company strategy, and, true to form, it suggested learning to use "Druk" (busy, crowded) during this week.

The busy-ness was caused by the arrival of our corporate VP-Research and a senior product planner from the US. Normally, these visits by executive management are boardroom sessions, all imagesuits, ties, PowerPoints and seriousness. They are formatted, rehearsed, and choreographed to within a minute of every hour, with clear objective statements up front and polite "Thank you" graphics at the end. Thus, the days leading up to the visit involve planning, preparation, and still more meetings.

In contrast, this visit turned out to be two days of genuine fun. The VP-Research is a refreshing (and sometimes frustrating) iconoclast: he refused to ride business class on the plane, and took the trains out from Schiphol to Arnhem (despite a shoulder with a torn rotator cuff, awaiting surgery next month). He hates being confronted with management presentations; he'd rather have the scientists serve up some data and spend an hour sifting his fingers through it to see what looks new or interesting. He hopped up on stage to argue that we need to give patients, not just doctors, a reason to want our implants, then suggested putting MP3 player, keyless automobile ignition, electronic point-of-sale payment, and imagesubway pass capability into it.

All of this, or course, delights the technical folks and drives the product planners and executive staff nuts. So much the better. So, it was a fun agenda to plan: brainstorming sessions with the development teams, a presentation to challenge the thinking of the design groups, a working hour with each of the research scientists with experiments planned or data to show. I warned everyone to come prepared and to engage in some direct "give and take" (not that the Dutch need much encouragement): in the end, everyone had fun and it put some fresh air into the rooms.

I was listening to a radio essay yesterday that reflected on how every mythology includes a trickster: someone who breaks the rules and challenges the traditions. I don't want the job, myself, but I happily acknowledge the value that they bring.

"The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity."

- Dorothy Parker

"If we knew what we were doing it wouldn't be research."

- Albert Einstein

"By seeking and blundering we learn."

- Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Picture credit

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Oral Pleasure and Expatriate Satisfaction

Oh, come on: we're all adults here...

This is the title of an article by Jean-Claude Usunier, appearing in the International Business Review, 1998 (7:89-110).  He hypothesizes that "expatriates experience a loss of oral pleasure related to the absence of their native language and eating and drinking habits in the host country, and that this affects their overall satisfaction with the expatriate experience."

The author, a professor of marketing and international business at the Universite Louis-Pasteur, studied a sample of American expatriate managers in France: 74 men and 35 women, with an average age of 46 (range 22-76).  The raw data published in the article has lots of interesting correlations among his studied variables: expatriate women tend to be younger than men, and are more likely to be single and to have a French spouse.  Older expatriates in general are more likely to arrive with their families and to stay longer.

The major factors determining length of stay (taken as a measure of "expatriate success") are being married to a foreign spouse (0.560), being comfortable with the language (0.675), and being happy with the food (0.316).  Unsurprisingly, personal satisfaction was correlated with overall family satisfaction (0.481), and those married to a foreigner were more likely to learn the language (0.621) and to adopt the food (0.395).  Gender, age, presence of a family, and individual satisfaction were uncorrelated with expatriate success.

Factor analysis (a statistical method for determining the strongest independent predictors of outcomes) reinforced the link between three key drivers (Marriage to a foreigner, Language fluency, and Satisfaction with local food) of the study's three outcomes (Personal satisfaction, Family satisfaction, and Length of stay).  The author concludes that "the issue of oral pleasure deficiencies certainly exists, and clearly persists over time, but on average it is most often overcome by positive oral pleasure drawn from life in the host country."

I agree to the extent that my evolving fluency is letting me participate more completely and independently in life here (although people are also increasingly less prone to use English with me, too).  But I'm less certain that the lack of snack crackers and bakery mixes has a significant impact on my happiness.

But, I'd rate "open-mindedness",  "having local friends", and "becoming progressively less dependent on home country resources" as more significant drivers of my overall adjustment.

Nonetheless, it's interesting data to reflect on, and it does have a cute title to whip out at parties...

Photo credit

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Visiting Haarlem

The rain and cold returned to Arnhem, so I drove to the coast yesterday seeking a bit of sun and scenery.  On the recommendation of our finance director, I aimed towards Haarlem, the capital of North Holland.  I didn't have time to see the museums, but really enjoyed a few hours wandering the town center and the many canals.  Like Delft, I can see that this will be a wonderful spot when the weather warms up and the trees come out.

The city is arranged along the winding river Spaarne: I spent time walking each bank in turn to get a sense of the community.  Haarlem 1-08 21The many homes that line the canals seem to belong to artists and professionals, and the glimpses into studios and studys were the best part of the walk.  I like the whole idea  of having a creative space in my house (my art supplies are in a sunny upstairs bedroom with a good view of the street and the park). These homes had modern works on the walls, overflowing shelves of books and works in stages of completion, and stained tables with supplies at hand.  Only the artists were missing (although I'm sure I could have attracted a few if I'd stopped to take pictures).

The large St. Bavo church is really worth the two euro entry Haarlem 1-08 56fee (the entry is tucked along the side of the church amidst some shops).  The main sanctuary seems to me to have a nautical theme: the wonderful ceiling vaults are made of wood planking, and three ships sail silently above the nave.  The Christiaan Muller organ is also amazing.

I wanted to make it to the ocean, having come this far, and took a drive out to Zondvoort.  It was dusk when I got there, but the hummocks of the dunes, a wilderness of their own, were inviting and I really want to go back and walk the trails there.  The streets out to Zondvoort feature a long stretch of very un-Dutch-like mansions that would put a lot of McMansions in the US to shame.  Judging by the cars in the driveways and the prices listed in the nearby realty office windows, these must be where the real power brokers of the Netherlands live.