On board the last Thalys train back home, I reflect on the weekend spent in Brussels with Eef and Donato. I have always enjoyed their company, from that very first moment we had met in Rome on a warm evening in June, the three of us throwing coins in the Fontana di Trevi. I smile while looking out the window to see the Gare du Midi slowly fade. Brussels, a beautiful city altogether, ‘Europe at its best’ Eef used to say. Both my friends were actually holding a lofty position in the European Commission and at home it was quite ‘multiculti’ too.
But on Friday night it had not taken me long to notice that something was wrong. We were enjoying the cool air at the shady station square in Jette, one of the nineteen bilingual municipalities of Brussels-Capital Region, except that Eef, normally quite talkative hadn’t been saying a word for a while. Donato on the contrary, was enthusiastically talking about that gorgeous car he had seen, ‘è così bella !’ Eef, visibly irritated, had looked at me. ‘You are as Dutch as I am, and we are sitting here to listen to that Italian husband of mine not giving a damn about my opinion’. Her tone had been angry, I knew exactly what she meant. Wasn’t it the same in France where people just forgot to ask me? I had suggested Donato to involve his wife in the purchase of their car. ‘But women don’t have the faintest clue when it comes to engine power, why would I let her decide?’ That women in The Netherlands have a say, was visibly lost on Donato, who in the meantime, with a big smile had ordered our dinner with a bottle of Italian wine.
This story about Eef and Donato arguing over the purchase of a car, allows me to revisit Geert Hofstede’s dimension ‘masculinity versus feminity’, I have started to develop in my previous blog*. Today, however, I would like to point out what it is to have a ‘tough versus tender’ culture, within the more private, family sphere.
Donato comes from masculine Italy where, a boy, he has learned to be the best. Social gender roles are clearly distinct. Within the couple, it is the man that will be purchasing the car as he will decide on the food. Italians love status symbols and driving a beautiful car or living in a big house are proof of their success.
Being born in The Netherlands, one of the strongest feminine cultures in the world, Eef, on the contrary was told from young on, to do her best. And even more important, Eef is used to be asked for her opinion. Social gender roles overlap and consensus is not an empty word, privately nor professionally.
‘We could pay a visit to your car dealer,’ had been my suggestion during breakfast on Saturday. In the mood for a nice walk and given the twinkle in their eyes, I had managed to sound natural. Few of my friends knew about my aversion to cars, but did that matter here?
* Watching the Flowers grow – June 2018
By Micky Keeren
For Etiquette à la Carte July/August 2018