Thursday, January 28, 2016

Clear the Halls

We received an official letter with a notice of upcoming painting scheduled for our apartment building. The letter included a warning that all inhabitants of our building will be equally billed if painters have to clear the public spaces. A week later, there are still broken bikes and old couches in the basement. Since we have several foreign neighbors, I printed a friendly note in English and dropped a copy in everyone's mailboxes. Then I saw a to-the-point Dutch note already hanging in the hall. 

It's fascinating because this sort of issue brings up conflict. 

The Dutch (and Americans) tend to be individualistic and strong on personal responsibility. There's a Dutch idiom "Eigen schuld, dikke bult," roughly translated as "If you get a bruise, it's your own fault." Other cultures are more group-oriented; responsibility is shared and group honor (or embarrassment) is important. When the property owners added the warning that all inhabitants would be equally billed, no matter who was to blame for hindrances to the workers, they effectively ensured that all of us were affected. No matter what our country of origin or cultural worldviews. 

If only those responsible for cluttering the basement were billed, I imagine the rest of us would ignore the letter. With the threat of a (unfair?) bill, though, writing a note is a less confronting (and more convenient) step than knocking on doors. I'm amused by the fact that I took a while to find just the right tone of friendly concern ('We don't personally have a problem, but the letter says...' 'Here's the website to request a free trash pick-up...') while our Dutch neighbor asked, "Would you be so kind as to clear your things? I'm not interested in paying for other people's stuff being cleaned up." 

It was easy for me to clear my potted plants out of the hall by my door, but I know other neighbors are dealing with little kids, a death in the family, and irregular work times. Not to mention, moving some heather and a mini palm tree is easier than hoisting old furniture up and down narrow stairs. Hopefully, between the two notes and two languages, the basement will be cleaned up before the deadline. And hopefully all the neighbors will stay on good terms with each other....

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