Unfold Conflicts: Cultural differences in the silence department

Unfold Conflicts: Cultural differences in the silence department

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What happens when two Italians, a Greek, a Belgian and many Dutch catch the same train? Plenty of awkward moments, as Louise Dancet found out.

It’s early Sunday morning and I catch a train from Amsterdam to Den Bosch. I install myself in the silence department opposite a young woman reading a novel. Her handwritten notes remind me of the Greek I learned back at school and her looks are pretty Greek too. On the other side of the aisle two men are in the midst of a conversation, their hands gesticulating wildly. They speak Italian.

I'm trying hard to read, but the Italians are overbearing. The Greek lady notices that I’m struggling, and says that the Italian men probably don’t know that they are in a silence department. That’s a valid point. So when I see the Italians glancing at us I point at the sign on the window saying:

'It says silence department here. It’s the department where people can work or read a book.'

'We didn’t know. We don’t read English so well. It’s not like I am trying to kill you' (high raised voices, eyebrows and hands).

'I know. It’s not easy to know, that’s why I thought I’d tell you.'

I see both men loosen up and then they kind of apologise. The Greek lady smiles and points out that Italians don’t know how to be silent.

'What? What are you saying?! Of course we know how to be silent!! It is not a problem for us not to speak. What do you think?!'

The Greek lady blushes and complains that I’m the one who started all of this. Everyone else has grown quiet. To make amends I thank the Italians again for cooperating and hope for the best.

I manage to read a whole chapter until I am distracted by two older Dutch ladies who are chatting away loudly. I try to make eye contact but they carry on without blinking. Allthough they’re seated a couple of chairs away, their high pitch voices prevent me from reading another single sentence.

'Why don’t you say anything to the Dutch ladies? They make a lot of noise and they can read the signs. It’s not because they’re Dutch that they shouldn’t be silent.'

'There’s only so much I can do.

'In fact you are not responsible at all. But you decided to make trouble with the Italians so you should speak to the Dutch ladies too'.

The Italians are all smiles now. I feel a Mediterranean alliance so I decide to give in to her request. I get out of my chair and walk up to the grey haired ladies to remind them that they are in the silence department. They react politely and claim that in fact they weren’t aware and they promise to keep silent. Returning to my seat I see everyone nodding, content that justice has been done.

I’m relieved and pick up my book again. Nevertheless, very shortly after, the Dutch ladies continue their conversation despite many, many long looks and glances.

Finally reaching Den Bosch after a journey of more than an hour I am not sure which nationality is more tricky to tackle while in the silence department of a train: emotional but flexible Italians or damn headstrong Dutch ladies?


Reprinted with permission from Unfold Conflicts.

  Unfold Conflicts

Louise DancetLouise Dancet is a multilingual Belgian who traded Brussels for the heart of Amsterdam. As a legal professional with soft skills, she specialises in cross-cultural mediation and counselling. Her aim is to unfold discrepancies in interests, cultural backgrounds, ethics, corporate identity and personality in a way that de-escalates conflicts. You can follow her posts on her website, find her on Facebook or connect with her on LinkedIn. Thumbnail credit (public domain): AndrewHaynes.

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1 Comment To This Article

  • carrico posted:

    on 27th November 2014, 10:39:25 - Reply

    My smile grew wider as I read this delicious article. Dank je.