Late last year, I was on a business trip to do a keynote speech Amsterdam. Over dinner the night before I was asked a really interesting question – ‘Do you know the Dutch?’

Notice the ‘the’ in the question, I was not being asked if I knew the language, but if I knew the people, the culture and what to expect of my audience the next day. I’ve been meaning to blog about this since.

If you don’t know our geography, as the crow flies Amsterdam is closer to London than many of the cities in the north of England. By the time the flight attendant has dished out the peanuts, you are belting in for descent. It’s a few hundred miles. Yet, as we both observed in that conversation, it’s more than language or a stretch of water that separates us.

I am no anthropologist (and I needed the spell checker to spell it) , so I won’t be delving into our differences in any informed way. Aside from the group I was with all being so bloody tall, the Dutch confess to being more direct in business and are proud of the untranslatable notion of gezellig – something my Dutch friends tell me I cannot understand. In short, we are different – and for me to speak in their language would not make me Dutch.

Similarly if I walk into an Irish bar, there are subtle differences in how that transaction is going to go if this bar is in London or New York, the tipping culture, the service, the assumption you’ll be running a tab etc. Same transaction, same language (sort of) but tiny little wrinkles that could upset a social situation or be ruinous in a business negotiation.

OK. Occasionally I feel I am stating the bleedin’ obvious on this blog, but noticing people are different or that you need to tip in New York is a new low – even for me. So, why was that question so interesting to me – a web content management guy that rambles on about engagement? Or possibly more importantly why you might be interested?

Well, I could talk about how I have worked with a number of international, multi-geo, multi-product companies that think that central replication and translation is the way to the heart of the local consumer. The perception that there is no difference between localization and translation. In some organizations this is actually more about the way they provision websites – that tools and content become melded and delivered together as a central service, rather than a centrally provided platform that enables local marketers to fill in the content. I’ve talked about this before in On Shanty Towns, Bulldozers, Cats and Website Consolidation…

Maybe I could point out that for web engagement, as we strive to get to know our audience more intimately, those ‘tiny wrinkles’ are going to pop right out, as our websites put their arm round the shoulder of our visitors and insist on calling everyone ‘mate’ (or whatever social faux-par throws your hackles up).

The real truth for writing this is that the question resonated with me and I wanted to share it. It’s not new or particularly insightful. I thought it simply encapsulated the concept of localization.

Do you know the Dutch.

Nice.

Photo of the tulip field by Julie Markee is reproduced under Creative Commons and thank you Bart Heilbron for asking me the question and inspiring this post.