Cross-cultural communication is difficult. This fact I was aware of before moving across the ocean last August. But what I never suspected to encounter was the difficulty of a little something called cross-cultural coordination! At least, that's my name for it. What is cross-cultural coordination? Let me put it this way... For those of you who were in marching band as teenagers, remember how difficult it was to walk and play your instrument at the same time? Remember how telling the difference between your right foot and left foot suddenly quadrupled in difficulty? Well, here in the Netherlands, while I'm not required to walk and play my instrument at the same time (unless I'm in the mood for it), I am often required to ride my bike and talk at the same time. This presents a few difficulties, to say the least ...
Let me explain. You see, even without the biking, talking is difficult because when I talk, I'm talking Dutch (which, although it's going quite well, is certainly not something that feels altogether natural to me as of yet). And even without the talking, riding bike is difficult because here in the NL, folks ride their bikes differently than folks in the States. You know how in the States you are taught to ride your bike single file, carefully following the person in front of you, making sure there's plenty of room for other vehicles to pass? Not so here. People ride bikes in clumps, and bikes are extensions of people's bodies. Think of a cluster of teenagers be-bopping around the mall somewhere, laughing, talking, exchanging witty anecdotes and such. Now imagine that they are on bikes -- and yet the ardor of their communication does not diminish, the fluency of their body language does not wane. That's what it's like here. I watch groups of bikers maneuvering effortlessly through narrow streets, somehow avoiding collisions with autos, busses, pedestrians, motorcyclists, and other bikers .... and cheerfully chatting with one another all along the way. I honestly don't know how they do it. When I try to speak Dutch and ride my bike at the same time, I end up in one of two sticky situations. Either 1) it takes me five minutes to utter one sentence in Dutch, because I'm so busy paying attention to all of the other people/bikes/motorcycles/cars, or 2) I speak somewhat fluently while nearly colliding with the aforementioned people or vehicles. Neither situation is ideal, to say the least. It must be quite comical for the Dutch folks who dare to go biking with me! Indeed, who knew that my inability to bike and talk at the same time would give me away as an out-of-towner? But I must say, I am slowly improving: I haven't fallen off my bike in the presence of another human being since last September.
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