If you work in Amsterdam as an American, there are some special moments when you see the striking differences between cultures in regards to race. The most widely known is the tradition of Sinterklaas. The Dutch version of St. Nick comes up from Spain with a bunch of helpers, who are named Zwarte Piet – Black Pete. Foreigners, who first hear about this tradition, usually call this tradition racist, while the Dutch will respond, “What are you talking about?” You quickly learn here that stereotyping black people is not a big issue.
The most recent case in point is brought to us from Mona – the makers of dessert puddings – for their latest new product innovation, ChocoDreams.
We see a woman eating ChocoDreams throughout the commercial. Her very attractive husband – played by John Williams, a famous Dutch TV presenter – is your stereotypical dream husband. He comes home early from work, picks flowers for his wife, hangs the laundry to dry, and snuggles down in bed. When he sits himself next to her on the couch and we see the obligatory mouth orgasm shot, he asks, “What are you thinking about?” Now, all off a sudden, the handsom Williams changes into her real, bald, not so attractive, white husband. She answers: “Something tasty.”
“What’s wrong with that?” says my Dutch colleague as I ask her to translate all the words. Honestly, nothing if you live in Amsterdam. It’s perfectly acceptable here to personify a tasty chocolate dessert with a tasty black man. Not so in the US. This commercial would never get presented or even discussed back at the agency. You could say that slavery is our version of the Holocaust. It’s such a sore point in history and you just don’t make jokes anywhere near it. That’s why Mona – or its agency – would never use Jews as a part of their ad humour. But in America, it would be worse to be accused of being racist than to have a drug addiction or a sex scandal tied to your name. So I can confidently say you won’t see any ideas like this for Jell-O pudding anytime soon.
You could say that slavery is our version of the Holocaust. It’s such a sore point in history and you just don’t make jokes anywhere near it.
But I can also say that working abroad opens your mind to the various cultural differences. And it makes you a bridge between cultures so you can help both understand where the other is coming from. It’s just one of the many benefits of working with an international crew in Amsterdam.