Holland enjoys a very egalitarian society. Dutch people place a high value on equality and consensus. Unlike the US, which is highly individualistic, Dutch people seem to do things in teams through agreement and work sharing. A trivial but great example of this is our daily team lunch at the office. Our office of 25 people eats lunch together every day following a system in which everyone chips in time and money to buy and prepare lunch. Unbelievably, no one seems to shirk, and with everyone taking turns and sharing jobs, it’s like a kindergarten teacher’s dream.
Here’s how it works. Each day of the week is assigned to a department, so on Mondays it is marketing’s turn to get lunch, on Wednesdays it is sales turn to get lunch, and so on. Lunch tasks are then further doled out to people within the department, so one person goes around and collects the €2 lunch money from everyone who wants lunch on that day, another person sets the table, another person goes down to the Albert Hein supermarket to buy the food (fresh bread, cheese, lunch meat, sandwich fillings, crisps, juice, milk, etc.), and another person cleans up afterward.
The system works so well that I’ve almost forgotten that when I worked in London I went out by myself each day to grab a sandwich or salad and often ended up eating alone. With the Dutch system, I eat together with all my co-workers every day at one big happy table filled with people chatting and laughing. And by pooling together our money and buying food for a large group instead of only one person, we can get fresh bread daily and a wide selection of sandwich dressings for only €2. Moreover, it saves time as you don’t have to leave the office every day to buy your lunch; most days somebody does it for you, and when you hear “Lunch! Lunch!” being called you know the food is ready and you go to the kitchen to eat.
The only downside is that you end up eating sandwiches every day for lunch. And there isn’t much variety – the Dutch like their routine and buy the same bread, the same cheese, the same juice, and the same sandwich fillings every day. Once, when it was my turn to do the shopping, I bought some sandwich bacon (not a regular item) and it caused a frenzy of excitement (“Bacon! Where did the bacon come from?!”).
I thought this lunch arrangement was specific to my company, which is why I didn’t do a blog post about it earlier. But last weekend I met another foreigner who lives and works in Amsterdam and her company does exactly the same thing. Not only do they buy their lunch at the same supermarket, and eat the same sandwiches every day, but they also buy the same ingredients as we do (how crazy is that?!). I was laughing out loud as we compared notes: “And what about the sandwich fillings… you guys always get egg salad and chicken curry, too?!”