Opinion: A lesson from Hong Kong

POSTED: 01/9/12 4:51 PM

We read an interesting piece in the Volkskrant’s opinion section this weekend written by Rob Oudkerk, a former parliamentarian and alderman for the municipality of Amsterdam. Oudkerk spend a vacation in Hong Kong and this visit opened his eyes to the deterioration of the Dutch society. The lessons Oudkerk picked up in the Far East are also valuable for St. Maarten – for politicians, shopkeepers, civil servants and the rest of us.
What rules Hong Kong, Oudkerk observed, is a powerful imagination and courage. Initially he was curious about measures to combat food waste. Consumers in rich countries throw away 200 million tons of food every year; this number equals the total food production in African countries south of the Sahara. The Netherlands wastes very much, Oudkerk notes, and Hong Kong wastes hardly anything. Everything that is of value will be re-used and the production industry literally uses every part of the animals that go through a slaughterhouse.
While Oudkerk was in Hong Kong news about an announcement by two Dutch TV-producers that they intended to eat each other’s meat in a live broadcast made headlines. Everywhere Oudkerk went and revealed his nationality he got his ears washed about this issue. The Netherlands received bad reviews: people saw it as a country without a vision, a country without values, a place where they eat human flesh, argue and therefore always finish second.
That last barb refers to the Dutch inability to capture of title in the world championship of football. No matter how good the team is (or thinks it is) – it has never reached further than second place. The Greeks refer to this team as one that often goes to the source but never drinks.
But the people in Hong Kong had more to say to Oudkerk. He heard stories about the Dutch intolerance (intolerance!), our petty crimes, the way we deal with people, and our stuttering economy. All this started Oudkerk thinking about the Dutch social “corporate culture.”
He noted that in overpopulated Hong Kong nobody gets irritated while waiting in the traditional long queues. People quietly wait for their turn. Nobody is pushing ahead of others. Nobody gets loud. Nobody ever said something like, “My colleague will be with you in a minute.”
Everywhere you have the feeling that you are number one, Oudkerk wrote. That made us think of Michael Ferrier’s latest radio commercial wherein he says with typical Ferrier-humor that a motorists indicates to him with his finger that he is number one. That rudeness (of the finger, not the ad) is nowhere around in Hong Kong, Oudkerk wrote. Instead, he noted, you have the feeling that everyone is going for being number one. Everywhere you have the feeling that people go for service instead of insulting people. Everywhere the feeling of appreciation for excellence prevails. Everywhere you have the feeling that there is passion, a mission or a vision behind large and smaller things.
So yes, we could learn a lot from Hong Kong in this respect. We wrote on this page not so long ago about Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos.com. In his book Delivering Happiness, Hsieh describes his passion for customer service, something that apperently comes natural to the people of Hong Kong.
In St. Maarten however, we have to say with some sadness, the attitude towards customers – whether they are in shops, in a government building or in a company – is dramatically different. One may well wonder why this is so, and what people think to achieve with radiating a miserable attitude to others who are depending on their service.
Oudkerk notes correctly that the consequences of such an attitude go very deep, way beyond the irritation it causes to clients or customers. A lack of direction means decay for every organization in the long term. Formulating a vision for the right direction requires imagination and courage, Oudkerk wrote – and we agree with him for one hundred percent.
The question is now: who will stand up and formulate that vision for St. Maarten? Who has the balls and the imagination to come up with a daring plan for our future that embraces all people, a plan designed to better life for all citizens?

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