Culture as a matter of life and death

Fortunately, I yet never had to attend a funeral in Spain. In today’s Intercultural Factor’s class I found out that it won’t be very likely to happen if I stay in the Netherlands, since Spanish funerals are usually scheduled the day right after the person died. This surprisingly came to me as a shock and my brain started to insist on many rather logistics related questions that could be brought back to one central question: but, how?

The time of burying the dead is regulated by a law in the Netherlands, which states that a funeral cannot take place before 36 hours after the dead nor later than 6 working days after. Most commonly people are buried (or cremated, for that matter) around 3 to 4 days after the dead, which gives the family enough time to make some decisions concerning the funeral. First and foremost, the date is scheduled a little bit later so the family can send a card to relatives, friends and acquaintances. This card announces the dead of the person and is also much like an invitation to attend the funeral.

In Spain, this is not the case. People are informed directly by phone or e-mail or are otherwise informed. If you want to attend the funeral the very next day, there is no other way than cancelling all the plans you had. In Spain this is obviously not a big deal, but in the Netherlands cancelling plans is viewed as rather rude. To take into account the logistic impossibilities of friends and relatives that want to bring over their condolences, it is common to organize a condolence reception the night before the funeral itself.

In the same class we also came to talk about how to congratulate. In the Netherlands we have some congratulate habits that one might call excessive. We congratulate someone with three cheek kisses (woman to woman, man to woman or woman to man) or shake hands (man to man). At birthdays, it is polite and common to not only congratulate the birthday boy or girl, but everyone else in the room as well by kissing three times the cheek or shaking hands. A Dutch person aboard might feel embarrassed when he starts congratulating all the people in the room, looking at him as if they have no idea what he is doing.

This congratulating someone with someone else-phenomenon extends to congratulating someone with someone if that someone says it’s someone’s birthday. Thankfully, this is limited to relatives. Otherwise we would keep congratulating all day long because of a friend of a friend’s, the colleague of your mother’s and your girlfriend’s dog birthday… Although in that last case, it is actually polite to congratulate…


Our presentation overview about congratulating as a speech act:

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