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Social Media Day & Maastricht’s Bid for Cultural Capital 2018

Wednesday’s evening I joined a couple dozen people in Maastricht for a celebration of Social Media Day. We gathered in the rather warm upstairs room at Cafe de Twee Heeren to listen and talking about social media and, more pointedly, Maastricht’s bid to be the European cultural capital in 2018.  Although the group was organized by Jules & You (a student organization), the ages were well mixed, which gave a nice variety of perspectives. The event was actually arranged by the excellent European Journalism Centre and individual volunteers. Jules & You was the original location, which was changed because of a larger than expected turnout.

Ultimately it was a nice event, although most of the talks covered things I already knew since I spend a lot of time on Twitter and Facebook as it is. I would have liked to hear more of a discussion of blogging, but so it goes. I was intrigued by the presentation from Maas-media, which is a participatory journalism organization in Maastricht, and how they’re trying to encourage the cyclical consumption and creation of media by the general public instead of the old-fashioned simple consumption models. A number of interesting tools were also shared including: SocialMention, Tweetboard, and Reclaimprivacy.

The broader discussion of Maastricht’s bid for Cultural Capital and how social media can be used to promote it was interesting as well. The European Capital of Culture is designated once a year to give a city the chance to showcase and invigorate cultural development. As you might imagine it is a prestigious designation and has strong socio-economic consequences for the winners. Maastricht wishes the bid to promote not only the city but also their unique border region.

In the LinkedIn workshop, we discussed how the LinkedIn group about the bid was only in Dutch, which excludes internationals, as well as French and German speakers from bordering countries. Sueli suggest that something needed to be done to allow people from many language background to feel comfortable participating if Maastricht’s bid was truly going to be representational. I really like that idea; even if LinkedIn doesn’t offer any sort of translation tools. But with a good enough translation tool and maybe a team of translators to help out with mistranslations, a multi-lingual forum could be very interesting. And more accessible.

We also discussed, vaguely, ways to increase the cultural activities happening in the city that would attractive a broader section of the population including possibly having non-Dutch theater performances, etc. I’m usually hungry for English-language activities, so I can totally get behind that.

Curious about other efforts being made by the official VIA2018 organization (I hear a lot about it from other people), I dug up their website only to discover that it offers translations in French and German, but not English. Part of me can understand. Dutch, German, and French are the official regional languages of South Limburg and the “Maastricht Region”, and I haven’t really gone out of my way to be involved. But to be frank, this tells me that my opinion and participation as an expat is not welcome. It also tells me that international students, the same ones being discussed as vibrant and full of ideas at Social Media Day, are going to be discouraged as well. And some of them are better prospects to be come long-term residents, bring business, etc. than someone like me. It is a half-measure to tell internationals that you want their participation, but then close them out of formal conversations.

Maybe before any social media efforts are put in place, the people in charge of Maastricht’s bid for cultural capital in 2018 need to decide just who they want involved and start sending the right messages. Not necessarily to me, I know I may not be their target audience, but for the students and internationals who have made this area their permanent home.

12 Responses to “Social Media Day & Maastricht’s Bid for Cultural Capital 2018”

  1. Judy says:

    I think the bigger issue is finding people who know Dutch well enough to translate it into English, but not make a complete ass of themselves in English (a la the I Always Get My Sin books). Take a look at the University website and you’ll see what I mean…there’s a reason I don’t click on the “English language” button unless I’m REALLY having problems :-) I’m also convinced that there will never be a good app or anything similar for doing language translations. Google Translate is good for individual words, but meaning gets lost, to put it charitably, once you get into longer text strings.

    The other issue is cost: translators are EXPENSIVE. If whoever did the translation for our department’s ad for an open position is anything to go by, €160 for 500 words is standard/not unusual (and the person did such a bad job that when my boss saw it, she told the department to just let me do the translation next time…eep). This is not to excuse the lack of an English-language button on the VIA website, but I do understand why it’s less than a priority for them.

  2. Amanda says:

    Fair points. You’re probably right that translation bots will probably never be perfect, but I think they just need more proactive “training” than they get. People need training too, to understand that they’d only get the gist of things.

    Ultimately I don’t mind not being a priority (its really up to VIA), but I don’t like being told we (meaning internationals) matter to the process but then not be included in major conversations.

    Yikes! Re: the cost and poor quality of the translation your department had. Good luck next time when they ask you to do the translation. ;)

  3. Eszter says:

    Hey Amanda, Thanks for the blog and for your ideas!
    To have the VIA 2018 website in English is definitely something to consider to get all the international students motivated.

    Please note that the Social Media Event was organised by members the European Journalism Centre ( and individual volunteers. Jules and You was only going to host the event (they also helped finding the bigger room where the event actually took place).

  4. Amanda says:

    Thank you for the follow up! I’ll edit this post to reflect your correction. I misunderstood the details. Cheers!

  5. Eszter says:

    Thanks Amanda!

  6. Gina says:

    Hi Amanda, a valid point you make. I’m not too keen on that whole ECH idea (Europese Culturele Hoofdstad) for various reasons, but since this ambition will involve a whole lot of money, one can assume or at least expect they would start off by offering the best lines of communication possible which usually always includes an English translation or version of any website. Translators are expensive? You just wait a few years and then learn how money is being spent (wasted?) on people, processes and ‘stuff’ along the way.

    Maastricht is presented as THE city of the European Treaty 1992 and has plenty of internationally oriented educational institutes as well as corporate businesses on its turf, so again one would expect this to be part of the equation. The process of ‘looking into things’ is what seems to be ahead first and maybe it’s typical for the Dutch, but this means a whole lot of talking talking and talking and time, while action is what speaks the loudest :-)

    And mind you: All these articles and thinking-out-loud blogs is what those in charge of the bid are considering (and following) too and they’re, no doubt, even using it in the process of establishing and investigating what should be the final bid or offer. It’s easy to let others work out the flaws and imperfections in a non-official capacity but even then, I strongly doubt whether they’ll be able to cover all angles since it requires clear vision as well as planning to get this show on the road.

    Anyway, this is a very lively discussion in various other places. I think that especially expats, who have to find their way around the city and its cultural life, are significant since they are a target audience for being people from abroad who are attracted by Maastricht and what it has to offer, whether this concerns jobs, to build a new home etc etc. Expats are thrown into a foreign and strange new culture and can point out exactly what they need and miss around here.

    There hasn’t been an inventory so far, of what Maastricht has to offer. People don’t know people. There are cliques who know eachother and keep eachother happy. But there are many organizations, schools, businesses who have never been introduced to others who could perhaps be valuable for their research, work etc etc. It’s because there is no structure, no real framework. Everyone exists on their own little islands, sort of.

    For a project about the Palestinian issue and peace in the Middle East, we’ll (Frances Scarrott | Women In Black Maastricht) most likely be working with the newly founded United World College in Maastricht and its students, after the summer holiday. But my idea is also establish a connection to and with Maastricht and its citizens, one way or another because it can be very interesting. The concept of UWC is just great, perhaps you can be part of something too if you like!

    Well, time to get some breakfast!

    cheers, Gina

    (Mod Note: Edited to add a couple of links for people’s interest.)

  7. Lei says:

    You’re all right; we should give an English edition of the website But due to the high costs of the translation work we decided to give priority to french and german. We deal with an Euregion-candidacy, the own culture is a strong basic condition for the judgement by the jury, so our own languages are in favorite when choosing what to do.
    On the other hand you can say that people, who stay for a longer time somewhere, should adjust – at least a little bit – to the place where they live. That doesn’t mean that you should learn Dutch (or maybe even better: double dutch!) , but to know a bit of one of the languages around here, should not be wrong.
    I hear already your protests, thats why I started with the remark that you are all right, and I agree that we should give all the expats and foreign students a warm welcome with lots of the universal language English, but…… first we’ve to gather extra money so that we can add the English version to our website. And after that Spanish, Polish and Chinese, because there live a lot of native speaking people from that area’s as well in Maastricht as you do. So where it’s ends. That’s an interesting question.

    In the meantime you should not hesitate and become a member of the facebook-group VIA2018 and give your comments in your own language or in English.
    Wear an orange shirt or bikini, with an orange hat and orange trousers and integrate with the people from Maastricht. Because we do this only once in every two years when there is a great soccertournament. All the other times we think that we’re not really a part of the Netherlands but some foreign enclave within our queendom.

  8. Amanda says:

    Wow. Thank you for the well thought out reply. I agree that we all seem to have our own cliques and that they can be hard to get into. I generally blame myself for not integrating into groups because I’m naturally pretty introverted, but it certainly would be nice if those group boarders were low. From an expat perspective, I think that some more resources are available now than a year ago and that can only be a positive trend, even if overall coverage is a little still irregular.

  9. Amanda says:

    Well, I certainly understand why French, German & Dutch have be prioritized from the regional and cost perspective. And I actually agree that us internationals need to make an effort to learn the local language and culture, but I disagree that if we know “a bit” we can engage properly. I can read “a bit” of Dutch (and speak a bit less), but I cannot write well enough to convey the complex ideas needed for something like this.

    But really I consider this to be a bar to participation issue. The bar is currently set to allow Dutch, French, and German speakers to participate. Other people can participate, but it requires more work on our part, and next to everything else in our lives, it’s up to the individual if they want to make that extra push. For me, the language thing is probably the minimum needed to lower the bar for my participation. For others (students, unless they’re less apathetic here than in the US, for example), more may be needed to engage them. That’s why I said in my post that the change should not be made for me. I’ve only been in Maastricht a year. I like it a lot, but I may not be here forever. It should be made for other internationals who have really dedicated themselves to this city and this region.

    It may be easy for me to say, but I still believe that English is the most common “second language” around here. But if the expat community here mostly spoke Spanish I would be asking the same questions about Spanish.

    We are definately enjoying the Wereld Kup. It’s nice to have a strong team to cheer for.

  10. Eszter says:

    I agree that people who settle down in a country should make the effort to learn the language and try to integrate into the society. However (having been mentioned in one of the workshops during the Social Media Day event), most of the international people (apart from tourists) in Maastricht are students, who only stay here for a short period of time depending on the duration of their courses… so, many of them don’t see the point of learning Dutch.

    Nevertheless, during this short period they could do so much to promote Maastricht and organise cultural events. But first they have to be informed well, and they have to be encouraged to get motivated. I think if more interesting events are organised in a common language (which is English) they will get right into the topic. The same thing should apply to social media sites; English versions always move a bigger crowd.

    BTW, I wear orange any time the Dutch team plays! :-)

  11. Natasha says:

    @Judy 160 euro for 500 words? That’s ridiculous and totally not the norm. Translation rates in NL have been the same, alomst frozen for 15 years. It is the job in NL that requires the highest level of education for the lowest pay. Why do you think those TV subtitles are so lousy?

    0.09-0.12 ex VAT a word for normal translation work is about the costs — if you’re lucky with your clients. Many pay way less, especially for books. Only rare language combinations make more. Many work part-time elsewhere to make ends meet of have husbands with real jobs.

    What you’re saying is not true at all. I’ve been a profssional translator for 9 years in the Netherlands. Many translators live on the poverty line!

  12. Amanda says:

    Hi Natasha. Thank you for perspective on the translation thing.