signs of success


In Amsterdam, there’s a tradition of homes whose high school-aged students have successfully passed their end-of-year exam hanging a backpack outside of their window to announce the student’s academic success to the world.


Consider the origins of this tradition – might it have come from a desire to avoid the awkwardness of asking whether a given family’s student had passed? Or was it more about asserting “bragging rights”, being able to publicly announce your child’s academic prowess?


Hard to say for certain, but it most likely depends upon which incurs the larger social cost or garners one greater social status. In the Netherlands, is it a more egregious violation of social norms to ask whether a student passed their exams and discover that they hadn’t? Or are end-of-year exams such a rigorous, challenging rite of passage that all who manage to pass are strongly encouraged to advertise that fact to the rest of the neighborhood?

Are hanging backpacks only seen as “necessary” by the parents of students whose ability to pass was – for whatever reason – seemingly in doubt? For those who don’t hang a backpack – is the subject of final exams simply not spoken about?

Finally, consider whether/how digital behaviors and platforms are replacing this analogue practice.


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