A good friend of mine relates how he tried to become an officer in The Netherlands when he was young. He did well on tests concerning general knowledge and geography, but eventually he was rejected for lacking ‘military bearing’.

After his interview they asked him: ‘Did you know about the trick with the coffee?’

The crucial moment during the interview had come when they had offered him coffee. People cut out to be officers drink their coffee hot and slam down the cup on the tray…. My friend drank coffee in a way that was probably too meek to qualify as mannerisms becoming an officer.

I hope this sounds as absurd to you as it sounds to me.

As a civil war buff I imagine general Grant being tested this way. I imagine he may have spilled the coffee, burned his tongue or knocked over the cup or may have asked for whiskey instead…

Am guessing that the Dutch recruiting system would have overlooked Grant. It’s only the guy who won the American Civil War faster than any other northern officer could have done at the time… No biggie…

You may think my friend must be inventing this, but I teach the big cheese of a large corporation and he uses a similar system.

His system even saves on coffee.

He asks applicants to draw a line on a sheet of paper.

Leaders stubbornly refuse to draw a line.

Most people do draw a line.

People he calls ‘gray mice’ just draw a simple straight line.

People who like to talk too much about little things – also known as people who love people – start drawing little houses or fill the page with wavy lines.

Same system. No coffee.

My friend was told he should have asked for water. They can’t deduce much from that…

In a setting like that I either don’t want to accept anything because I don’t want to put myself in a position I should show any gratitude and if I do ask for coffee I want a big cup. If I suspect I will get a small one (like in Slovakia) I specifically ask for a big one.

I imagine that with my long hair and diminutive body length the Dutch officer corps slams the door in my face from the moment they spot me. So it doesn’t matter how I drink my coffee.

As for the scientific reliability of this test I can only say that according to some research psychopaths prefer their coffee black. If this is true am surrounded by psychopaths…

I wonder if the cowardly commander of Dutchbat 3, Thom Karremans, underwent the same test. Did he ask for three sugar cubes and a muffin? Did he ask for lemonade and a lolly instead? Did they think that was balsy and offered him a colonelcy on the spot?

I also imagine a guy like Mladic walking into the room and cutting off his interviews by having raided the local kitchen before entering. I imagine swashbuckling Mladic walking into the room with cups in his one hand and the whole thermos under his arm. Offering them coffee instead of the other way around.

EDIT: My father in law adds that in Slovakia a similar trick is sometimes used. Aspiring officers are ordered to step into a tent. On the ground in the tent somebody has dropped a clean white towel. Those who try to avoid stepping on it are not officer material. An officer doesn’t bother with such trivial matters. He just executes the order and steps on the towel.

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