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Unapologetically Dutch — Four cultural traits that confuse the foreigners

Unapologetically Dutch — Four cultural traits that confuse the foreigners

Wherever I traveled and/or lived, it’s always funny to see what foreigners may assume about me just because I’m Dutch. Whether it’s the assumption that I eat potatoes and cheese every day, being asked why we love not using curtains, or being asked, when crossing the border between Turkey and Syria as a young boy with my father (pre war), if I was carrying cannabis.

We all know those things that almost everybody associates with The Netherlands, and with this article, I hope I can shed some light on other (funny) topics. If you’re Dutch and reading this article, this will feel very familiar to you!

No curtains
Many people that have visited the Netherlands all notice one thing when wandering through the streets of Amsterdam. You can often see inside people’s homes when it gets dark, and it’s because people don’t close their curtains or blinds at night, and some don’t even have any. I always asked myself why.

I’m afraid there’s never been an explanation as to why it became so entrenched in our culture. A couple of reasons people often think of is the “look-what-I’ve-got scenario” or an attempt at fighting the never-ending battle on Vitamin D deficiency.

However, it seems that the most popular explanation comes from the Protestant religious tradition of Calvinism, which insists that honest citizens have nothing to hide. By letting people have a look inside, you’re letting them know that you’re a good person.

Some people believe it’s just Dutch nature.

Ketchup en Mayo
When you’re in the Netherlands and you’re having a ham and cheese toastie, it will never be served without ketchup or mayonnaise. This is something my colleagues notice all the time here in Portugal and some people don’t get it, but nothing’s going to change my mind.

Direct, but not rude
“Dutch people are rude” is something that is often being said. Even though I completely disagree, I understand why people from abroad believe this. Being direct and straightforward is something very valuable for a Dutch native. We call it bespreekbaarheid (speakability) — that everything can and should be talked about.

According to Eleonore Breukel, an interculturalist who trains people to communicate better in multicultural environments, she believes the Dutch tendency to be very direct has to do with straightforwardness, which is connected to the historical prevalence of Calvinism in the Netherlands.

“Doe normaal, dan doe je al gek genoeg!”
This is one of my favorite sayings. It means “just act normal, that’s already crazy enough!”

You might think this is used when you’re being corrected by your parents as a child. However, we often say this between adults. So when is it actually being used? Have a look at a few examples below:

  • When someone is bragging
  • When someone is showing off or acting pretentious
  • When someone is discussing money, or how much you have or make
  • When someone is showing a little too much personality
  • When someone is showing overt public displays of emotion

I’ve always thought a lot about some of the habits I wrote about above, especially because some of them clash with my Arab/Turkish culture.

As a young child, it was always surprising to me when all the neighbourhood kids had to go inside to have dinner around 6pm. Or I had to be attentive when visiting family abroad and remind myself not to be too direct as it could be considered rude.

Something I always say about the Dutchies is that they’re known to be hardworking and straightforward people. They say what they mean and if they don’t like you, they won’t bother to sugar coat it. This might sound harsh, but it’s meant in a good way ❤️

Unapologetically Dutch — Four cultural traits that confuse the foreigners was originally published in Unbabel Community on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.