A group of international students were asked a few years ago to write something about their interpretation of Dutch Culture. I managed to get a hold of these. Below you can find small excepts of what they wrote:
Maybe the biggest difference in cultures is the fact that the Dutch don’t appreciate it if people visit them unexpectedly. As it says in the Holland Handbook: ‘The Dutch do not like company to stop by informally, if they just happen to be “in the neighbourhood”. If you know someone very well, you can call in the morning to ask if you can come by that evening, but normally you should call further ‘in advance’.
The worst thing you can do is stop by, uninvited, at dinnertime. If you get invited to enter the house while the family is eating, most likely they offer you a chair to sit with them at the table but they won’t offer you anything to eat. If you get lucky you may be offered some dessert, because there is always enough yoghurt, thanks to a special kind of scratch instrument that the Dutch invented to get all the yoghurt out of the carton’.
In Spain everybody loves company.The Spanish like to go and visit friends and relatives at every time of the day. And when dinner is served, it is considered a bad manner if you leave, you would insult the hostess.
What I think is really typically Dutch is the tolerance towards one another. In one of the books I read: ‘Tolerance is not only a virtue, it is a civic duty.’ With 370 inhabitants at every square kilometer, Holland has got the highest population density of Europe. If the Dutch didn’t forgive each others shortcomings and peculiarities, or at least ignore, life would be unbearable. Tolerance is really veiled pragmatism. The Dutch think that everyone should do the things he wants to do within the limits of decency. I think that is a very good quality. The Dutch tolerance is famous all over the world and we have showed the world that in most of these cases our approach proved to be a good one.
I found one thing that the Dutch and Spanish have in common. They both treat their children as if they are royalty. In Spain the children can stay up as long as they want and when they celebrate the feast of the Epiphany they get so many presents that they need a whole year to discover what they got. About Dutch children I read the following line:
The golden rule is: “Let them go their own way. Free to discover and undergo whatever they want. Free to be creative (destructive), without reckoning with others as long as they aren’t in peril of death."
Of course it is important to let your children grow up with some form of freedom, but maybe the Spanish and the Dutch exaggerate it a little bit. I think that, if I ever have children, I would raise them with a little bit more of discipline. But then again, you never know! Some habits and customs can be very persistent when you are not aware of them.
Last summer I spent my holiday in Turkey. After a long journey we finally arrived at our destination, we thought. The people of the hotel didn’t know we were coming, so there weren’t any rooms left. If this had happened to you in Holland, the people from the hotel would have simply sent you away. Sorry, but not our fault, they would say. But the Turkish have another attitude. You are a guest of the hotel, so we don’t send you away. So they didn’t. They asked the cleaning ladies to look for another room, so they could offer their room to us. Very friendly of them, but we were also a bit surprised.
All well and done, we had dinner at the hotel a few times. One day we wanted to have dinner somewhere else. So as we were walking out of the hotel, the people were very surprised and asked us where we were going. When we said we were going to have dinner somewhere else, you could see the disappointment in their faces. We really felt like we were very rude to go away, and maybe we were. We felt very uncomfortable and at the same time we felt very Dutch.
When I first came to Holland, I thought that I had to learn Dutch to manage in an everyday situation, but to my big surprise I was terribly wrong. Almost everyone speaks English, and quite good English as well. This must be part of the Dutchman’s international attitude, they are always curious to know about other countries and cultures. They also like to show that they are able to talk English, even when I try to practice my Dutch.
The international attitude must be a part of their ability as great organizers, but also because they are very tolerant with racial and ethnical issues. They will not say a thing even though they find some customs of other cultures strange and unfamiliar. This also reflects their polite side. People are very polite, and say hello and goodbye when you enter and leave a shop.
They are also polite to their elderly. They will more often use the polite form U than the more informal jij. Some Dutch friends even told me examples of children calling their parents with the U-form. This would be unthinkable in Norway, and in English you luckily don’t have the problem.
What is written “between the rules” is the fact that Dutch people are so bored. They are not enthusiastic, everything is planned and even arranged appointments with friends and family. Even their parties are quiet and it look likes the conversations are planned too.
In De Volkskrant a reporter wrote about the boring Dutch. He writes about August 1763 when an Englishman comes to Utrecht to study there. This student says: “Dutchmen are proud of their planning, parties are sins and the only things they spend their time on is watching their clocks and barometers”.
The writer of this article says that this is still right. We are busier about getting to know if it will rain instead of it rains. Our whole life is based on the Calvinism and we are proud of it! Still in this century, although it is changing. But it is changing in a way of Calvinism; slowly, planned and well organized.
Deadlines, keeping work and home separate, non-hierarchic and non-personal are words that describe Dutch organizations. An economist from Suriname sees this as absolute smeerolie for a healthy organization. He likes the fact that problems in business never get personal. But this also has another side. Organizations are bureaucratic and non-flexible. Everything is formal, have to discuss over and over and need a paper formality.
“Doe maar gewoon, dan doe je al gek genoeg”. This is the title of the book that I read after living in The Netherlands for one year. I tried to have everything under control by reading different books at different times and getting tips and guidelines to get through cultural problems smoother. But I still had a very difficult time at school when I had to work with Europeans, especially Dutch.
The problems started from the time I had my first group work and I did not know where to start. I asked my classmates too many questions, which is quite normal in my country, but then everybody got sick-and-tired of me and they told me that I had to find my way myself (differences between ” we culture” and “I culture”- In “we culture” you are supposed to help people around you and in “I culture” you have to be more independent). Besides that they looked down at me by mentioning strange things that were not true about my country, especially the Germans.
Then I decided to study extremely hard to show that I can do well. Again things went wrong. I became completely confused especially when my grades were better than almost everybody’s. I expected that finally I could be really part of them. I also thought that teachers were going to appreciate it. But it did not happen.??
I got depressed and quit school for one semester. During my rest I re-read the books that give foreigners tips to adjust themselves to new countries easier. This time I noticed that I had not read the books properly: “Dutch people do not like to show that they are richer than others. From clothing you often cannot see who is rich or poor. Dutch try not to be different than others. If somebody in The Netherlands for example wants to be the best, reaching the top in society, they never say it in public. It is something they feel ashamed of!”.
Finally I reached the conclusion that you have to be in the middle. Less, or more, than average is not good. That is the policy for all different aspects of life in The Netherlands.
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