An Insight to Dutch Culture

This summer was my first visit to Asia. Naturally, I stuck out, felt foreign, could not speak Chinese and was pitiful at using chopsticks. Cultural differences were everywhere, and therefore obvious to identify. Disparity between Dutch culture and American culture is much more discreet, but also hugely present.

Last night, I was talking to a Dutch student (who was somehow rocking red corduroy pants, cheers to his bold fashion decision) for about 15 minutes. For anyone listening, our conversation probably sounded like two friends chatting. As one of the two active participants in our discussion, I felt an awkward undercurrent of disconnect between us. I wasn’t making puns or doing anything strange, I was on best normal behavior, possibly even I was charming? He was charming, I was having fun, then he dropped this line:

“You don’t get my humor.”

WHAT. I had laughed! Yeah, I didn’t understand your joke, but I courtesy laughed! How could he call me out like that?! So blunt, honest, RUDE!

“You don’t get my humor.”

He’s right. I don’t get his humor. Conversation somehow continued after that mortifying direct statement because he wasn’t being rude, he was just being Dutch. The Dutch are direct and going with this directness is all part of adapting this culture. A culture that I haven’t quite figured out, and continue to faux-pau my way through these first few days.

I learned some Dutch. It has the opposite effect of making friends. From other travel experiences, people often giggled at my terrible pronunciations but appreciated the effort. When asking for directions on my first day, I was pleased to use my much practiced phrase, “Halo! Spreekt u Engels?” which is absolutely ridiculous because nearly every time the person would respond in perfect English. Even my “dank u!” is matched with a perfect pronunciation of “You are welcome.” The Dutch see English as the more efficient way to communicate, and I’m just wasting their time trying to speak Dutch. That is fair, and  I am very fortunate how well educated the Dutch are to speak such great English.


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I’m getting the impression that I look like this to the Dutch when I attempt to pronounce a phrase in the language.

Dumbledore always said, “help is always given at hogwarts to those who ask for it.” The same applies in the Netherlands. The Dutch are ready to assist, and have always thoroughly answered my questions. Conversations are all business first, then maybe chat after. If I ask for directions, I better have a map and pen out and ready for use. Help is efficient, serious, and sometimes oddly condescending. The Dutch only sometimes seem condescending and rude to foreigners, because it is just a different way of communicating.

Think how often conversations start with “Hello! How are you?” in America. We probably waste ten seconds exchanging polite updates on personal well-being when the whole purpose of the interaction is something like a quick purchase of a latte. It would feel rude if a barista did not greet us, but rather just told us the total. In the Netherlands, you say the total, you pay your money, and you continue on. This is how directions go. They give me directions, I say thank you to the back of the Dutch person walking away. It feels rude to me, but it makes sense.

I failed my driving test twice. But really. It was actually really traumatic start to my 16th birthday. Here in the Netherlands, there is only one rule to the road. BICYCLES. Everything revolves around the bikers. I stepped out in front of a bicycle rider on my second day here. I’ve never heard such an angry bike bell.

Paper or plastic? No bags are given out at the grocery store checkout, and people get creative with how they transport produce out of the store. Some people bring their own shoppers, others use old boxes from the store. And for us foreigners, we stuff what we can in our pockets and walk home holding a cucumber and bread. Next time, I’ll be sure to bring my own bag!

The local grocery store is filled with posters of a giant hampster with big blue font reading “Hampsereeeen!” That is not a typo, four consecutive eeee’s. Checking out at grocery stores are again, all about efficiency, so it is a bad ideeeea to makeeee small talk with the hampstereeeen employeeee.

Oui Oui!


Posted on by Reagan J Payne in Part I

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