It’s upsetting to me, dear reader, to come across posts and articles about how unfriendly, rude and blunt the Dutch are. Blunt, I get. We are a down-to-earth, direct lot. But rude? Unfriendly? This judgment is offered up mostly considering behavior in social and public situations such as in shops and restaurants. People in shops are not friendly? Waiters are rude? All the time? Everywhere?
I am discombobulated, dear reader, shocked!
But then I am Dutch and we never see ourselves the way foreigners do, do we? Then again, I’ve not actually lived in the Netherlands for years, so I’m practically a foreigner myself, so why had I never noticed? In all the years of coming and going while visiting, why had I never been aware the country is awash in rudeness and unfriendliness? Yes, of course, on occasion I’d meet an obnoxious Dutch specimen, like you find them in every country. But in Holland unpleasantness is the prevailing attitude?
Stuff Dutch People Like is a site I enjoy reading because it shows off the quirky things about my country, even if rather over the top at times, but then a good laugh is a good laugh. The No. 31 Keeping It Real is the particular post that generated a storm of comments, more than 100 so far, many of them complaining about the awfulness of the Dutch. I needed a sedative after reading them all.
What to do?
Well, one summer, after having read another soul-scarring post, I was spending two weeks in Holland and I decided to pay special attention and see what happened while I was there. My American prince and our two daughters spent time visiting family and friends–in Amsterdam, in a couple of small towns up north, and in a village setting as well. We ate over half our meals in restaurants and had numerous cups of coffee and drinks in cafés, bars, and so forth. We had a rental car but also used public transportation (train, tram, bus and ferry).
Needless to say, I was very nervous about this experiment. What if I discovered I had been wrong and my people were a tribe of uncivil, ill-mannered jerks? Trust me, it took a lot of coffee and a lot of wine to fortify me for this research.
And guess what?
Courtesy and friendliness greeted us everywhere, I kid you not.
We chatted with friendly waitresses and waiters, talked to fun shop attendants and owners. We did this either with me talking Dutch, or with me posing as an American, which I can do real good, since I actually am one now (naturalized, if not born).
After paying for our drinks and food, we were invariable wished “nog een fijne dag” or a variant of it, which corresponds with “have a nice day.”
My man and I would look at each other and say, sheesh, I wonder why Dutch people are so unfriendly. It was becoming a joke.
How about this?
When asking a shop assistant for something in an Albert Heijn supermarket one day, the person walked me all the way over to the other side to show me where to find what I was looking for. In another store I couldn’t find what I needed and the assistant gave me directions to a place where I could, and he did it with a smile. All behavior apparently not normal according to what I had been reading. I visited two different government offices and dealt with civil servant clerks, a species much maligned in many countries. Both times the service was friendly and efficient.
I was getting really confused
Where were all these rude and unfriendly people I’d been reading about? Much as we tried, we couldn’t find anyone unhelpful or uncivil, whether I spoke Dutch or my husband spoke English. Whether right in Amsterdam, in other towns or in the country. We moved around a lot this trip, showing our American daughters around and visiting family and old friends.
On one of our last days there I had some business in a tax office in the town of Leeuwarden in the north. We parked our rental car, a black monster of a Volvo which we had to get at the Amsterdam airport in order to fit in the luggage of four people. Normally we get a small or medium size car to match our humble personalities, but this was all they had on offer that would fit all the stuff.
I had an appointment at 9 in the morning. After some initial paperwork, all done with a friendly civil servant (really), I needed to wait a bit more. My prince and I sat in the waiting area, along with several women.
Can you believe this?
A young man came striding in from the outside, glanced around and approached the two of us while holding out his phone, showing us a picture.
“Is this your car?” he asked in Dutch.
Indeed it was, a big black tank of a Volvo.
“The motor is running and it is unlocked,” he said. He had parked right next to it, he told us, and had noticed. He’d turned off the engine, and had gone in search of us.
My prince jumped to his feet. We were both flabbergasted. How had that happened?
The Volvo had a key system we’d not used before (at that time) where the key is a square thing you place in a slot and then you push a button above it to either start or stop the engine. We’d been in a bit of a hurry, and my man had taken the square thingamabob out but not pushed the button to stop the engine, which was probably the reason the car was not locked.
We thanked the guy profusely and my mate rushed out the door to lock the car.
“How did you find us?” I asked our Dutch hero. He explained it was his guess we were here in this office, and as he entered the waiting room he’d glanced around to see who might be the likely owner of the Volvo.
Oh, no . . .
And this is where it gets interesting, dear reader, because he picked me, profiling me. He gestured at the other women sitting on the other side of the room. All four of them wore sturdy sandals or walking shoes, practical Dutch foot wear. I’d worn the same sort of shoes for days as we’d cruised through Amsterdam. But not today. I was wearing strappy, low-heeled sandals adorned with frivolous beads and baubles, exposing my sexy blue toenails.
The man glanced down at my feet. “I saw your shoes, and I thought, that has to be the Volvo people.”
“It’s only a rental,” I said, somehow feeling I didn’t deserve to be profiled as a Volvo person.
We laughed, and as he turned to leave, I thanked him again for taking the time to find us.
My husband came back into the waiting room and sat down next to me. “I just can’t imagine why the Dutch are so rude and unfriendly,” he said.
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What is your opinion of the Dutch? Or what surprises you about what foreigners say about your people?
Note: This is an updated post from several years ago. It got a good collection of comments.