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The Dutch: not tolerant, only pragmatic

A bunch of stoned people (perhaps that is what’s blurring their minds and making them so liberal?), going everywhere on a bike (because it is cheaper?), eating cheese, raw fish (and an occasional potato) in case eating is really necessary (and boy, the food is bad over there).  All this accompanied by beautiful flowers (read: tulips).

Those are some of the answers I got when I asked my colleagues for their vision on the Dutch. Read on to find what else they said and discover if they are right or wrong.


Laid back, very (or too) liberal, tolerant, open-minded creative and fun people

I have never thought of the Dutch as particularly tolerant. Hence my surprise when so many people feel the need to mention exactly that, once they discover you are Dutch. Usually they have the drugs or abortion or euthanasia or equality policy,  gay marriage or the Amsterdam red light district in mind.

Two-way cycle path by Fietsberaad

Two-way cycle path by Fietsberaad

All this exists because of a deep sense of pragmatism rather than tolerance.  When something is out there, the Dutch are keen on labelling it and inventing regulations to control it. For drugs, abortion, euthanasia and prostitution policy, the global idea is that policy and regulation make it easier to control. So, the fear of these activities going underground is a reason for the rather liberal policies.  By the way, abortion policy in several member States (like Belgium and Spain) is more liberal (meaning it can be done until a later stage in pregnancy) than in the Netherlands.

Another example of Dutch pragmatism is that criminals must pay taxes in the Netherlands (well, ok only when they are caught doing some kind of lucrative criminal activity, by calling in after-tax).  Contrary to Sweden, in the Netherlands paid sex is legal and people in the Adult Entertainment Industry do need to pay taxes like anyone else.


 But also: super-conservative people who can’t stand all those hippies visiting the Dam or conformists living in a fish bowl

Indeed, there are quite some differences in the country and I am surprised by this level of inside information of several colleagues. 

Blunt with a specific, rather direct sense of humour, which often hurts  

The Dutch tend to call the things by their name; they are very direct. Knowing that something is there, but denying it or shutting one’s eyes to it is something the Dutch do not understand. This practice sometimes seen in other cultures leaves a Dutch person deeply confused. Perhaps also a reason they are not the best diplomats?  For the Dutch, yes is yes and no is no. It took me quite some time, working in an international environment, to realise that the absence of an answer can actually mean a no.

And yes, Dutch humour is great and plays an important role in society with a rather large group of comedians performing in the theatres every season.  Traditionally on New Year’s Eve a comedian is chosen to look back on the year in a live broadcast watched by many.


Dutch love to travel and can be found in many countries around the world.  

True. Dutch love to travel, in their own or neighbouring countries but also to exotic places. Wherever you go, when you meet a fellow traveller, 50% chance it is a Dutchmen (other 50% chance it is someone from a Scandinavian country).  Dutch also tend to think they speak languages well, which is definitely not true. But the Dutch compare themselves to big surrounding countries like the UK, Germany and France, hence the misunderstanding.


Dutch are greedy penny-pinchers
According to the Flemish; copper wire was invented by two Dutch people fighting for a coin.  It is true that in daily life the Dutch tend to consider more carefully than others what they spend their money on. However, the Dutch tend to be penny-wise and pound-foolish. When it comes to more complicated financial products like mortgages and insurances, the Dutch are not all that well informed and for instance tend to be over insured.

And no, the Dutch are in general not greedy. Compared with other countries, the Dutch do give a lot more to good causes and charity (last year 88% of all households gave to a charity) and the amount spend on development aid is also amongst the highest in the EU.


Dutch eat bad food
What is served for dinner in the average family (especially among the older generations) is indeed not that tasty. Eating is seen as something that needs to be done (preferably in 30 minutes) in order to take in some calories in to keep on going and before all the other activities (sports, voluntary work) in the evening can take a start. But: like several other Nordic countries that may have a similar reputation, the cuisine is not hindered by the (by a Dutchman invented) Law of the handicap of a head start .

So, in compliance with the principle of the law, indeed the nicest and most inventive restaurants I had dinner were always in Nordic countries and not in the Perigord where the first day you enjoy your meal and after the third day you only want to flee because all restaurants serve the same success story.


The Dutch are sturdy; love extreme sports as well as riding the bike

One of my colleagues says he read on the internet that since the use of bikes is so smartly encouraged, the Dutch have better health and body shape than the rest of lazy Europeans. He was not the only one mentioning the good body shape of the Dutch (which is very true of course). Another one noticed that the Dutch tend to like sports under extreme circumstances. It is true that the Dutch also take the bike when it is raining or storming and in rural areas it is completely normal that school kids ride 45 minutes back and forth to school every day.


Super-organised control freaks

Yes, the Dutch tend to think that “things are well-organised” in their country and are rather proud of it. Especially when encountering – in their eyes -poorly organised situations abroad.  Being practical and efficient is appreciated.

Funny enough, whereas being well-organised is a pride for the Dutch, I heard in a course on working in a multi-cultural environment last year that for people from southern Member States, this -perhaps Nordic- efficiency at work was the worst thing they could come up with when asked to describe something negative about another culture. It takes away all the fun…


And according to the Dutch themselves…

I also asked some Dutch colleagues how they perceive the Dutch. Presumptuous, ill-mannered and overregulated is what they said after going on to discuss whether or not a Dutchman could be proud of the Delta Works achieved by other Dutchmen.  Oh, another thing: in the Netherlands, big monumental constructions like the Delta Works or the Afsluitdijk are always very functional in the first place ….

On holiday in the Netherlands a while ago, I noticed that the cycle path had two bikes painted on it. It took me some thinking to realise this was in order to indicate that the cyclists could come from two directions on this path (usually there is a cycling path on each part of the road but not here). So: overregulated? Perhaps a bit. While looking for an accompanying photo, I found there is actually a centre of expertise on bicycle policy in the Netherlands. However, whereas one of my colleagues pointed out parents are scared to death when their youngsters go off on holiday to Amsterdam; bear in mind the Netherlands is one of the Members with the lowest traffic mortality in the EU!


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