The Dutch aren't that polite

The Dutch aren't that polite

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According to foreign expats living in the Netherlands and Dutch expats living elsewhere, the Dutch are impolite when compared to other nationalities. By Frank Driessen and Vanessa Deij

Sixty-one percent of the expats living in the Netherlands find the Dutch impolite when compared to people of other nationalities. This is the most important conclusion that can be drawn from a detailed poll carried out by, a website for expats living in the Netherlands. Almost 300 expats filled in the website's poll. They were also asked whether they found certain groups in the Netherlands polite or impolite.

People who work in the service industry, like waiters and shop employees, did not get high marks when it comes to politeness. Civil servants - with whom expats have a lot of contact especially when they first move to the country - also get low marks. One respondent observes that the Dutch are more polite in their homes than in public.

"I think that is due to their Calvinist background. They believe everyone is equal and thus are not comfortable serving others."
Groups of people that are considered polite in the Netherlands are receptionists, doctors, nurses and policemen. Even though these groups are thought to be polite, the expats indicated that all the types of people mentioned in the poll are actually more polite in their homelands than in the Netherlands. The only group they find to be really rude back home are teenagers.
The longer expats reside in the Netherlands, the more rude they find certain groups of people to be. One respondent who has lived in the Netherlands for more than ten years comments:

"I don't think the Dutch will accept criticism. Since I have been here the Dutch have become quite intolerant. Sadly, the wonderful country I came to love in 1995 no longer exists."
Forms of politeness
In one respect, all the expats agree with one another: courtesy is an important element of civilisation. Almost all (97 percent) believe this. But what is courtesy or politeness? According to expats in the Netherlands, the most important forms of politeness  are:                                                                           

1. Saying 'thank you'.
2. Offering to help others when you see they're experiencing problems.
3. Waiting in line.
4. Not throwing rubbish on the streets.
5. Holding the door open for those coming after you.

Radio Netherlands Worldwide put the same research questions to more than 1,000 Dutch people living outside the Netherlands. These Dutch expats adhere to the same values when it comes to politeness, but place them in a different order. Expats living in the Netherlands are not surprised that the Dutch uphold the same values. One expat comments:

"We have the same requirements, the Dutch just do not apply them."
Visitors to were also asked whether they felt it was polite of Dutch people to answer them in English when they themselves are trying to speak Dutch. A majority of the visitors (51 percent) felt this was not polite. Although 29 percent did find it polite.
Expats are not completely negative about the Netherlanders. One American respondent says:

"The Dutch can be too straightforward saying-it-as-it-is. I have come to appreciate that the Dutch put their thoughts out on the table for discussion, and more often than not, they say what they mean and mean what they say. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for most Americans. Americans, in general, will go out of their way to let someone down gently because they do not want to hurt feelings or cause bad situations."
The Dutch expat

The Dutch expat is also dissatisfied with the way their countrymen behave. A majority of them (55 percent) also find the Dutch to be impolite compared to other nationalities. They also say that the Dutch people back home have become ruder since they left the Netherlands. Since they moved away from the Netherlands, 55 percent of the Dutch expats say they have had to learn new forms of politeness. Nevertheless, the majority also say that there has never been miscommunication between themselves and the local population when it comes to politeness.

Both the expats in the Netherlands and the Dutch expats hope that this research will give the Dutch a useful insight into their own behaviour, which sometimes comes across as rude.

 "I hope that the expat community is not presenting itself unfavorably", says an expat living in the Netherlands."We do have to realize that our habits and norms may not be the same as those in our country of residence. That's part of the reason we came, to experience different cultures."

Another expat hopes that this research has not been carried out just  "to show how dissatisfied 'buitenlanders' (i.e. foreigners) feel, but also to help in the progression of unity in living. The Dutch love to say 'go home to your own country then', but that is not a solution. The Netherlands is not an island and the Dutch also live all over the world."

16 July 2008

Radio Netherlands / Expatica

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