Xenophobe's® Guides: Open curtains

Xenophobe's® Guides: Open curtains

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Why do the Dutch keep their curtains open? Read on.

Xenophobe's® Guides: A book series that highlights the unique character and behaviour of different nations with insight and humour.

The Dutch are open about everything. Preserved vegetables come in glass jars rather than in tins. Lavatories have a shelf in the bowl, ensuring that even your internal workings are open to daily inspection (the one German invention the Dutch have taken to with relish). To assure their neighbours, and themselves, that they have nothing to hide, the Dutch build houses with big windows and do not draw their curtains at night. You can watch your neighbours' television, see what they are having for dinner, note whether they shout at their children and fervently exercise your powers of tolerance if you notice anything untoward.

Clean windows are the primary concern of any house holder, and rooms are lit with a subtle chiaroscuro that presents a cosy picture to the street at night. Rather than draw the blinds, people whose houses open directly on to the street hang little screens made out of wooden-framed doilies in the windows, or stick narrow strips of clouded plastic to the glass. These are positioned to avoid tiresome eye-contact with passers-by, while still leaving the room open to public view.

Xenophobe's® Guides: Open curtains

No Dutch person would dream of staring in at the windows. That would be an invasion of privacy. Curiously, it was a Dutch television company that first came up with the idea for Big Brother, the show that allows millions to be Peeping Toms. This is the ultimate expression of Open Curtains, while spicing things up by breaking the paramount social taboo.

When this openness spreads to personal relationships, it leads to a perfect frankness that other nations may find disarming. If you are suffering from a particularly unfortunate haircut, an English friend might tactfully suggest that you wear that nice hat you bought last week. A Dutch person will ask you what on earth has happened to your hair.

For more, read The Xenophobe's Guide to the Dutch. 

Reproduced from Xenophobe's Guide to the Dutch by kind permission of Xenophobe's® Guides.

Photo credit: L. Allen Brewer



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15 Comments To This Article

  • wybe posted:

    on 3rd March 2016, 15:32:41 - Reply

    Sure, the Dutch are straightforward and i agree the behaviour of youngsters can be quite rude and obnoxious. Not well behaved like the British on their stag nights in Amsterdam or on holiday on the costa Brava. Or like the coming president of the USA Donald Drumpf. But seriously: How many languages do they teach in England? What percentage of Brits are imprisoned? (not even talking about the USA)
  • frank posted:

    on 10th October 2015, 21:32:36 - Reply

    I was told that the reason was that if the tax collector needed to see though the house if he couldn't he would rase the tax

  • carrico posted:

    on 19th June 2013, 17:01:06 - Reply

    Interesting comments. We appreciate many of those open curtains in Amsterdam so we can see their owners' art. It's as though they are sharing it with us. Just don't gaze too long, like at a museum, maybe. Also, those great, curtained front windows often hold amazing displays (flowers, a little sculpture, silliness, a sleeping cat). Ja, J.H.: 'hoffelijkheid.' Bedank.
  • J.H. de Raat posted:

    on 9th June 2013, 00:24:51 - Reply

    Most of the comments could fall under the rubric, "Dissing the Dutch". Bryant, you seem especially unhappy with them. Perhaps you should learn the language. The Dutch word for courtesy is 'hoffelijkheid'. Although most of the Dutch speak pretty good English, The Netherlands has a different culture than English-speaking countries.You cannot expect the Dutch to behave just the way your compatriots at home do. Ah, the French . . .Try getting along in France if you do not know the language. As for Dutch children, a Unicef study on child well-being published in 2007 put Dutch children at the top of the list, while the US and UK were 20th
  • pepe posted:

    on 7th June 2013, 16:49:30 - Reply

    Really Bryant, apartheid? South Africa was a Dutch colony until 1806. Apartheid became the official politics in 1948. Please can you explain how the Dutch are responsible for something that happened in a country with it's own government thousands of miles away.
  • Bryant posted:

    on 4th June 2013, 21:32:28 - Reply

    Forgot to add, the fact the window curtains are left open all day is simply because the Dutch really don't care what people passing by will see. If you visit the richer parts of the country, such as the Grachten gordel in Amsterdam, strikingly you will notice they do close curtains. It is a matter of upbringing, I am afraid. [Edited by moderator]
  • Bryant posted:

    on 4th June 2013, 21:24:30 - Reply

    The Dutch have been been labelled as the rudest population.
    They don't go to proper schools, essentially their kids never learn about table manners nor about small talk which is PART of table manners.
    Dutch who are at work abroad (this goes for the youngsters) have no clue about how blunt they can be. This coupled with the 'Dutch arrogance' and what you get is a young Dutch who won't listen to a foreigner in say, the US, who tells him (politely) that he might want to keep his voice down or show a little more courtesy, or perhaps keep his mouth shut to a certain level, when eating food in a restaurant. A small group of Dutch have manners, but let's say that is a small group coming from the upper middle class, rather than the new city youth who came straight from University after a long life between peasants up in the small town villages (there was a large influx of Dutch peasants rushing to the cities in the past 10-20years ever since they could make it into university on pretty much free tuition fees). I don't even think there is a word for courtesy in Dutch!!!
    I find it quite amazing, because lots of people are prejudiced when it comes to 'the French', but, you have to give it to them: french have impeccable manners, at least they have heard about them, they are known for wine tasting and what not.
    Apart from Apartheid, and a generally rough history of slavery, allowing pedofile foundation to (legally!!!) exist in the netherlands, freedom to smoke drugs, selling cancerous (deemed sick) horse meat through a 'hub in Cyprus' to all other EU supermarkets all the way to the UK and Ikea while 'labelled as honest healthy Beef', and red light districts openly run as businesses, I really don't think there is a lot contributing to the 'sophisticated' side in Dutch Culture, if there is one to begin with, since for 'culture' one -does- have to be CULTURED to begin with!!!!

    Just don't bother putting your kids through school in Netherlands. You would be better off sending them off to a more cultured place.

  • Jonas posted:

    on 1st June 2013, 14:01:38 - Reply

    I don't see the "frankness" as a result of openness, but rather that the (northern, Protestant) Dutch culture has little appreciation for the non-essential - and I honestly believe that many Dutch people see small-talk and courtesy as non-essential. I'm originally from the United States and have had Dutch friends criticize the casual American cordialness as "fake" ... but then I look around and see what a tacitly hostile society you get when you remove the comfort of being able to start up a conversation with a stranger on the train. Small-talk or not, at least it makes you less isolated.

    Full disclosure: I live in Amsterdam.. where the effects of urban living are compounded in an unholy alliance with Dutch Calvanist leanings..

    this mixed with the every-man-for-himself business attitude of the Hollanders makes for a people who don't want to waste energy on niceties like greetings unless they are getting something out of it - a business deal, or whatever. For example, greetings and The Dutch seem to be obsessed
  • Steve posted:

    on 30th May 2013, 15:05:47 - Reply

    Well they do say BYE when they leave a lift, which always comes as a surprise. (Maybe also a hangover from the war, they never know if it might be the last time they see the occupants of a chamber.)

    Another feature I notice is they tend to shamelessly use other people, and even complain if you do them a favor and they are not fully satisfied. Maybe their sluggish public facade of 'tolerance' leads to private acrimony.
  • Tessa posted:

    on 30th May 2013, 10:19:01 - Reply

    I think it's because of the small houses. If they (aka 'we') also have small windows, it will be like living in a cave, especially in rainy weather. And then people tend to place plants
  • Igishangaman posted:

    on 30th May 2013, 06:38:40 - Reply

    I fully agree Ozzie. They have no concept of interaction, where people enter a train compartment without greeting. Once I entered a train compartment where only one elderly lady was sitting. I sat down and smiled at her, ready to say "goedemiddag" or something alike. She kept staring out of the window all the way from Zwolle to The Hague, which is a 1,5 hours ride, just to avoid having to answer my greeting. It is a very uncomfortable. [Edited by moderator]
  • Ozzie posted:

    on 29th May 2013, 16:53:10 - Reply

    One of your last lines from the text above quoted: " When this openness spreads to personal relationships, it leads to a perfect frankness that other nations may find disarming." Well, my experience with the Dutch "Frankness" is less than negative. This society has completely lost the sense of communication. If a dutch man or woman wants to have a relationship, the FIRST and most of the times ONLY thing they will do is to visit the on-line Relationship Matching sites. What a pitty. They are unable to meet, greet, interact and/or maintain a relationship unless it is lead by these sites. Frankness?
  • Swiss posted:

    on 29th May 2013, 16:26:04 - Reply

    In Limburg (south and mostly catholic) people draw curtain, they do not like people peaking into their private life
  • Daniele posted:

    on 29th May 2013, 15:59:19 - Reply

    I thought that it was related to religion... protestant wants to show that there's nothing to hide.
  • Steve posted:

    on 29th May 2013, 14:46:21 - Reply

    I heard it comes from the war, they left their curtains open to show they're not hiding any jews or gypsies.