How they see themselves & how others see them

Xenophobe's® Guides: The Dutch, from different perspectives

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Ever wondered how the Dutch see themselves? What about how others see them? Take a look.

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

How the Dutch see themselves

From the comfort of their immaculate sitting rooms the Dutch may acknowledge that they are the cleanest people on earth, are thrifty, have a canny head for business, an unparalleled facility with languages, an unequalled ability to get along with one another and an inimitable charm. But they will be far too modest, unless pushed, to admit publicly that all this makes them somewhat superior to other nations.

Above all, the Dutch pride themselves on their tolerance and flexibility: qualities which, in addition to carrying moral kudos, are good for business. The blanket of benevolence is not a woolly liberal one, but is woven from the sound stuff of commerce. It is quite thick enough to cover niggling inconsistencies, such as a secret mistrust of Moroccans, distaste at alien cooking smells from the apartment downstairs, or fury at foreigners who wobble inexpertly on bicycles, blocking the way for others.

How others see them

Xenophobe's® Guides: How they see themselves & how others see themMost nations regard the Dutch as organized and efficient – rather like the Germans, but not as awesome. One can hardly be frightened, the reasoning goes, of a nation of rosy-cheeked farmers who live in windmills and have clogs at the bottom of the wardrobe, tulips in the garden and piles of round cheese in the larder.

But the Dutch also have a reputation for being opinionated, stubborn, and incorrigibly mean. The Belgians go even further, and complain that their neighbours are downright devious in business affairs. Generally, though, other nations see them as forthright to a fault. Dutch frankness completely overwhelms more reticent peoples such as the Japanese who find the Dutch the rudest and most arrogant of the Europeans they do business with – though they are impressed by Dutch acumen as traders. ‘Where a Dutchman has passed, not even the grass grows any more,’ say the Japanese.

The English survey the Dutch with guarded approval, as the closest any Continentals come to the sacrosanct state of being English. Such chumminess has not always prevailed. In the 17th century these two seafaring nations were at each other’s throats. An English pamphlet raged: ‘A Dutchman is a Lusty, Fat, Two-legged Cheeseworm. A Creature that is so addicted to eating Butter, Drinking Fat and Sliding [skating] that all the world knows him for a slippery fellow.’ The English language gained a whole new list of pejoratives, including ‘Dutch courage’ (booze-induced bravery), ‘Dutch comfort’ (‘things could be worse’) and ‘Dutch gold’ (fake). Nowadays there is an echo of this attitude in the tendency of some people (especially customs officers) to see the Dutch as a nation of drug-dazed pornographers. But on the whole the Dutch score top marks for cabling BBC television to every home in the land and speaking English without flinching or causing much of a flinch.

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: rkramer62


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23 Comments To This Article

  • roger posted:

    on 1st February 2013, 16:22:45 - Reply

    Hi, I've been working in Dubai for some years now, and I can agree and disagree. First, the locals won't give in to their habits, so us westerners have no choice but to adapt (no beers outside hotel zones etc). I am pretty sure that's what made it end up at the lower end of the ranking. But if you ask me, that's a really small price to pay, as I am perfectly happy with my salary where their state isn't taking any wage tax whatsoever :) . Also,, there is no crime out here-they cut the hand off of thieves- they should learn from this in the UK!! I am sad to hear about netherlands being as bad as it seems from forbes 2011 list. That Wilders guys doesn't seem to have helped the Dutch out with his 'polenmeldpunt' website. It was all over the news here, this guy first disliked moslims and then moved on targetting perfectly legally working polish with his website dedicated to set up a list of all unwanted polish in his country.
  • w posted:

    on 18th January 2013, 19:04:38 - Reply

    According to Forbes UAE is the least friendly country for expats:
  • John posted:

    on 18th January 2013, 11:24:56 - Reply

    It is refreshing to read an article that for once shows real life in the Netherlands, instead of the rosy picture painted by headhunters luring foreign talent in with the so-called '30% tax break' which seems nice, but only lasts for a max of 10years, by which time most foreigners will have purchased a house, and so they get locked into the dutch system (post expiration of the 30%ruling) of having to pay absurd high salary tax (52%), an annual recurring tax of 1,2% on bank balances(so that's a compounded 20% if you add up 20years), and another approx. 30% inheritance tax upon death, which will follow you across the globe if you die within 10y of leaving the country. That adds up, to me, to an insane amount essentially, you end up handing over everything you worked for, straight back to the Dutch tax man after a life of hard work. That would be ok, if the experience as an expat was a rewarding one.

    Living in Amsterdam was, putting it mildly, not the best experience I had. I integrated and was naturalized, but I think it was a big mistake. I speak their language fluently, and was admitted to their law association, but no matter how hard I try, the light accent remains there, and so it is used, always, to try to make me feel like an 'allochtoon' (migrants, incl. highly skilled ones get scolded by that word). This mechanism is used successfully by the natives, to bar foreign high skilled people from certain managerial jobs throughout society. So promotions based on competence like you see in the states is not going to happen in this part of the world. It is only recently that the truth about expat life has come out in articles such as this one in expatica.

    FORBES apparently rated the Netherlands as 'worlds unfriendliest place to expats' and this is quoted on 2 prominent news channels:

    Another one drawing the same conclusion is HSBC's EXPAT SURVEY:

    I just wish I had known this before. The Dutch forced me to renounce my former nationality when i picked up the Dutch one, and so i am sort of stuck in a life I would like to get out of. I am looking for jobs in low tax and expat friendly HK or UAE now.
  • carrico posted:

    on 18th January 2013, 03:52:41 - Reply

    suzan: couldn't have said it better myself. did i say that?
  • Mioko posted:

    on 17th January 2013, 17:00:16 - Reply

    I agree with the article. I have been an expat for over 10years now, and boy, you don't even want to know what I had to put up with. I lived close to my partner's family in Edam (volendam). Every sunday, they would start complain about foreigners and how 'all' of them are either taking out welfare...or if they are not, then they probably 'soon plan to do so'. During the same gathering, they would also often talk about how well 'locals'were doing, becaus they 'work terribly hard'(conveniently leaving unmentioned the fact that 99%!!! of these 'locals in edam/volendam' or any other 'near to 100%'etnic Dutch village, work...but work basically without paying tax! that's right: dutch evade paying tax, and think it's 'ok, because at least they WORK'). I made them so angry once, when i told them, that while some lowskill immigrant was taking 700euro tops....these locals are evading a MULTIPLE of the afore mentioned amount worth of the 52% bracket worth taxes monthly!. Hey, but that's ok right, they are Dutch and so they have the 'priviledge'. [Edited by moderator] the foreigner doesn't dodge taxes, ánd doesnt take welfare. The fact that a foreigner holds a midlevel job will already freak out the Dutch, not just a few of them...
  • nurseinblue posted:

    on 17th January 2013, 16:55:39 - Reply

    Is the moderator......Dutch? :) :)
  • nurseinblue

    on 16th January 2013, 23:48:56 - Reply

    I totally agree with everything Kate said in her comment. I think customer service is not an issue, because the Dutch support their own economy. Most Dutch folk will continue to support the same Dutch stores for years even if the prices there are 2-3x what they are in, let's say, a German store or a Japanese toko. This type of mentality breeds a good national economy but absolutely no need for customer service. No matter which Dutch city I happen to be in, the same 8-10 Dutch stores are always there. The same holds true for brands found inside the stores. [Edited by moderator] I'd venture to say that many Dutch do not even know that they are paying inflated prices just in order to keep shopping at the same "trusted" stores.
  • carrico posted:

    on 14th January 2013, 19:41:15 - Reply

    "always right but seldom relevant"--hah! You're talkin"absurd /ironical?
    Aber naturlich. Oder?
  • aussie in NL posted:

    on 10th January 2013, 12:21:09 - Reply

    I'm an Aussie living in the Netherlands. I generally find the Dutch to be very polite and social. They have a number of very bad habits though. The can't hold their cutlery, hit their teeth with their fork. Lick their knife and drop food all over their shirt. They also love to sniff. Sucking snot up their nose seems to be a national past time. Perhaps to frugal to buy a handkerchief or a tissue! When they drive they don't like to indicate. [Edited by moderator]
  • Mischa posted:

    on 10th January 2013, 12:16:04 - Reply

    I think my story illustrates somwhat the Dutch desire to make money from any and every situation. A former landlord of a room I rented emailed to ask me if I would be available for three weeks at Christmas to cat-sit and take care of their apartment. She then quoted to me how much rent I would need to pay her for providing that service. I ignored this as being amazingly gauche and money-grubbing. Peppered with email from her I finally had to decline the 'offer'. Otherwise this was a pleasant person to interact with, but the cheapness grates sometimes.
  • Marie posted:

    on 10th January 2013, 11:36:02 - Reply

    "An unparalleled facility with languages"?! Please don't make me laugh. German and English only and no facility with any other European languages even though some Dutchies pretend to know French well. As an expat who began life here as a student, I have met really nice Dutch people who've helped me out so much. Hard to get to know, but even as acquaintances, some of them have risen above the stereotypes. However, when they decide that you are not worth their time (with too many Dutch people, just being a buitenlander is bad enough), "incorrigibly mean" does not even begin to cover it. Can make you living and working situation untenable.
  • Dutchdoodoo posted:

    on 10th January 2013, 10:10:29 - Reply

    I had such a funny experience today, as I was wandering around the CES show in Las Vegas I spotted a guy with a microphone to notice his clothes and pug nose and it was obvious he was dutch asked him and he was surprised that i guessed he was dutch. Hahahah his clothes looked like something out of I don't know what but that's what they wear in Holland, I guess since they are all skinny they never have to buy new clothes from when they were 17 from the 70s hahahahah
  • Joe E posted:

    on 10th January 2013, 01:33:47 - Reply

    The Dutch people I met when I lived in the Netherlands were generally quite nice, although some of the young men were rude on the street. The expatriate Dutch I have met in the USA are even nicer, although I have found that some of the older ladies have weaker English language skills than their husbands. More time at home, I guess, where Nederlands is the language spoken. All in all, my opinion of the Dutch is very high (pun).
  • Pat posted:

    on 9th January 2013, 20:53:31 - Reply

    Having been comically apprised of the Dutch ways by reading Undutchables before my first visit, I was far less befuddled than my companions when, upon entering an Amsterdam restaurant and looking about, we were met with "well..are you going to sit down?" from the waiter.
    I conjured up my best (awful) US southern drawl and replied: "why, yeyass!"
    After that, it was smooth sailing and what some might take as rude abruptness, I found the direct, and no-dancing-about-the-subject approach refreshing and simple. Came back the next year.
  • enniamerrican posted:

    on 9th January 2013, 16:08:20 - Reply

    I agree with Kate. I live in a small town in the south and they're pretty much the same here. Our home is near a small forest which turns into Disneyland on those fine weather days and I've had people rubbernecking into my living room like it's the 'Small World'. But they are very guarded about their own homes and the newest homes are all built with smaller windows to combat this problem. I have never been asked about anything in my life - rather nobody gives a care about me. I'm the only brown mother in my daughter's school and it has taken 3 years for some of the other parents to even smile at me and I bet most of them still don't know my name. I am so glad you mentioned customer service - there is absolutely none here whatsoever. You'd think that if they want us to spend our money in their shops that they'd try a little harder.
  • irene posted:

    on 9th January 2013, 15:00:09 - Reply

    Kate's comment - very recognizable (and funny) for me - having had a bi-cultural upbringing !! indeed being directly asked all kinds of things, while being trained yourself in never doing so - is quite a tricky and endlessy frustrating combination !
    also found quite soms differences in ' sociability'; degrees of (social) inclusiveness for one.
  • kate posted:

    on 9th January 2013, 14:35:41 - Reply

    I found this aticle very amusing! The dutch seem to mistrust everything that is not dutch. Many of them never close theirs curtains on their windows and yet should you happen to glance into their home whilst passing by you are greeted with a dirty look( close your cutains!) . [Edited by moderator] They seem to think they have the right to ask you everything about your life even to what you earn or paid for your home but perish the thought that you should ask them the same questions. I can only talk about the dutch in the large cities and of course there are exceptions. I am married to a dutchman and over the years he has come to agree with some of the things I feel about his fellow countrymen. Customer Servies - that seems like an alien word to the dutch. It is non-existant
  • Steve posted:

    on 9th January 2013, 14:33:19 - Reply

    Another Japanese term is a 'Dutch Wife' which means a rubber lady. FYI.
  • suzan posted:

    on 9th January 2013, 14:13:43 - Reply

    Watching each other is only positive when actions are taken to help others who are in need, not watching in judgement.
  • iliana posted:

    on 9th January 2013, 14:13:24 - Reply

    'Xenophobe's Guide to the Dutch' doesn't tell the entire story, but what's included is fair and useful to know if you are planing to settle in the Netherlands. Much more useful read than Undutchabbles. And
    just like with any other can't put all people in one bin :) However, most Dutchies I have met in NL and abroad have been pretty cool bunch!
  • GntherBauer

    on 22nd December 2012, 08:17:04 - Reply

    The Dutch are always right but seldom relevant
  • Richard posted:

    on 20th December 2012, 04:25:12 - Reply

    As a Dutch living in the States I think I can answer that question. The Dutch are the same when they're on their own turf. Maybe a little more shallow and withholding at first but that would be because we would think that you visit us and not the other way around. The socialistic culture definitely helps in us evolving faster than maybe in less socialistic cultures, but unfortunately we are also our own worst enemy with our hard-headed characters. Social security is one thing why we get along so well. Everybody watches each other whether you like it or not, no matter how big the city might be. That is definitely what defines us from others. Sometimes a pain, sometimes an advantage.
  • Dennis posted:

    on 17th December 2012, 19:20:43 - Reply

    Bizarrely the nicest Dutch seem to be those who live outside the Netherlands. They are warm, welcoming, empathetic, charitable, even-handed, humble, open-minded and altruistic. Are the Dutch like this at home? Sometimes, but perhaps the fact that they are all watching each other to ensure that the rules are always obeyed mitigates against displays of goodwill and reciprocity.