I’ve been living in Amsterdam for about 4 years, and every single day I ask myself, why is this so country so different than the rest of the world. Maybe it is the protestant Calvinist culture, maybe it is because the stock market was started here, maybe it is because prostitution is kind of legal, maybe it is because they are an old trading nation. Maybe it is a culmination of loads of aspects that make Dutch culture the most similar western culture, but also remarkably different.
Amsterdam on a sunny day
I believe that when you come here as a tourist, you really don’t get the slight differences that make the Netherlands a country with such unique patterns in human behavior, at least according to my Portuguese routs.
Considerably, I’ve made a list of aspects that I consider at least odd, in this country:
– You can ask whatever you want to people, and they won’t consider as strange. You can even talk about s.e.x in the middle of the university class. Dutch are very pragmatic: if you talk, I might learn something with you;
– Using bicycles and go to work with in a suit;
– All the land is flat. Is amazing and so so strange;
– It is also a very artificial country. All nature and animals seem to have been introduced by humans. Nothing in here is really nature;
– Dutch people usually don’t like to cook so in the supermarkets you will find loads of already made food;
– OMG how fast cashier people work in a supermarket. It is just completely insane!!! BE THE FAST YOU CAN WHILE YOU ARE AT ALBERT HEIJN! If you are slightly slow, they will look at you so bad, that you will be ashamed of yourself. NEVER LET DUTCH PEOPLE WAIT. In supermarkets, they are flying machines. There is no “hello”, “today is raining”… nothing. Just keep it SUPER MEGA FAST;
– Dutch people are not very refined regarding social behavior. They tend to be more informal and straight to the point. They make so many big weird things, according to my culture regarding food. For example, when I go to eat in the house of people there is no tablecloth, napkins, no glass of water… (the first time I thought somebody forgot, the next time I thought it was a joke, then I understand they didn’t know about this concept of putting up a full table) and the food is so not sophisticated. They even prepare food that is not 100% warm. Like a hamburger where the meat is warm but the bread is cold and the sauce is freezing… It doesn’t make any sense. In my country, if the food is warm food, the food is warm. Not 10% of the food warm. These kinds of things are very difficult to explain to Dutch people because usually they just don’t care. Food is just something that you undoubtedly need to eat, for Dutch people…
– It is perfectly normal if you want to go on vacation 5 times a year. I believe that Dutch people are the greatest travelers in the world. It is really uncommon to see a Dutchie that didn’t go abroad in the last year;
– The wait service is probably the worst in the world. Sometimes you need to beg the waiter to come to your table, and they treat you miserably. In my country, if you are seating in a restaurant you are expected to be treated as an absolute King. Here, they treat you like no one. I would say that 90% of the time the service lacks sophistication — good smile, good posture, sometimes a joke, getting close to the people, asking where you are from, suggestion of plates… they do none of those aspects! And even turn around in a very rude way if you say: “I would like to have this plate.” they just turn around. There is no “ok”. There is no “perfect.” Simply nothing. They simply turn around. It is so so so weird. I was a waiter for many time and treating a client like this is so bad. But in Amsterdam is the most normal thing;
– Dutchies are not poor people, but they are so fantastically humble. They take care of every single penny that they earn. When you go to a house of somebody to dinner (which is also uncommon that they invite you) it is remarkably common that the Dutchie will be reading supermarket campaigns in order to get some more euros, in their weekly shopping. It is amazing how do they do this. Every cent is so important for them;
– It is also normal to ignore people as possible as you can. There is no great sophistication towards people you don’t know. There is no good morning gentleman or hello… people here try to avoid anything in order to make contact. It’s so bizarre;
– Sometimes it seems that the only thing people care is money. Everything is money. In Portugal, things are things before being money, maybe because things are cheap there, and here is expensive. When you go to dinner, people will think how much money you are going to spend. And if I say “hey, I come from Portugal”, they will induce me to think that “ow, Portugal is a poor country… you don’t deserve that. Holland is better.”… Well, it is not simple as that. There are many more motives to live the life besides money, and even though that the GDP per capita is high here, the wealth of the nation is not that high. I would say that in Southern European countries you have much pleasure in your life, and life is more engaging, even though you don’t earn as much. But for us, money is just a detail. For Dutch people, money seems one of the main reasons to live life;
– Dutch people do not focus on structure. In companies and any organizations, chaos is embraced in the most positive way. It is not considered very good if you are too organized. If you ever been to a queue in The Netherlands, you will understand what I mean. This is a consequence of the Dutch interpretation of an egalitarian society;
– Also, in terms of egalitarianism or feminism or climate change there is the tendency of thinking about things in an “I wish way”, and not in a “scientific way”. It seems that many times, people are naive about the world and that we are all the same, can be justified because you say so. Well, it all depends. The good thing about science is that you don’t need to believe in it, in order to be true. Therefore, my main recommendation in order to change the world is to take the world into consideration. I believe a great part of the Dutch people are naive about what actually is true, and what actually is just my wish;
– You don’t have shopping malls in Amsterdam. Yes, it is true. Maybe you have a small one in Utrecht. But is a bit far. If you say that, you have a shopping mall in Amsterdam, you don’t know what is a shopping mall. A shopping mall is a shopping center that is gigantic, that you can do absolutely everything, it has all the stores in the world, a cinema, all the food, everything… And it closes at MIDNIGHT! Not at 6 pm. In Portugal, the shopping mall is where you go when it is rainy or terrible weather… really don’t get what people do while it is rainy. They go home to do what?;
– Everything closes at 6 pm. Maybe some not, but the majority of cafés, places to study, places to chill, museums, whatsoever that is not related to restaurants CLOSE AT 6 pm. Even many supermarkets… It is so early, and sometimes you really want to study and there is no place to go;
– You need to schedule a meeting with someone with 3 weeks of antecedence… Dutch people are usually time paced, while southern Europeans are flow paced;
– It can be also very hard to start conversations with Dutch people. They usually think that it’s weird to meet people that you actually don’t know… meeting people in cafés or restaurants or even a supermarket can be considered as weird. They have loads of limitations regarding meeting new people;
– They also don’t make a lot of jokes with people they don’t know, neither they say “oh my friend, how are you doing?”… it is much more like “what do you want?”… It is so straight to the point that there is no space for this kind of politeness. Dutch people, this is not being not direct. This is the normal pattern in almost every country that I know. Just being kind, and slightly funny makes such a difference when you meet someone;
– Dutch people tend to be very warm and kind once you know them better;
– Having s.e.x with people you really don’t know is also normal;
– There are saunas everywhere for both genders;
– Everybody speaks in English, and even Dutch people speak English with… Dutch people! Dutchies like everything the most effective as possible. So sometimes they speak in English to each other just to be fast…
– Almost no Dutchie is really proud of the Dutch language. The few times I said to a Dutchie that I’m going to learn this interesting language, they almost always say: “Why the hell you will waste your time learning this terrible language? Nobody speaks Dutch. Don’t waste your time on it. Speak other languages that are more useful.” Ok, and after trying many times, I just understood that Dutch people really don’t care if you speak Dutch, as long as if they understand your English. If you really love the language, or you love languages, learn it. But if you don’t have time, don’t waste your time on it.
Germans will complain that they are too sloppy towards rules, British people will complain because they are too rude and not structured, French will complain because people tend to not be very sophisticated, southern Europeans will complain about every single thing, Asians will say people are excessively individualistic, Africans will complain that people are too boring, Americans will think that these people are flat, and… well, Australians will just chill. The world should know more about Northern Europe and The Netherlands. Unfortunately, nobody really knows how unique human behavior this is.
Really, every single day of my life is like a movie. A strange documental movie. A European movie of course. The Netherlands is the most similar and different country in the world. So open and so conservative. So interesting and so boring. So exciting and so down to earth. Please, filmmakers, you should make loads of movies about Northern Europe and mainly the Netherlands. The world should know about how unique these cultures are.
Good luck with living here, awesome people.