‘The Dutch are not polite’

By

kinderdijk

Radio Netherlands Worldwide asked a thousand Dutchmen living abroad as expats for their views on politeness in their home country. The same questions were put to 300 expats in the Netherlands in a poll carried out by Expatica.com, a website targeting foreign residents. They were also asked whether they found certain groups in the Netherlands polite or impolite.

The poll held in the Netherlands itself showed that people who work in the Dutch 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 usual argument, which I am not 100% sold on, is that the Dutch (not everyone!) are not impolite, but make people uncomfortable with their direct attitude. Making someone you do not know feel uncomfortable can be considered impolite very quickly and so this is a touchy subject.

I have also heard that this comes off extremely poorly in European countries in a foreign job, as the boss freaks out when he/she gets talked to that way by a Dutch person. I’m again not sure being straight is the best strategy. If trying to fit in means always being straight forward, it is not going to work in the Netherlands simply because foreigners are not expected to act that way.

I can say as a foreigner living in the Netherlands for almost 10 years that I had to get used to that ‘verbal jolt’ you can get in a lot of in the big cities, especially Amsterdam. I have also noticed that anyone older than 50 is very polite in any city.

There is a huge difference betweem telling things like they are and not saying please or thank you. I think Radio Netherlands has it mixed up.

(Link: radionetherlands.nl)

3 Comments »

  1. Fifty-one percent found it impolite when Dutch people answer them in English when they are trying to speak Dutch
    Maybe this cannot be considered impolite or rude, just irritating. You try hard to use their language but as soon as they notice your, let´s say, allochtoness they switch to English, regardless of what your mother tongue might be. And then when you really need to speak Dutch and make some small mistake they point fingers at you saying you should learn their language and bla bla bla. There! I let it out of my chest !

    Comment by Márcia W. — July 15, 2008 @ 9:25 pm

  2. Márcia, it’s a lose-lose situation indeed :-/

    But, when a dutchman (f/m) answers you in english, he is trying to be polite, really! The average dutchman can usually speak only one foreign language properly (if at all) and that is, most of the times, english. The average dutchman is also taught in school that, except for the dutch themselves and some weirdos in South-Africa and on the Antilles, no one in the world speaks dutch. And *thus* he, the dutchman, is the minority and thus the one who should adapt himself to his communication partner and not force the other one to adapt to him.

    And I have to admit that I, being dutch, sometimes have a hard time speaking dutch to a non-dutch person. I know that this is completely bullsh** and that I should be happy that this someone actually wants to talk to me in my own language, but still… I can’t really explain that.

    Comment by Eric — July 17, 2008 @ 10:53 pm

  3. I’d say Germans are well more direct and even brusque compared to Nederlanders. Yes, the dutch call it like they see it, but they seem to be much more subtle in the execution of their brand of directness. I found, too, that such a crowded nation needs a sense of conversational modesty in order to get along…no doubt loud (usually young and stoned/drunk/tripping/whatever) tourists are very irritating to these sensibilities, and hence a sense of “rudeness”; especially if you come from a place that’s very free with expressing the whole emotional spectrum (often in 2minutes).

    As for those who speak English to you…if you know another language besides Dutch or English, use THAT on them in retort if you take exception. If that skill is lacking, suck it up. It’s their right (and actually good manners) to insist on clear communication. So I totally agree with Eric ^^…except for the bit about dutch spoken nowhere but the Antilles and S. Africa. Hello, Suriname?!

    Comment by Darth Paul — July 18, 2008 @ 8:17 pm

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