The Netherlands is one of a kind, it is unique in its beauty, its people, and its opportunities. This uniqueness does not stop here, though. Let’s explore some of the more peculiar aspects of The Netherlands!
Five Peculiarities in Dutch Culture
Directness is an attribute of Dutch culture that almost everyone knows about, if you don’t, you definitely will soon! Whether it’s in a business meeting or a bartender asking what you want, the sugar-coating niceties that are commonplace all around America and many other nations simply don’t exist in the world of the Dutch.
As an American, this comes as quite a shock! I personally remember one instance – I had been living in The Netherlands for 2 months and I wanted to send a package back home. I went to my nearest ‘Pakketpunt’ and exclaimed to the cashier “I want to send a package to my parents” to which he flatly replied “Oh, well that’s great for you”.
In the States the cashier would be practically clamoring to assist you in this process, but in The Netherlands you need to ask for what you want! I realized in this moment that I could do with a little Dutch directness.
Historical context: Dutch directness did not spawn out of thin air. Many historians theorize that this attribute of society comes from the Calvinism movement of Christianity that spread all across The Netherlands and other European nations.
Calvinism is pretty much a stoic version of Christianity, with an emphasis on total honesty, rejection of base pleasures, and a focus on total morality. While the majority of Dutchies are not religious, this focus on total honesty born from a time of Calvinism lives on in Dutch society.
2Openness of homes
In relation to the directness in which the Dutch speak, the ‘openness’ of Dutch homes is a bit jarring for many folks who make the move over here. What I mean by openness is that many homes have large windows which allow passersby to have a peep inside if they so choose.
While in places like America it might seem a bit creepy to look into someone’s home, Dutchies (generally speaking) really don’t mind a little peek!
The first room that I ever rented in NL was on the first floor of an apartment building, and to my surprise it had a huge window that displayed my bedroom (whenever the curtains were open) for all to see. While it is not really the norm for a bedroom to have such windows, it is a possibility! While it might sound silly (it definitely is), this openness really motivated me to decorate my room and keep it nice and tidy so the people passing by would have a good impression of my room and me.
Historical context: As you might be able to guess, this type of openness also has Calvinistic roots. There’s a certain, unconscious, “I have nothing to hide” attitude on display which ties into the Calvinist principles of full honesty and total morality.
There’s more at play here than old inklings of Calvinism, though. I asked a Dutch friend of mine about the phenomena, and he told me that he just wants to see what’s going on outside, and that The Netherlands doesn’t get much sunlight so blocking it with curtains would be a real shame. So while this openness might have some Calvinist roots, it seems like Dutch people continue the practice for their own personal reasons outside of Calvinism.
From Hagelsag in the morning to Bitterballen at the bar, the Dutch cuisine is perplexing in some ways. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Hagelslag are candy sprinkles (typically chocolate) that are used as a topping for buttered bread which adults and children alike enjoy for breakfast and as a snack. If you haven’t tried it, give it a shot!
Bitterballen on the other hand refers to a snack that’s made by creating and then refrigerating a stew that typically consists of meat and beef stock, and then rolling that refrigerated stew into balls which are then breaded and fried. These things are delicious and the perfect accompaniment for some beer out on a nice patio.
Historical context: While there is much more to Dutch cuisine than sprinkles and fried snacks, you really have to go out of your way to find it. Why is that? Well in the past, The Netherlands had many colonies, the Dutch brought back many things from these colonies, one being cuisine!
Surinamese, Indonesian, and Indian food are found all across The Netherlands. Fast forward to today, The Netherlands has a multitude of cosmopolitan cities, with people from all over the world who bring their cuisine with them.
So it’s really not that Dutch cuisine doesn’t exist, it’s just that in these major cities, traditional Dutch cuisine is just one ingredient in the soup that is modern day Dutch cuisine.
Tied in some ways to cuisine is the concept of Borrelen. It’s hard to pin down exactly what Borrelen is, but Wiki defines it as:
- an informal designation for a small glass of spirits
- an informal social gathering of a select group of people
Typically a ‘borrel’ will happen at the end of the work week, and it’s a time for bonding between coworkers over some borrelhapjes (snacks) and beer. The origins of Borrelen are a bit of a msytery, but to me, a borrel is the perfect encapsulation of Dutch working culture which emphasizes working hard but enjoying life while doing so.
There are borrels happening all across the nation every day of the week, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
5People first, cars second
As most people know there’s an emphasis on biking in The Netherlands; there are more bikes than people in this country! But it might surprise you that city planning puts a heavy emphasis on pedestrian safety and comfort as well.
One thing that instantly struck me when walking around both the cities of Utrecht and Amsterdam were the lack of cars! While both cities can be hectic, it felt so peaceful to walk through these cities without the hassle of fast-moving, loud cars.
Historical context: The Netherlands was not always so pedestrian and bike friendly, though. In the 60s The Netherlands was increasingly becoming an automotive nation, car sales were up and the number of cyclists was down.
However, this rise in automobiles came at quite a price, with thousands of casualties caused by traffic accidents, many of whom were children. A movement to stop all this needless death sprung up called “Stop de Kindermoord” or Stop the Children murder.
This movement gained a lot of traction and even government support, this combined with a desire to be less reliant on oil, stemming from the Oil Crisis in 1973, really paved the way for the resurgence of bike and pedestrian culture within the country.
Different cities around The Netherlands started to play around with the idea of putting cars second and people first. Nowadays, The Netherlands continues this plan, and cities like Utrecht plan to create car free districts for thousands of people.
Wrapping up Dutch peculiarities
I hope you were able to learn some new things about the peculiar aspects of The Netherlands and its inhabitants. More than that, though, I hope we were able to provide you with some context as to why some of these peculiarities exist. Is there any other peculiarities that you’ve noticed in The Netherlands? Let us know!
Written by Alec Stewart | Published on 28 September 2020 | Category: Holland Life