word 'GOING DUTCH' must give you some hint that
does have her own culture. Though describing others culture
is not an easy task, we would like to highlight some tipical
things about Dutch culture. We start from a simple question:
How to distinguish a Dutch from others?
You're familiar with Sesamstraat, Big Brother,
Johnnie en Rijk, Youp van het Hek, Star Trek, Derrick, de
Fabeltjeskrant, Baywatch, Goede tijden slechte tijden, Magnum
P.I., Married with Children, and Tatort. In general, you
watch Dutch soaps and sitcoms, German crime series, and
all kinds of English and American series.
You know how soccer is played. Of coarse, you call this
sport football. If you're male, you can argue intricate
points about its rules. You've heard of American football
but don't know how it works. The only sport that can equally
arouse your passion is speed skating.
You consider four weeks of vacation a year normal, and in
many professions count on a 36-hour working week.
Most likely you are not religious, or religious in a very
loose way. There are people in your country who have very
strict religions. You consider this either quaint or somewhat
scary. Except for some Jehovah's witnesses or Mormons knocking
on your door, nobody will ask you whether you believe in
You think of McDonald's, Burger King, KFC etc. as cheap
You own a telephone and a TV. Your place is heated in the
winter and has its own bathroom. You do your laundry in
a machine. You don't kill your own food. You don't have
a dirt floor. You eat at a table, sitting on chairs.
You don't consider insects, dogs, cats, monkeys,
or guinea pigs to be food. Raw herring is a well-liked delicacy,
New houses have bathrooms with a toilet, old houses have
separate toilets and bathrooms. A bathtub is not uncommon,
but certainly not standard.
Most utilities are in the process of changing from state-run
or monopolies to privately run. While you welcome lower
prices for phone calls, ou are suspicious whether private
companies really look out for their customers.
You expect, as a matter of course, that the phones will
work. Getting a new phone is routine. The train system is
good, although trains may be late. Trains are about as fast
as cars. There are inland flights, but the chance you've
ever used one is close to zero. If you are between the ages
of four and eighty, you own at least one bicycle and use
You need to be 18 to get a drivers license. You have to
take paid lessons and cannot practice on your own. This
makes getting a drivers license
the Brits go wrong
You find a multi-party system natural, and
can hardly imagine another fair way to run a country. You
expect your country to be ruled by a coalition of two or
three major parties, not by a single party. It would scare
you to give one point of view so much power. You think consensus
is more important in politics than rhetoric. You expect
politicians to be inefficient at times, and sometimes stupid,
but you don't expect them to get into politics for self-enrichment.
(A minister recently resigned because of faulty declarations
made back when he was a city mayor.) You find two-party
systems (like the UK's or the USA's) unfair and restricting.
You see no contradiction in having both a democratic government
and a queen who is head of state.
Socialism is OK, if not taken to extremes. Undiluted capitalism
scares you-- you expect the government to protect you from
Communists are 1) students in the sixties who wanted to
change the world; 2) some old farmers in the north of your
country who still vote for the minuscule communist party;
3) tough guys who did their patriotic duty against the Germans
during the occupation.
Race is a complicated issue. Where people come from is about
as important as their skin color. You consider people with
Indonesian ancestors Dutch.
You think most problems could be solved if only people would
put aside their prejudices and work together. You also think
that the Dutch people are better at this than other people.
You think EU, NATO, and the United Nations are a Good Thing.
Sure, there might be some corruption and inefficiency involved,
especially in the EU, but how are international problems
ever going to be solved if nations don't work together?
You take a strong court system for granted, even if you
don't use it. You know that if you went into business and
had problems with a customer, partner, or supplier, you
could take them to court.
Why foreigners will never learn Dutch
You speak English, at least somewhat. After
all, you are exposed to at least two hours of it daily
if you listen to pop songs, TV and movies. You also know
enough German to get by, and watch German television.
If anybody starts talking in broken or accented Dutch
to you, you will reply in English. Only the most determined
English-speaking foreigner has a change of learning Dutch
in your country.
You take it on faith that nobody abroad (except in
Belgium) speaks your language, and are amazed if anybody
has bothered to learn it.
An income tax rate of 60% is high, but you think that
people who earn a lot of money should pay high taxes.
You don't believe in a trickle-down effect. School is
free through high school (at least, it's an option,
even if you went to private school); university isn't.
You expect the state to help you pay for university,
if your parents can't.
University is (normally, and excluding graduate study)
five years long.
Mustard comes in jars or glasses that can be reused
as drinking glasses. Shaving cream comes in cans. Milk
comes in cardboard boxes or (rarely) bottles.
The date comes first: 5/5/45. (And you know what happened
on that date.)
The decimal point is a comma. Certainly not a dot.
A billion is a million times a million. A thousand
times a million is a miljard.
Still sore about the bikes
World War II was the biggest thing that
happened to your country in the 20th century. Your poor,
neutral country was quickly overrun by the Nazis, who
behaved badly, deported the Jews and stole all the bicycles.
It was a time when the country came together and did
what was right, except for some collaborators who are
still shunned. You were liberated by the Canadians.
The war showed that neutrality didn't work, so now you
depend on NATO for your security. Anybody born before
1940 may be asked whether he or she was 'right' or 'wrong'
during the occupation. If you were 'wrong' (i.e. a Nazi
collaborator), chances for a political career are zero.
You expect marriages to be made for
love, not arranged by third parties. You marry at city
hall, with a nice ceremony and speech from the civil
servant who marries you. After that, you may also have
a church wedding, but this has no legal status. You
have two to four witnesses at your wedding-- friends
or siblings. And, naturally, a man gets only one wife
at a time, and vice versa. Homosexual weddings are still
forbidden, but homosexual couples can enter a contract
that gives them all the legal duties and rights of a
wedded couple, except for the right of adoption. Often,
you have already lived together for a longer time before
marriage, but you usually wed before you have kids.
If a man has sex with another man, that's
his own business. He is still a homosexual, though.
With most people you know, you use the
informal je form; the honorific u is used in more formal
situations, like speaking to older people or to businesspeople
from another company.
My face is up here, sir
If you're a woman, going topless at
the beach is an option, but usually restricted to the
young and small-breasted. There are nude beaches, and
while you may not visit them, you don't think it unusual
for people to take their children to one.
A pricy hotel room has a private bath,
a cheap one has a bathroom in the corridor. Dubbing
is for kids. All movies and TV series are subtitled,
except for the Dutch ones.
You are shocked if anyone offers you
a bribe, or asks for one.
If a politician has been cheating on
his wife, you consider this bad form, but no reason
for him to resign, unless he's from some conservative
For a politician to show off his wife
or kids during an election campaign is ridiculous, since
you don't understand what do they have to do with his
work. You don't even know whetehr most party leaders
are married, divorced, single or whatever.
Credit cards are accepted in many shops
except for groceries, though, but they are mostly for
yuppies and snobs, and you don't have one. You pay cash
in shops, or use a debit card.
A company can't fire just anybody it
wants. For this reason, many companies hire temporary
workers through an employment agency.
You don't eat very much bacon, and if
you do, it's as part of an omelet.
Labor Day is the first of May, but it
is not a holiday.
There's no surf music like Dutch
You've probably seen Turks Fruit, Flodder,
All Stars, De Lift and Soldaat van Oranje. If you're
under forty, add Lang Leve de Koningin and most Disney
movies. Otherwise, add Fanfare, Ciske de Rat en De Aanslag.
You know Andre Hazes, Doe Maar, Volumia,
Rene Froger, De Dijk en Golden Earring. If not, you
know the Dutch Swing College Band, the Blue Diamonds,
the Kilima Hawaiians, and Liesbeth List.
You count on excellent medical treatment.
You know you're not going to die of cholera or other
Third World diseases. You expect very strong measures
to be taken to save very ill babies or people in their
eighties. You think dying at 65 would be a tragedy.
You take it for granted that health care insurance is
universal, and even grant illegal immigrants the right
to basic medical assistance.
You went over Dutch and European history
in school, not much Russian, Chinese, or American. You
couldn't name the last four wars that your country was
involved in. You expect the military to contribute to
peacekeeping operations, not get involved in politics.
Having successfully led a military operation is not
an advantage in a political career. You used to have
conscription, but now it's an all-volunteer force. You
have never heard of the names of the heads of the services.
Your country came into being by liberating
itself from the Spanish, and has been occupied by the
French (no hard feelings) and the Germans (lots of hard
You're used to a wide variety of choices
for almost anything you buy.
You use the metric system. The only
exception is that a pond (pound) is half a kilogram,
and an ons (ounce) is 100 grams.
You are not a farmer.
What? They give Joost Swarte
Comics typically appear as hardbound
books (albums). Comics sometimes but not always appear
first in specialized comics magazines. All newspapers
and most magazines carry at least one comic, too. Comics
are mainly Dutch, Belgian and French in origin. Unless
you are a fan, you consider comics something for children,
or akin to watching TV soaps, except for Olivier B.
Bommel, which is regarded as High Literature.
The people who appear on the most popular
talk shows are mostly entertainers and politicians.
Authors are seen on TV too, to promote their books.
You drive on the right side of the road.
You stop at red lights even if nobody's around. If you're
a pedestrian and cars are stopped at a red light, you
will fearlessly cross the street in front of them.
You consider the Volkswagen Beetle to
be a small to medium sized car.
The police are armed, but not with submachine
If a woman is plumper than the average,
it doesn't improve her looks.
The biggest meal of the day is in the
The nationality people most often make
jokes about is the Belgians.
There's parts of the city you where
you walk carefully at night.
You feel that the government is a bit
out of touch with the citizens, sometimes.
You wouldn't expect both inflation and
unemployment to be very high (say, over 15%) at the
same time. High unemployment may occur, high inflation
You don't care very much what family
someone comes from.
The normal thing, when a couple dies,
is for their estate to be divided equally between their
You think of opera and ballet as somewhat
elite entertainments. It's likely you don't see that
many plays, either.
Peace on Earth, let's just try
it / And shouldn't you be on a diet?
Christmas is in the winter. Unless you're
Muslim or Jewish, you spend it with your family, and
put up a tree. Presents are given at December 5th, St.
Nicolas day, and you include satirical rhymes where
you gently point out people's bad habits.
Although there are traces of the major
religious divisions that your country had in the past,
the church has no power to speak of. There is a state
church where the coronation takes place, but this has
no practical consequences.
You know the capitals of Europe, but
you know the leaders only for the larger countries.
The only US state you can pinpoint is probably California.
You are familiar with Lucky Luke, Asterix,
Guust Flater (Gaston Lagaffe) and Kuifje (Tintin), but
you aren't familiar with Spiderman, Sailor Moon, Mafalda,
Ralph König or Judge Dredd, although all these
comics have been translated into Dutch.
You've left a message at the beep.
Taxis are generally operated by locals,
who tend to drive a bit too fast.
Unemployment benefits are your right,
you've paid for them after all, and of course people
who don't have any money should get welfare-- should
they starve or what? But you also think that there are
a lot of people cheating the system.
If you want to be a doctor, you need
to get a doctoraal (masters) degree first. Bachelors
degrees don't exist.
There aren't that many lawyers, and
you will need them only if you go to court, not for
a business deal.
The trouble with the neighbors
You don't really know what to think
about your neighbors the Belgians. In general you think
they are happier, less intelligent, more corrupt, and
simultaneously more formal and informal than the Dutch.
They speak Dutch, but in a funny way, unless they speak
French. Their beer is the best. You get along well with
them. A good thing about Belgians is that they are not
arrogant. (They think the Dutch are arrogant and stingy,
and make jokes about them).
Germany and the Germans are overbearing
neighbors. You get along well with them, but Germans
are known to be arrogant, which you are always alert
to point out them. The war is not forgotten, and most
people have elderly family members who were killed,
deported or otherwise mistreated by the Nazis. Germany
never returned the bicycles it stole, either. Even the
most politically correct can make jokes or disparaging
remarks about Germans and get away with it. Your greatest
dream is beating Germans in the World Cup finals.
France is a country that doesn't understand
your soft drugs policy. This is arrogant. It is a great
place for summer vacation, and you like their cheese
The USA provides most of your entertainment,
as well as technical innovation. If a non-American explains
to you that something is better in the US than in the
Netherlands, you will explain that American ideas will
not work in the Dutch context. If an American tells
you things are better in the US, you just think that
he's arrogant. Apart from always telling you that things
are better in the US, Americans are nice people. Your
country has more money invested in the US than any other
country in the world.
Japan is a faraway country that produces
cars and video recorders. If Japan is on the news, it
is probably because they still haven't apologized for
the mistreatment of Dutch citizens during World War
II. You have never seen or heard a Japanese comic, pop
song or movie.
You don't think much about the UK. They
produce pop music and football hooligans. Our Royal
House shows how things should be done. Their Royal House
shows how things shouldn't be done.
Your Highness, I want to be
called Kuifje Kilima
You think it ridiculous that any private
person would want to have a firearm. The government
should protect you against such people.
You think it normal that any woman who
wants to can get an abortion, a nd that sex education
and contraceptives are freely available. It's nothing
out of the ordinary to see naked breasts on TV and in
You have never heard of Creationism.
Your country used to have colonies but
you rarely think about this.
You think development aid is a Good
Thing. Sending money for arms isn't. You think human
rights should be most important in foreign aid decisions.
Journalists may write about everything
but usually avoid the private life of public people.
They only talk about private life (I'm not talking about
the gutter press here) when people choose to make their
private life public.
You think people shouldn't make themselves
more important than they are, we are all normal people
Having a Royal House and a Queen is
a Good Thing. Why, you're not sure.
Changing your name is very difficult.
It takes a lot of paperwork, you need to convince the
authorities that you have a good reason to change your
name, and you need the Queen's permission (yes, really!)
You can drink alcohol at age 16. IDs
are not often asked for.
If male, you are uncircumcised, unless
you are Muslim or Jewish.
You were born in a hospital or at home
(these are about equally likely) and were delivered by
a midwife, general practitioner or gynecologist. Unless
she had a cesarean, your mother did not take anesthesia
during the delivery. Your father was most likely present
at your birth.