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How friendly are the Dutch?

21 January 2008, 00:00

Every society has its stereotypes. The origins of almost all stereotypes can be directly traced back to the cultural habits and practices of a society. Dutch society is no exception to the rule.

As a matter of fact, Dutch society has more than its fair share of stereotypes. Catch phrases like `going Dutch', `Dutch courage' and `Dutch treat' were coined centuries ago by the English, when the Dutch were their most despised military and commercial rivals. As years passed, these slang phrases gave rise to certain stereotypes. Whereas the stereotypes, such as the ones mentioned above, are intended to project the Dutch in a bad light and poke fun at them, there are quite a few modern perceptions of the Dutch that are complimenting to their way of life.

Perhaps the most common portrayal of the Dutch society is the stereotype that the Dutch are friendly and open-minded. In the perception of many foreigners, the Dutch are amongst the friendliest and the most accommodating people in Europe, and they will readily accept a foreigner into their social circles. This view is accentuated by the fact that a vast majority of the Dutch can and are willing to converse with non-Dutch speaking people in English, the quasi lingua franca of the internet age.

The question begs asking; are the Dutch really as friendly and open-minded as they are portrayed to be? Well, according to Vishnu Vardhan Pully, a PhD student at the Biophysical Engineering Group (TNW), the answer is an emphatic yes! He says, `it is obvious that the Dutch are very friendly. They are ever ready to accept a foreigner as one among them.' He adds `Though I come from India, which is a multi-cultural country, I find the Dutch culture to be quite unique.'

Salma Hamdi from Tunisia, who is working on her PhD at the Production Technology Group (CTW), echoes Pully's views. She says, `in my opinion, the most prominent aspects of the Dutch culture are friendliness, helpfulness and the outgoing nature of the people, in that order.' But she offers a word of caution: `socialising in Dutch culture is constrained by some rules and is limited to some games. The Dutch tend to socialise over games like darts and bowling, which are not played by everyone. This results in the isolation of a large number of people, especially foreigners. She adds, `Nevertheless, for those foreigners, who are ready and willing to integrate into Dutch culture, living here is much easier, even more so than in their own home country.'

Rob Bosman, a straight talking, no-nonsense Dutch PhD student at the Laboratory for Surface Technology and Tribology (CTW) presents a different viewpoint on his country's culture: `yes, the Dutch are friendly and they do accept the presence of other cultures in the Netherlands, but the open-mindedness of a normal Dutch person leaves a lot to be desired. A willingness to show interest in other cultures is something a lot of Dutch people lack.'

On the issue of integration of foreigners into Dutch society, Bosman thinks, `within the university, integration is not a problem because everyone speaks at least basic English, and I think integration starts with communication.' For foreigners, Bosman suggest this: `a basic knowledge of the Dutch language is a good start to integrate within the community outside of the university.'

It is fair to say that though Hamdi, Pully and Bosman have differing views on the open-mindedness of Dutch people, they are all in agreement that the Dutch are friendly people. That Hamdi and Pully have recommended to some of their friends and relatives to move to the Netherlands to work or study is surely a tribute to the friendliness of the Dutch.

On being asked to single out an aspect of Dutch culture that is not his cup of tea, Pully opines, `the candidness of the Dutch can sometimes be too direct for people belonging to other cultures to digest. But most of the time, it really helps to sort out issues quickly.'

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