Going Dutch

From the start of womankind, humans have made distinctions about “in-groups” and “out-groups”. At birth, you recognize your parents, and cry anxiously when another person tries to hold you. As we mature, and begin to think more critically about the world around us, and, *hopefully* we recognize that in order to live a rich and fulfilling we must seek out people and perspectives different from our own.

I mean, let’s face it, the most revolutionary inventions are ones that connect people from all over (Facebook and twitter); or concepts that combine a myriad of cultures (has anyone hopped on the new Korean taco trend?).

Despite this, it doesn’t take more than simply looking at our friend groups to realize many of the people we are closest to; look like us, enjoy the same things, and live in similar neighborhoods.

When we don’t have personal experiences with diverse groups of people, the stereotypes we hear become all we know. When these generalizations are negative they can lead to travesty; some examples include, but are definitely not limited to, police brutality in America and the muslim ban. Even when we perceive the stereotypes as positive, they block our ability to see people as more than, “the smart Asian” or “my gay best friend”.

In theory, it should be easy to immerse myself in a culture that, based on stereotypes, looks very similar to my own—many of the Dutch are tall, blonde, and on time.

However, generalizations can never account for the range of human experience. A large percentage of the Dutch population is Turkish, Moroccan, or Surinamese— not tall and blonde. Nonetheless, they are far more Dutch than I will ever be.

The Dutch Fulbright Center gifted us with Dutch Ditz by Reinildis van Ditzhuyzen, a cultural anthropologist. Ditzhuyzen interviews expats from a variety of nationalities, asking them what surprised them, annoyed them, and what they appreciate about Dutch culture. She then compiled the interviews, analyzed trends to write a book that explains Dutch greetings, customs, and common cultural clashes. Just as Emily Post painted etiquette rules as a one-size-fits all, Ditzhuyzen’s book clumps all the Dutch together with a perceived homogeneity.

As flawed as making a book full of stereotypes is, reading it helped to explain the the basis for some of the observations I have made.

Here is an abbreviated list of what (according to Dutch Ditz), makes the Dutch, Dutch:

1. The Dutch are blunt.

They will tell you exactly what is on their mind and what they think of you.

2. The Dutch are on time.

They love appointments, efficiency and schedules. My experience at the bank is supports this…

3. The Dutch are averse to hierarchy.

They have over 20 political parties that work together to form coalitions. No party has held a majority of seats since 1897. The Dutch compromise. Another example, when someone enters a room at a meeting, regardless of position, they shake each person’s hand.

It’s a party, it’s a party

4. The Dutch love tea and coffee.

I was offered coffee or tea at every apartment that I visited. I would also accept and had conversations with the most interesting people.

Dutch and tea are mint to be!

5. The Dutch keep a work/life balance.

Many Dutch teachers, especially primary school, will only work part-time. It is not uncommon for parents to work four-day weeks when raising children. When the weekend comes the Dutch shut off their emails and enjoy their time.

6. The Dutch ride bikes and build dikes.

I am slowly becoming accustomed to the number of bikes on the road. Additionally, biking safety is taught in schools to promote safe riding! As far as the dikes go, Amsterdam is below sea level. The famous saying is “God created the world, but the Dutch created The Netherlands”. The Dutch have been able to harness the power of water, and keep an entire country afloat.

Sad news: the derailer on Purple Rain was trying to be too fancy and did an irreparable somersault

Good news: I bought a Dutch bike. Meet Whoopi Goldberg, complete with a basket and pedal brakes.

7. The Dutch have an excellent quality of life and are happy people.

Aside from Scandinavian countries, The Dutch are ranked as being some of the happiest people. Students in school also experience far less bullying than in the US (3% vs. 19%).

8. The Dutch dress casually.

When I first arrived, I looked around and thought “I love the style here! It is like Brooklyn, meets California, with a twist of ‘I don’t give f I want to be comfortable'”. While that holds true, after reading up some more on “Dutch style”, the consensus is that they are overwhelmingly casual, and not stylish at all. It probably goes without saying, but I fit right in.

I purchased a pair for everyday of the week. JK. I already brought 4 pairs of joggers with me!

9. Dutch food isn’t great.

While stampot (a combination of mashed potatoes and vegetables) might not be the most delicious thing, it is nutritious. Additionally, the growing immigrant population has brought food from all over. Last week, I had the best falafel ever. Furthermore, even though the general consensus is that Dutch cooking lacks flavor, don’t be mistaken, the Dutch can still cook. My roommate (Air BnB host) Renske makes the best soups, pancakes and this traditional Dutch casserole, and has been kind enough to share.

Kept eating until I was Fala-FULL

10. The Dutch motto is "act normal"

This might be one of the things that I am the most curious about, because what exactly is "normal"?

How do you build a tolerance of diversity, when by definition it means different from the norm...to be continued...

I have no doubt that, as I continue to meet people, hear individual stories, and build my own narrative of The Netherlands, my knowledge of Dutch stereotypes will impact me. It is not rare for something to happen and for me to immediately categorize it, “that’s so Dutch.”

Eating at Turkish and Moroccan restaurants, and being intentional about visiting diverse schools, I hope to see the whole Dutch picture. Because, not everyone here is tall, blonde, and on time, and stereotypes ultimately stop us from seeing the complexities of culture.

Do you have a story about how stereotypes have impacted your life? Are stereotypes always harmful?

Read Moore