By AMANDA VAN MULLIGEN
Bluntness. Directness. Criticism. Call it what you will but the Dutch habit of telling it like it is leaves some expats with a cultural conundrum.
Growing up in Britain I was taught to be tactful. “Don’t hurt people’s feelings, let them down gently.” But here in the Netherlands the Dutch believe in telling you directly what they think, and in such an efficient way that it leaves no room for misunderstanding. So Brits are among those who find the Dutch communication style abrasive. Many non-natives see the Dutch as pushy.
Yet other foreigners welcome the no-nonsense approach. They find it liberating to join the straight-talking ranks, to say what they mean without offending people. According to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, it is precisely this Dutch trait which allows for open, honest debate about Islam in the Netherlands.
The Dutch, on the other hand, find the politeness of the Americans insincere and the stiff upper lip of the Brits an alien concept. Cultural traits from different planets. The bumbling Brit trying to sugar coat a negative message often fails to get the point across to a foreign listener.
Who’s to say what’s right and what’s wrong? Is it rudeness or honesty? Is it politeness or lying?
Maybe it has nothing to do with politeness. After all, complete strangers in the Netherlands acknowledge and greet each other in semi-public places like doctors’ waiting rooms and lifts — something that Brits just don’t do. In the same situation Brits would avert their eyes and study the button panel in great depth. We Brits have perfected the art of putting blinkers on and pretending that everyone within a mile radius is invisible. Is that polite?
How do you handle the cultural norms of another country when they contradict everything you have been brought up to believe?
Amanda van Mulligen is a British-born writer, blogger and mother experiencing life in the Netherlands.