Let me start by a confession: “Dutch people are pretty direct, yet we Dutchies do not perceive ourselves to be direct, at least not in a rude way. While the world is shocked by the way we handle delicate situations, Dutch people in general just wonder why people from non-Dutch background are so “unclear” in their communication”. There, that was my confession. We know it, yet we don’t understand it, we just think we are very “clear”.
The short answer to the history of this phenomenon is that the majority of the world’s population communicates in an indirect way while Dutch people communicate in a direct way. Another way to formulate this, is by saying Dutchies see black, they see white, but they don’t see grey. While the rest of the world sees various shades of grey. Do you know those blinders hoses wear sometimes? Dutch people have them too, in fact it’s our default setting. “It’s not possible”, is an often heard sentence in the Netherlands when you are not from here. You want your dame blanch with without chocolate sauce? Sorry, that’s not possible. Meaning, it’s not on our menu. I know I might be a bit stereotyping right now, but since I am Dutch, I think I can get away with making these bold statements. Plus, it serves a purpose as you will read about in a bit. For now, just remember Dutchies, flexible as steel and proud of it!
The funny thing is, as I started this little story, Dutch people don’t perceive “the truth” to be like this. Coming from a place where black and white are the only two options being clear in your communication is considered to be very important. Back to the dame blanch without chocolate sauce that was not on the menu, therefor not “the truth”, or how it should be according to this waiter. The poor boy just tried to be very clear in this communication.
Now what does this way of looking at the world say about personal relations? What types of relations do we actually know? We know homogamy, where the people in a relationship have mostly similar characteristics such as social class, religion, income, and education. The more similarities the better. Then we have heterogamy where partners agree about various life aspects but come from different backgrounds and therefore have for example different social characteristics. Then last variation is complementarity, where the partners are the absolute opposite from each other, and complement each other fully. Basically, complementarity combines both individuals in such a way both individuals enhance and emphasize the qualities of the other.
See the Netherlands, being a small country with over 17 million people from many different backgrounds, has many intercultural relationships that work perfectly. These can be work related relationships, friends or romantic relations. If people want to find a way, they find a way. No matter how much their characteristics may differ. The following applies to every culture though: the more similarities, the more pleasant we feel near the other person. Research has shown that these similarities don’t have to be built on major life aspects such as social class or education, the type of similarities we are looking for in any personal relation can be found in the categories of: both loving politics/long beach walks/having dogs/loving pizza and so on. Everyone knows that people who are married for more than 20 ears even look the same. No matter what their cultural background is.
Although this applies to people who are friends or who have a relationship, unfortunately by no means this same link can be made in a society. First of all, as a non Dutchie, not speaking the local language or partially speaking the local language there are some linguistic boundaries. If you manage to overcome those (long live google life translation) there are still about 1001 unspoken and unwritten rules. I am not saying this is not the case in any other country, but the whole black-white thing can make bringing your point across a Dutchie a challenge. You need to know what buttons to push basically, since in most social encounters you are not in fact engaging in a relationship. The other person, in this case your Dutch waiter/cashier/hairdresser/GP is not looking for any similarities to accommodate you the way people in general would do in a personal relation.
A video that is going viral right now, and that demonstrates the Dutch directness very clear is this one:
The Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is interrupting President Trump to tell him “No, it’s not positive” on Trumps idea of not having any trade deals with the EU. No bullshitting, no saving face, very clear. At the same time the Americans were wondering who that guy with the suit and the glasses was, to just interrupt Trump like that. Dutch are direct, but also righteous and with being clear and direct in their communication they will call on injustice or iniquity when they see it. Presidential setting or not, being transparent about your motivation remains more important than anything else for the Dutch.