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Dealing With Dutch Directness

When I’m in a charitable mood, the Dutch are known for being blunt. When I’m in a less than a charitable mood, the Dutch are known for being assholes. Call it Dutch directness if you will, but it’s one of the biggest complaints from expats.

Cultures clash. That’s a universal truth. We’ve all heard stories or borne witness to people misunderstanding one another’s culture and the resulting fall out. The friction is a bit clearer in some cases. In Korea, it’s acceptable to slurp your soup, in the US it is not.

The problem with the Dutch directness issue is that some Dutch people are assholes and deserve to be told as much. Figuring out the line between what they find to be culturally acceptable and what is actually rude is pretty much impossible. React badly to too many comments and you’re labeled as sensitive, push back to often and you’re labeled as rude. It’s a no-win situation.

The Dutch directness is made worse by another Dutch culture tradition of egalitarianism. Everyone’s opinion in the Netherlands is considered valid. Business meetings are conducted by including the input of everyone and hashing out a solution only after everyone’s voice is heard. So not only will Dutch people say basically anything, they also think their opinion on a myriad of subjects is valid and should therefore give it to you.

I’ve had interactions with colleagues where, after getting so fed up of listening to their opinions, I reacted so harshly I thought I would be fired only to instead be invited out for coffee. I’ve been offered unsolicited opinions on my hair, my weight, my clothing, my travel plans, my relationships and that’s just this month. I’ve been complained to, by the same person, for not being aggressive enough and being too aggressive when advocating for a solution to a business problem.

This piece isn’t culminating in a series of solutions for this problem because I have none to offer. I oscillate between ignoring their remarks and being silently smug about my clearly superior manners to arguing contentiously about every single point.

I’d move back to the US but then I’d have to deal with Americans.

  • karahlynn

    Thanks for this article. I’m teaching a marketing and social media class for ESL students, and I have a female Dutch student that just baffles my normal teaching flow on so many levels: unsolicited opinions, interrupting, reminding me of miniscule promises I’d forgotten about, ignoring “thank yous”… etc. So, from one ginger to another: an un-superficial thanks for the info. Takeaway for me: gonna be more direct (even it this is a bit shocking to my Asian students).

  • Molly Rene

    I thought I had pretty tough skin before I came here and I’ve now lived here for three years. I regularly interact with Dutch people.

    And yet, this morning, a Dutch colleague sent me an email that made me want to tear my hair out it was so “rude.”

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