Getting the Hang of My Own Culture

(Courtesy of
(Courtesy of

Although I’m not an expat, I enjoy reading the blogs written by expats about the Netherlands.  It’s insightful to know about their experiences, especially when it comes down to Dutch habits like directness, or birthday well-wishing.

Rude, direct of efficient?

The most re-occurring experience is the rude attitude we have.  (See for example Netherlands by Numbers.  They dedicated an entire blog to this topic.)  We prefer to call this directness, but I suppose it all depends on the point of view.  Yet whether it’s rudeness, directness or maybe just efficiency, it all comes down to how it’s experienced by someone unfamiliar to it.

A way to find an answer to that is by venturing into the Realm of Commentary.  It can be enjoyable and silly, but at a certain point it’ll change into a battlefield of misunderstandings, run amok emotions, and unrelated issues.  Whether the statements in the blog post itself and the comments are true, it’s most likely true to the people writing them.  It’s their experience after all and there’s little to do about that.

Nice meeting you

Closely related to the rudeness is distance, which Benny Lewis writes about on his blog Fluent in 3 Months in the post Strange Habits (Nr. 11 is about the Netherlands).  Making friends with the Dutch is apparently as easy as finding the Holy Grail.  It seems we’re not too keen on calling everybody a friend after speaking to someone for half an evening.

My first impression was Really?  Immediately followed by, well that is rather accurate actually.  I just never considered this to be something Dutch.  Apparently we have a stricter definition of friend or acquaintance.


I like birthdays in general, meeting up with friends and family, meeting new people, having a drink together, it’s all very nice.  On I Am Expat Zsuzsa Jonas talks about Dutch birthdays as a bit of a strange but handy place to practice your Dutch: where you congratulate everybody that is present.  That’s a lot of “Gefeliciteerd” for one evening, especially if you’re the last to arrive!  (Personally, I wouldn’t mind if we’d let go of this one, but it never struck me as odd.)

Birthdays can also be celebrated at work; usually it doesn’t involve singing and presents, but it often happens that the birthday boy or girl brings treats to work for his/her colleagues in honour of their birthday.  I guess the ‘Dutch habits’ list keeps growing.


There are, no doubt, many more habits that reside in my cultural blind spot.  In books, short stories or articles, I like to read about seemingly odd habits, as it helps create awareness of differences, rather than shrugging it off as strange or silly.  And I think being aware of cultural differences helps in understanding why people behave the way they do.

But most of all, it’s fascinating.

So, please share your encounters…

…with odd habits…



5 thoughts on “Getting the Hang of My Own Culture

  1. Huh, maybe I need to move to the Netherlands, because usually after talking with someone for half an evening I’ve just gone ahead and married them. I think you’re onto something with the idea of waiting a while to decide whether to befriend someone. Seriously, it is so interesting to get a look at one’s own culture the way outsiders must view it with all of our unspoken communication and social understandings. I’m always impressed at people who move easily from one country to another and get adept at picking up on the customs and less-direct ways of interacting. Deep down, are we all still quite similar or not? It’s very fun to try to decide and certainly wonderful when something happens to breach the gap between you and someone from somewhere else and you both delight in it.

  2. I’m not certain I would call someone that I’d talked with for half an evening a “friend.” We would need to plan to do something together, do it and enjoy it, and plan to do something again before I would call someone a friend. Or, we would need to establish lasting communication of some sort for me to call someone a friend.

    I know plenty of Americans who bring treats in honor of their birthdays, starting in kindergarten, so that doesn’t seem any different from my own experience.

    Congratulating everyone seems like a nice thing to do, so I wouldn’t call it strange, either.

    Hmmm. Maybe I’m strange?

  3. I do find this very interesting! I have never swum in the mainstream of American culture, and I cringe to think that anyone would lump me in with the crowd. I don’t like the idea of perpetuating stereotypes, as there are always degrees and exceptions and exaggerations. But there is probably something to the concept of, not so much a national character, but a disposition toward certain characteristics and expectations.

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