There are some things the Dutch don’t talk about that they really, really should. What on earth is in ‘bitterballen’? And why is the Netherlands a tax haven?
From the absence of curtains to the unspoken presence of colonialism, the Dutch really should address some of these things. That being said, we don’t address Sinterklaas and his problematic helper – that’s a whole other conversation on its own.
1. Curtains: why don’t they close them?
Listen. In most countries, people close their curtains when night falls, because the darkness outside means that everything you do inside your house can be seen from outside. We knew the Dutch are into openness, but open curtains? Really?
For better or worse, Dutch people tend to keep their curtains open in the evening, especially in their living and dining rooms.
You can see families chatting, eating together, or watching TV as you stroll through the city, which is lovely. But also weird. Why don’t we talk about this more?
2. Bureaucracy: never a topic at the Dutch dinner table
There’s no doubt that a little bit of bureaucracy is great. Even a lot of bureaucracy is great. But the Netherlands goes way too far on this front, and many internationals especially struggle with it.
It seems like a bad joke when you first hear that you need to have a fixed address to get a BSN, which you need to get a job, which you need to have to be able to afford a fixed address.
Alas, it is true, and it is a struggle. Dutch people, though, don’t ever talk about this! Presumably, because they’ve been indoctrinated since birth to tell the government everything about themselves.
Or maybe those of us from somewhat disorganised countries just aren’t used to this level of organisation.
3. Feminism: the Netherlands is not top-ranking when it comes to gender equality
The Netherlands prides itself on having gender equality, and in general, on being a country with progressive values. However, discussions on feminist issues in the Netherlands regarding gender equality do not happen very often.
Gender pay gap:— Dr. Amarendra Bhushan Dhiraj (@ceoworld) November 16, 2016
S Korea 36%
New Zealand 5.6% pic.twitter.com/fJjTK7TOrC
With only 11% of men taking paternity leave, there is still a significant pay gap between the genders here. Although the Netherlands has moved up on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report in 2023, it still only ranks number 28 in the world when it comes to gender equality.
There is a real danger in being too complacent and self-satisfied with past progress when it comes to these issues. Of course, there are plenty of places you’ll be worse off as a woman — but the Netherlands still has a long way to go, and talking about feminism is just the beginning.
4. We’re sinking! Does anyone want to talk about this? No?
The Netherlands is sinking 🤩🤩 pic.twitter.com/7q1KHBPROx— Election Memes for Pingu Teens (@EEMemez) February 6, 2021
With sea levels set to rise as a result of climate change, it’s weird that most Dutchies don’t talk about the distinct possibility of, well, being underwater soon.
To be fair, though, the Netherlands is strong on innovation, especially when it comes to making things more sustainable — so we’re quite confident that, eventually, they’ll start talking about this *minor* problem and come up with a solution.
5. Dutch colonialism: the historical elephant in the room
As is the case with most former colonial powers, the Dutch don’t talk about colonisation nearly enough. Generally, the VOC and the Dutch Golden Age are viewed as a part of history that the Dutch can be proud of.
But, as closer inspection shows, these eras were as full of exploitation and racism as art, trade, and nationalism. There is still an unwillingness to talk about this among Dutchies, including at museums like the Rijksmuseum, which won’t stop using the term “Golden Age”.
6. The Netherlands is a tax haven: Shhhh!
Another awkward one: the Netherlands is an internationally renowned tax haven, which is not something that we ought to be proud of. But it’s also something we have to talk about in order for it to change.
me figuring out my taxes pic.twitter.com/dKXAmNAm3L— cécile 🐦⬛ (@haraiva) October 27, 2019
The Netherlands has created an effective strategy for encouraging foreign investment: offering multinational companies an enticing package of subsidies and tax breaks if they choose to locate here.
Not only does that create a “race to the bottom” among countries across the world, the end result of which would be a very low tax rate for corporations — it also vastly reduces the amount of tax revenue the Netherlands gets.
Ultimately forcing it to put higher taxes on working and middle-class people.
7. ‘Bitterballen’: what’s really in them, and do we want to know?
While internationals living in the Netherlands love to complain about Dutch food, Dutch people themselves barely mention it. Is this out of grief? Perhaps. But it may also be because there is a dark secret behind the ingredients of the nation’s favourite snack — bitterballen.
Usually eaten alongside alcohol (so you forget to wonder what you’re eating), Dutch people point-blank refuse to tell you what is in these salty, fried, vaguely meaty snacks.
This might be one thing we’re kind of glad that Dutch people don’t talk about — because we don’t want to have to say goodbye to these potentially snail-filled snacks.
What other things do the Dutch not talk about that you think they should? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in January 2020, and was fully updated in August 2023 for your reading pleasure.