7 things the Dutch don’t talk about, but should

There are some things the Dutch don’t talk about that they really really should. What on earth are bitterballen? Why are we a tax haven?

This article ranges from the absence of curtains to the unspoken presence of colonialism, but, for your information, it does not talk about Sinterklaas’s problematic helper, which the Dutch definitely talk about more than enough.

Dutchies don’t close their windows

Listen. In most civilised countries, people close their curtains when night falls and the darkness outside means that everything you do inside your house can be seen from outside. We knew the Dutch were 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?

Bureaucracy: never a topic at the Dutch dinner table

things dutch people don't talk about
Dutch people might not talk about bureaucracy, but we internationals sure do. Image: DutchReview.

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.

Dutch people don’t like discussing feminism

The Netherlands prides itself in having gender equality, and in general, on being a country with progressive values. However, discussions on feminist issues the Netherlands regarding gender equality do not happen very often. Or at all, in my experience.

With only 10 percent of men taking paternity leave, there is still a significant pay gap between the genders here. The Netherlands recently dropped to 38th 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 of that.

Anyone want to talk about how we’re all sinking? No?

Look, we understand why you’d want to ignore this one. No one wants to think about being accidentally underwater, but the science has shown that the Netherlands is slowly sinking. Will we survive? As yet unclear.

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 under water 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.

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 has refused to stop using the term ‘Golden Age’.

Shhhh! The Netherlands is a tax haven

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.

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, forcing it to put higher taxes on working and middle-class people.

Can someone please explain what bitterballen are?

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 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. 

Feature image: Rudy and Peter Skitterians/Pixabay
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in January 2020, and was fully updated in November 2020 for your reading pleasure.

Ailish Lalor
Ailish Lalor
Ailish was born in Sydney, Australia, but grew up by a forest in south-east Ireland, which she has attempted to replace with a living room filled with plants in The Hague. Besides catering to her army of pannenkoekenplantjes, Ailish spends her days convincing her friends that all food is better slightly burnt, plotting ways to hang out with dogs and cats, and of course, writing for DutchReview.


  1. Great eye opening article. Thank you. No society or country is perfect but change is needed. Social justice, income equality and fairness are basic tenets of a true democracy. Support political parties and candidates in future elections who stand and fights for those ideals.

  2. #1 is true, why bother having a nice home if it doesn’t envy your neighbor. 😉
    #2: True, the struggle is real, not just for those coming here.
    #3: Sadly true. What can I say, I try to get the correct people elected but others don’t do the same 🙁
    #4: “this minor problem and come up with a solution” nuff said
    #5: Yes and no There is certainly room for a lot of improvement, I am thinking about things like the Black Pete discussion, public exposure (Art, de Gouden Koets, monuments etc). On the other hand in schools it is told, well at least it was in my days (30ish years ago) and it was clear for me we have been a bunch of assholes. I tend to think, that would not have been the case if they would have “whitewashed”
    #6: True but I think we are starting to do better
    #7: There is absolutely no secret what is inside bitterballen. The exact same thing that is inside kroketten 🙂

  3. The Dutch don’t complain about the role of “Zwarte Piet”, Black Peter, who has been criticized, abused and scolded by so many foreign rooted people. This personality is usually a white person with a blackened face, who accompanies Saint Nicolas, who comes to reward or scold the children on their behaviors and studies. The actual person of Saint Nicolas is a person who freed slaves from slavery and if they wanted, could stay with him. Now many opportunists want to abolish this feast, that is made only to give joy to basically the children and their parents. We should complain, but don’t!

  4. History generally. I honestly wonder do they study history in school? Also politics generally. When I try to get colleagues at work to explain things I don’t understand on the news about arguments in parliament I mostly get blank looks.

  5. Terrible article filled with Social Justice Warrior propaganda. You are not interested in our country, you are solely interested in spreading your political views.

    The article is outright insulting.
    What good does it do to “speak about the history of colonialism”? We all know this was a thing in the past and nobody is doing it any more. We also don’t talk about witch burnings, which were awful. But its quite boring to keep talking about things which there is a consensus about.

    Don’t get me started on feminism. It should be measured by equal opportunity, not equal outcome. People and men and women are allowed to make different career and personal choices. This doesn’t make us sexist, it’s just an outcome of individual freedom. You don’t understand the first thing about scientific interpretation of data, clearly.

    I’d be happy to discuss and/or debate any of this with you and post it online. I won’t let you slander our small beautiful multiculti country like this!


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