Coming to a North European country, I had certain preconceptions about the ways and habits of the people here: hyper-organized (check), sport-obsessed (check), crazy tall (check!), and socially reserved? Well…
|Obviously, it’s corona times, so personal space is far more important than usual. Dutchies are advised to keep 1.5m from each other — but honestly, that often doesn’t happen despite the RIVM’s guidelines. So it’s definitely worth looking at the cultural background of this phenomenon.|
One thing I was not ready for is the complete lack of personal space in the Netherlands! And here I thought that I was finally among people who despised physical vicinity to strangers as much as I do…
Now before I dive into the most common occurrences of the Dutch lack of personal space, I am sure there are plenty of Dutchies who know the dangers of coming too close to another unwilling human, but on average the personal space diameter is down at least 50% compared to the Italian one. We Italians (or Latinos, or any southern culture really) are touchy, yes, but only with people we feel close to.
Personal space in the Netherlands: in a queue
You would think Dutchies were good at making a line, but you’ll be confronted with the harsh reality that they are not. Whether at the supermarket, at the exit of the train station or at the airport gate, you’ll see a mass of people swarming around and ignoring the fact that I WAS BEFORE YOU!
I suspect this has to do with a couple of things: first of all, they don’t get mad if somebody is quicker than them and cuts the line. So they assume you won’t get mad either (wrong).
Secondly, they stand really really close to you (if you’re short like me, you might feel threatened by their sheer size), so it feels like they might cut alongside you at any moment. No customary personal queue space is granted, acknowledging your spot in the line and the intention to respect it.
Personal space in the Netherlands: in an elevator
Once you step into the elevator, you might want to place yourself in the far corner so that you don’t have to face strangers’ yawns, smoke smells or just unwanted vicinity; Dutch people don’t mentally divide the available space equally so that everyone has their own. Instead, they just step in and stay where they are, regardless of the fact that another human is 10 cm away from them and the lift is otherwise empty.
I know, how crazy is that?!
Personal space in the Netherlands: chatter on public transport
When on public transport, I generally like minding my own business, reading, listening to music etc. An effective way to convey this intention is to put on headphones, face the window and basically get absorbed by the activity.
In the Netherlands, this might be disturbed by the frequent person sitting (very) close to you despite the empty wagon and the occasional Chatter who taps your shoulder to start a conversation.
The first type can be spotted frequently in the wild train lands. Anthropologists are puzzled by his/her behaviour and have not yet found what might cause it. The leading hypothesis is that the human in question is cold and needs outer sources of heat to survive.
The second specimen is however quite rare (luckily), usually in need of emotional closeness rather than a physical one; despite the evident discomfort of its targets, and unaware of its own risk, the Chatter will start by using a ploy (often travelling info) and will keep on ignoring your need for personal space (and personal time) until you relocate.
Hopefully, your next destination is home, where you can keep on being an introvert with the need of personal space of a Yeti!
What about personal space when dating? Check this out.
Did you also experience
an utter disregard a difference in the perception of personal space in the Netherlands? Let us know in the comments!
Feature Image: Aurora Signorazzi/Supplied
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in November 2018 and was updated in December 2020 for your reading pleasure.