Why don’t the Dutch like to use curtains?

Dutch culture is notoriously open-minded. Controversial topics such as abortion, drug use, euthanasia, homosexuality and prostitution are viewed as fundamental, autonomous human rights.

Sex workers sitting in public view in the windows of the Red Light District is far from scandalous or immoral, despite being the stomping grounds for curious tourists.

However, when I moved to the Netherlands, there was something more shocking than the Red Light District that immediately crossed my mind.

It was the windows across the idyllic city of Amsterdam that offered an open and unshielded view into people’s own homes. So the question remains: why are the Dutch so averse to curtains? 🤔

Somewhere between religion and myths

Calvinism played a huge role in forming the mindset of Dutch society.

Although the majority of the Dutch today consider themselves atheists, the characteristics of Calvinism — hard work (although not too hard), discipline, and frugality — still heavily influence the general mindset.

Catholics believe in the purchasing of salvation by saving the soul from sin through Sunday donations and the tithe (donating 10% of your annual income).

Calvinists, on the other hand, believe that our destiny is already predetermined by God as sin inherently exists in each human as a result of Adam and Eve.

Consequently, a believer must prove their faith through their own economic activity and self-control.

READ MORE | Dutch Quirk #20: Be overwhelmingly stingy

The abundance of materialistic luxury that embodies the Catholic church is obviously a fundamental contradiction to any frugal Calvinist.

Historically, the clergy at the top enjoyed the benefits of financial gain, but always behind closed doors and — more importantly — closed curtains.

dachshund-looking-out-the-window
Nope, nothing shady to see here! Image: Depositphotos

Conversely, the Calvinist mentality focused on an open door policy with nothing to hide and, accordingly, open curtains. See what we’re getting at here?

Of course, there are always a few fictional tales circulating. One popular myth is that back in the day, men often spent a lot of time at sea, away from their wives.

What better way to instil some good old neighbourhood watch vibes than by adopting a culture of open windows?

It ensured that these lonely ladies didn’t get up to any mischief while their men were away. Closed curtains called for suspicion, whilst open curtains kept any harmful gossip at bay.

It’s a tossup between fear and faith

Growing up in the aftermath of predominant Catholicism, it’s still common in Ireland to see semitransparent lace blinds dominate living rooms during the daytime. And, once the sun sets, some thick blackout curtains to keep the heat in and any peering eyes out.

However, in the Netherlands, not only are curtains a rarity, but windows are generally larger.

READ MORE |Dutch Quirk #87: Invest way too much in window decorations to announce a new baby

There is a compromise that some Dutch submit to — vinyl stickers pasted on windows that force prying eyes to work a little harder whilst still maintaining a level of transparency, of course.

And a bit like consensual voyeurism

Apartment living in Amsterdam is tight on space, especially in my neighbourhood of The Nine Streets (De Negen Straatjes).

Buildings are tall and — dare I say — uncomfortably close to your neighbour’s curtain-less living room.

amsterdam-private-housing-free-sector
With houses as beautiful as this, it’s difficult to look away! Image: Depositphotos

Maybe it’s my natural curiosity or admiration for Dutch interior design, but sometimes I cannot help but look into my older neighbour’s beautiful living room.

But, any attempt at a friendly wave on my part is ignored as though I don’t exist. I genuinely don’t believe this is a scornful burn but rather an internalised acceptance of a cultural norm that I was previously oblivious to.

I tested this norm during the historic 40 degrees heatwave of July 2019, parading around in my bikini, demonstrating some terrible dance moves, and performing some questionable activities. But, nothing, niks, nada!

Despite this, and never having bumped into each other in the street or verbally chatted in some weird way, I feel like I know this stranger.

In fact, I’ve pretty much memorised his daily routine!

He always eats dinner at 7 PM on the couch, his sons visiting from time to time, has no partner, enjoys reading the newspaper in the morning, and likes inviting his friends over to watch football (but only when AFC Ajax are playing!)

Group-of-university-students-having-drinks
Knowing who your neighbour hangs out with on the regular is pretty common. Image: Depositphotos

But it’s not only my neighbour and I: many people live in what can only be described as a shop window.

Large paned windows, often with no curtains and the contents of the household on display to whoever walks by.

READ MORE | Pillarisation — or why do the Dutch have big windows

If you have seen The Truman Show with Jim Carey, this manner of living can only be described as a conscious form of surveillance.

However, this is where you can go back to the aforementioned Calvinist idea of self-control — no peeking!

So should you just do away with curtains?

I’ve made two conclusions from living in the land of no curtains:

After living in the Middle East for a few years and internalising a more conservative outlook, I’m beginning to ‘go Dutch’ in more ways than one. It’s safe to say that I can get on board with this open-minded mentality!

READ MORE | Dutch traits: 5 things you realise when you are becoming a bit Dutch

I rarely close my curtains, and I can now dance around my bedroom listening to Rockwell’s ‘Somebody’s Watching Me’ without having shivers go down my spine!

Don’t consider moving to the Netherlands to open up a successful curtain shop because it will more than likely fail.

What do you think about the Dutch and their lack of curtains? Have you been guilty of peering into someone’s house? Let us know in the comments below.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in October 2019, and was fully updated in December 2023 for your reading pleasure

Feature Image:Depositphotos
Holly Lenny
Holly Lenny
Holly hails from the Emerald Isle - Ireland. She has spent the last few years working in the media industry in Ireland, the Middle East, Spain and The Netherlands (finally – a country where her height – 187cm – isn’t the first topic of conversation!). A true Scorpio at heart – curious with an investigative streak and a passionate storyteller. Culture and communications are two of her biggest passions, the perfect combination for someone who never says no to a new adventure!

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13 COMMENTS

  1. I just love it and I’m guilty of having a collection of pictures of beautiful and stunning windows from every city I have visited during the year I have been living here

  2. It works both ways: the large open windows also give the Dutch a chance to see the outside world. The Netherlands being a country that is mostly flat, and with few trees, means that the Dutch are used to an unhindered view, all the way to the horizon. After seeing such a vista, they don’t really want to feel hemmed in by curtains in their already small houses. It would feel like being in a prison cell. And, of course, watching the goings on in the street is free entertainment. Often more interesting than what’s on the telly.

  3. This is incorrect:
    //
    Consequently, a believer must prove their faith through their own economic activity and self-control.
    //

    Faith is not required to be proved; by the nature of what one believes – Thier life changes (from bad to good). You act good because you believe rather than an act of proving that belief.

  4. You’re wrong about the Catholics saving their souls by paying and giving 10% of their income. As Catholic we don’t use that methods. Normally at church people give some few coins and that’s it, and not for saving their souls. Please look for the right information before making a statement.

  5. I have seen some incredibly luxury groundfloor apartments, where I am looking at top of the range catalogue life through the large clear windows. I look with envy as I realise, my life will never be as perfect as theirs.

  6. You’ve missed the primary reason for the open curtains; the Dutch are very worried about other Dutch people gossiping about them, and with good reason. If your blinds are open, you are demonstrating that you aren’t doing anything nefarious. If your blinds are closed, people are going to speculate about why you need to close them. Source: numerous Dutch people. Incidentally, “Somebody’s Watching Me” is by Rockwell, not Michael Jackson.

  7. I am a 5th generation descendant of dutch immigrants to Michigan US. I now live near other Dutch settlers in Canada although they are more recent immigrants. I have hated curtains my whole life, and now live in a home with the entire front wall being windows with the only curtain in the house being in the bedrooms. That is only to keep the light out; I still don’t care much about prying eyes. I don’t much care what people think about that. My mother and grandmother did have curtains, but of course were very much influenced by “proper” American ideals. In Canada my friends parents were all immigrants from Holland, and while I remember curtains, they were mostly the lacy unsubstantial variety. I don’t even have curtain rods up. My husband has always found it strange- I guess I’m a throw-back! 😂
    I do find it interesting that my cousins and I are all the first generation of 5th generation Dutch immigrants to marry non Dutch spouses. That culture- deeply influenced by the church was very deep. When I started dating my non Dutch husband, many of the older Dutch folks refused to speak English around him.

  8. nup … I need personal space. thank you, this was interesting to read! My mother left the Netherlands with her parents as a very young baby and I’ve never heard of this curtain thing. My grandparents, Petronella and Johannes van Zijl were avid curtain users when they came to Australia lol . Don’t curtains also keep warmth in and cold out on a panel of glass?

  9. I’m not agreeing to the curtain theories as far as I know (pretty much lived all my live in Nijmegen). people open the curtains in de morning and close them in the evening. Why close curtains as you can have free light in your house (anyone aware of Dutch people and free). At night it will be closed for privacy reasons.

  10. I love the tradition. And my theory is that, on top of ‘nothing to hide” and living their frugal life, the stinginess or thrift has a role to play here as well.
    No curtain means saving costs for both the curtain itself and energy for light, making most use of the daylight.

  11. Curtains aren’t a rarity at all in The Netherlands; Almost everybody has them in their home. Difference is that we like to open them in morning and close them when night falls. We love natural light and looking out of the window. It has nothing to do with faith or showing the neighbourhood that we are decent people who have nothing to hide. Who put those ideas in your mind? We do consider people who keep their curtains closed all day and night as strange. What are they doing in there that requires the curtains to be closed all the time??

  12. Are there actual dutch people commenting here? Almost everything is bs. I do not know one person that doesn’t have any curtains. We just open them during the day, to get a little daylight. It’s healthy. At night, most people close them so their house will not look like an aquarium.

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