Dutch Quirk #98: Talk back to authorities

HomeUltimate List of Dutch QuirksDutch Quirk #98: Talk back to authorities

Walking around the streets of Amsterdam, you might be a bit intimidated by the presence of police on the roads. But for Dutch people, those authorities matter no more than lamp posts.

That’s because authorities quickly become part of the background for many Dutch people — and they have no fear of talking to them just as if they were inanimate objects.

What is it?

Picture this: you’re wandering along the road, past a group of Dutch schoolkids, minding your own business, and all of a sudden, you hear shouts from the group. 

Wait, what? What’s wrong?

Nothing, you realise, as you see a group of police cycle past on their fiets (bikes!). While we won’t detail the exact words of the hecklings, it’s not the kind of respect you might be accustomed to as an international. 

Dutch authorities just aren’t greeted with the same level of respect that people around the world usually grant to the police, their bosses, or world leaders. 😱

The same goes for when Dutch children talk to their parents or even how the Dutch talk about their apparently beloved king. 😉

Why do they do it?

The Dutch people’s habit of talking back to authorities can be pinned down to a very egalitarian mindset and, therefore, society. 

In lots of Dutch workplaces, you’ll find a lack of a work hierarchy. Your boss is on the same page as you, so you can *usually* speak to your boss the same way you’d speak to a coworker. 

READ MORE | 7 ways a Dutch job is different

The Dutch are also known for how direct they are. 

A major part of Dutch culture is to simply express one’s opinion — whether that opinion comes off as a bit hurtful or not.

It can be easy to become a little offended by Dutch directness, especially when you’ve ordered a seemingly normal-sized portion of lunch and your waitress exclaims, “that’s a lot!” 

Why is it quirky? 

In many countries, it is a big no-no to talk back to authorities; whether that be a parent, professor, or supervisor. Their word is gospel, so you take it as such. 

Yet, the Dutch have no qualms about speaking their opinion (they have many!), and this translates into having zero fear about letting authorities know exactly how they feel. 

If you see a politieauto drive through, telling off some Dutchies for improper cycling, only for them to wave them off, now you can understand why they’re so casual! 

Should you join in? 

The answer to that question is a bit difficult. 

If you’re as fearless as the Dutchies are, then maybe try it out — speak up in that class you’ve been scared to share your thoughts in, or try having a casual convo with your boss during happy hour. 

But, as far as it goes for heckling the politie, we’ll leave that one up to you. 

What do you think of this Dutch quirk? Have you experienced it? Tell us in the comments below!

This article was originally published in October 2022, and was fully updated in December 2023 for your reading pleasure.

Feature Image:Depositphotos
Heather Slevin
Heather Slevin
Heather is a Dublin native, addicted to catching the Luas, the Irish version of a tram, for one stop, and well used to the constant rain and shine. Seeking to swap one concrete city for another (with a few more canals and a friendlier attitude to cyclists) here she is with the Dutch Review! As a Creative Writing student, she can usually be found sweating over the complicated formatting of her latest poem or deep inside the pages of a book, and loves writing, writing, writing.


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