There are many clichés and stereotypes about the Netherlands and Dutch culture, from clogs to cannabis. Although some clichés can be damaging or just downright wrong, some of them have come from some grain of truth.
After living here for a year, I have narrowed down five clichés about the Dutch that are (in most cases) absolutely true.
Ever heard the expression ‘going Dutch’? While not all dates turn out this way, you are more likely to end up paying for at least some of your own meal if you date a Dutchie.
This has not only been noticed in English-speaking circles. The Belgians and Germans love to have a good joke about it too. (Although the Dutch do give as good as they get. And indeed, most neighbouring European countries like to have a good joke at their neighbour’s expense!)
Nonetheless, being goedkoop (cheap) is frequently seen as a big selling point for many products in the Netherlands. Dutch people love a bargain (who doesn’t?) but sometimes this trait doesn’t always come across so well if you are seeing it from an outsiders perspective.
One study has shown that Dutchies spend less than any other European nation on holidays and festivities. However, some people might just see this as being more frugal and less materialistic than other nations. And indeed, it certainly doesn’t have to mean that they have less fun! Perhaps not spending as much money leaves more room for other ways of enjoying life, such as…
Ahh yes, the bicycle is another cliché about the Dutch. Although not invented by the Dutch (in fact, it was German inventor Karl Drais who invented the precursor to the modern bicycle in 1817), the two-wheeled mode of transport is a hallmark of the Netherlands. Perhaps it’s because it’s so small and flat and therefore relatively easy to manoeuvre with two pedals. Or, perhaps it’s because bicycles save space and are environmentally friendly. It’s all, of course, complete conjecture. But the point is, if you want to fit into Dutch life, you should probably get a bicycle.
What is quickly becoming noticeable, though, about this cliché is that bikes are modernising, and fast. Although you will still see many of the clunky, heavy, back-pedal brake models that you would associate with being Dutch, do not be surprised when you are overtaken by a silent, sleek-looking bike with a not-so-new looking owner. Electric bikes are rapidly becoming more popular, and more difficult to distinguish from regular bikes.
This can be a good thing if it is making exercise and freedom more accessible for those who are less mobile. It also means that older generations are suddenly much speedier than they’re used to, so keep your wits about you! (For more cycle safety tips, see Jordy Steijn’s article).
Frankness (Dutch uncles!)
Ever heard of a Dutch uncle? No, I don’t mean a tall distant relative called Jan or Matthijs. This is another stereotype from abroad, which is noticeable if you come from a polite-to-the-point-of-passive-aggressive culture like the UK. The Dutch are frank, blunt, no-nonsense people. They won’t pretend to like something just because they think it might offend you. On the one hand, it is very ‘refreshing’ — you will know exactly where you stand — but it can also come as a bit of a shock. Much like a plunge into icy water can be ‘refreshing’ if you’re a bit hungover. Perhaps that’s a little harsh, but then maybe you should get used to it if you plan to spend any amount of time in the Netherlands!
I love cheese. I have always said, “I could be a vegan if it wasn’t for cheese.” Maybe I thought I would fit right in, and in many ways I do, particularly when it comes to kaas. But be warned, if you are a strict vegan, the yellow stuff is everywhere! From delicious kaassouffles to boterhamen, you’d better get used to it because the Dutch put it in pretty much everything.
This is probably the most obviously apparent one of clichés about the Dutch when you arrive in the Netherlands. But still, sometimes I am shocked at how tall some people are here! In the UK I am slightly above average height. But here, well… I am probably one of the shorter ones in my class at university. And I am not just basing this article on spurious first-hand accounts, oh no! The Dutch are officially the tallest nation in the world!
There you have ’em! Any clichés about the Dutch that I left out but are definitely true? Would love to hear about them in the comments!
Feature image: Rex Roof/Flickr. CC2.0.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in September 2016 and was fully updated for your reading pleasure in October 2020.