I’m not English; I’m Dutch. But I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and working with many English people throughout the years. These were always enjoyable experiences, but there were always things that I couldn’t quite place. I often ended up confused. This funny book clarified a lot for me; especially the huge differences between English and Dutch culture.
I do wonder now how often I might have embarrassed myself in front of the English, or how often I unknowingly insulted someone. Being Dutch, these things come easy to me. I also wonder how noticeable it is by my writing that I am not from Britain. Besides the grammatical errors and the usage of British and American spelling at will, there must surely be some indicators that I am simply used to other styles of communication.
I think Dutch culture is in many ways a polar opposite of English culture. What I am getting from the book is that the English recognize an inherent uneasiness about social situations and their solution is sensitivity and tentative interaction to reach an understanding in indirect ways. We do the exact opposite. We recognize the uneasiness in social situations and our reaction is to have no patience for it. We’d rather be blunt. Not because we do not care about the feelings or others, but because we want the uneasiness out of the way, and we think that others might be grateful for that (which many Dutch people indeed are). If there are elephants in the room, we immediately point them out, laying everything out in the open.
I’ve heard it said that the English consider Dutch to think in weird ways, or that the way they speak is unstructured, jumping from one topic to another in a jumbled way. I think what happens is that we simply do not introduce our topics or opinions in any thoughtful or stepwise way; we do not work up a conversation towards a main topic. We just blurt out what we want to say and work backwards from that. The English do it the other way around.
And the Dutch take a certain pride in this, because we feel that when we do this, everyone can move on and the uneasiness is stamped out. We even feel that other Dutch people appreciate directness, because we abhor those moments when things are not mutually acknowledged in a very clear way. Other cultures have a lot of uneasiness with our approach, and we often insult people unknowingly. We lack any sense of tact, sensitivity, style and class. We have no love for words as a culture, have no tradition of intelligentsia, and are notoriously bad at art with narratives, such as writing and film. Sometimes I greatly lament this boorish Dutch culture, but we also have almost no awareness of class differences, nor would we take these as seriously as the English.
I have a pet theory that the English behave this way to protect each other from themselves, and that in the Dark Ages the English were terrified of strangers, who could be knights or brigands or Vikings. The Dutch republic has a very different history, which influenced our social customs. We were a land with a high population density, consisting mostly of merchants and stoic farmers who had to cooperate to drain the land of water and keep the dykes strong. I could be wrong, I’m no historian.
There are some similarities though. Dutch people too a very private, and it is hard for outsiders to enter Dutch friend groups. We are also nestbuilders, doing a lot of DIY on our houses and gardens.