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Cultural observations after living in Amsterdam

| 62 comments | Category: culture

My experience in Amsterdam has been amazing, educational, frustrating, active, disappointing, eye-opening, cultural, beautiful and real.

When I arrived with the mission to learn Dutch, my priority was always to get to know the Dutch people. Doing so through their own language, and focusing on spending time with them despite the vast numbers of other foreigners in the city has made my experience so much richer, while also creating new challenges in simply being able to socialise with any consistency.

After two months there, I can’t say that I had as much fun as other foreigners with ample party opportunities would have, but I feel like I had a unique experience and managed to understand Dutch residents of Amsterdam to a deeper level than many passing tourists would.

Famous Dutch Tolerance

I was told that 30% of Amsterdam is foreigners; it’s one of the strongest expat communities I’ve ever seen in almost a decade on the road. So much so that you can (and people do) live in the city for years, and learn no Dutch and even make no Dutch friends.

The vast majority of other foreigners there were content in their English speaking “bubble” and had created full lives for themselves within that. And the Dutch have no problem whatsoever with it. In fact, they almost encourage it!

The Dutch are famous for how tolerant they are. A large part of their history involves welcoming foreigners to the country and allowing them to continue living lives as they chose (in old times this being freedom in religion, and nowadays in cultural background, sexual orientation etc.)

Such values surely inspired those who aspired for similar things in the new world as the first pilgrims for America sailed from Leiden, not far from Amsterdam, towards what is now New York, which was appropriately called New Amsterdam first for quite some time.

Even to this day I find that the Dutch sense of samenleving (community / living together) has great respect for an individual’s freedom to live life as he or she chooses; much more so than in other countries, including those that claim to be the freest in the world.

Letting people be

But there is one consequence of this open mindedness; to allow people to do as they please, sometimes you should leave them to it. And this other side of the respect coin seems to create a big divide between the Dutch and the foreigners in the city. Huge communities of foreigners exist in the city, and they almost never interact with the Dutch beyond necessities.

To give people total freedom, it seems like you have to take away any encouragement to integrate. Throughout Dutch history there was no pressure on foreigners to learn Dutch, both officially (to live there), and in social interactions.

This means that many Dutch people have no problem speaking to you in English. Some foreigners misinterpret this as it meaning that they won’t speak to you in Dutch, not realising that it’s entirely their own fault and that if you try a few things you can encourage them to help you learn their language.

This means that there is a vicious circle of the strong tendency of foreigners to stick together and never making many local friends simply propagating itself. There is a great balance in Amsterdam and it’s working so people keep it up.

The Dutch are used to not interacting so much with foreigners, and the foreigners are used to not interacting with them. So when they come together, they may not get any further than superficial pleasantries.

Living apart together

But it goes deeper than that.

Dutch people are incredibly friendly and would always ask me with genuine curiosity what I was doing in the Netherlands. They gave me the time and patience to help me with their language, never switching to English when they saw how invested I was in speaking to them, despite my poor level at the start, and asked me many interesting and intelligent questions.

And then, unfortunately, most of the time it would end there. They would look at their agenda (diary) and see that they had no time if I requested to meet up that week again.

As well as this, after showing me respect and hearing that I would be leaving soon, it just seemed impractical to try to create a deeper relationship. Why would you when the person is just passing through?

When you think about this, I suppose it makes sense. It’s hardly something to criticise, but it was terribly frustrating for me of course. Someone suggested to me before I came that the Dutch were not so friendly, and I disagree. They are just more practical than other cultures.

Very social in a different way

While it has serious disadvantages for me personally as a passer-through, I can see how this can be a smart choice: you have a select number of friends who you hold very dearly and who you meet frequently and have very deep relationships with. I personally don’t relate to a way of life that excludes being open to making new friends so easily, but it’s not my place to judge others.

While I can complain about this, and whine about the Dutch being “closed off”, I don’t tend to travel to new countries to investigate reasons to complain about why they aren’t like other ones (well, almost never…) I prefer to try to see the positive in everything, and I can indeed see that in the Dutch.

Despite difficulty in making friends with them, I’d actually argue that they Dutch are more social than most of us. And this is encouraged from an early age.

One thing I found quite strange, for example, was that while my flatmate left the door on the street open so he could move things in and out, some children from the neighbourhood I had never seen before ran in, ran up the stairs, barged into my room and demanded I give them some sweets. Amazingly, this happened twice!

A fear of strangers just isn’t Dutch. They are encouraged to get out of the house and do things as much as possible. As a result of this, they are generally way more at ease in social situations than other cultures and are great at making conversations in a relaxed manner.

The Agenda

They are so social in fact, that they need to organise themselves to make sure they can fit everyone in to their active weeks.

And this leads to the agendas issue that drove me so crazy. I suppose the rest of us are “less” social, so we have room to be spontaneous and meet up with someone immediately, but the Dutch (at least those I met) would have social events, dinners, coffees, walks, clubs, excursions, sport, family events, nights out and everything else after work programmed in advance. When you have so much to do, you live life to the fullest!

This is great and it’s something that I feel I will take a little of with me in future, now that I had finally embraced the agenda lifestyle out of necessity to socialise on their level. I did indeed eventually (grudgingly) arrange to meet people several weeks in advance so that we could hang out.

There’s a certain advantage to being organised in this way: it forces you to be more social and interact more than most of us in the western world do with TV nights in, hours wasting time online, and lack of coordination with those you want to see properly.

Although I also have a great love for serendipity and spontaneity, so I’ll always try to leave my immediate calendar open now that I’ll be living among other cultures again. ;)

Once you are with them: honest and generous people

It was quite a struggle to have them squeeze me into these agendas; I even went as far as coming up with unique ideas to get some Dutch practice time like going on 25 speed dates. In case you are wondering how it turned out; I eventually got 3 “ja”s, and after a lot of e-mail exchanges, one of them finally agreed to have our second date three weeks from then. Considering the date she proposed was yesterday when I was already over 5,000 miles away, I never did get to discover that other type of deep relationship with a Dutch person…

But once I stopped fighting the very idea of agendas and organising far in advance and learned to go with the flow and use a calendar app more frequently on my smartphone, I did get into their agendas. I had to work hard to convince them that I was worth getting to know, but I was successful and through this, I can now call several Dutch people good friends of mine.

They were always straight and honest with me. This stood out quite a lot! While the lack of spontaneity killed my social life a bit, the fact that they were always true to their word and invited me out if they said they would and talked to me with a no-bullshit frankness that I don’t get from oversensitive other cultures, meant that I had a greater chance to build on the few relationships I did start having with locals.

Speaking the language definitely enriched my experience there. It showed them that (despite my dash through the country so quickly) I was serious about getting to know them, and if I made that investment in them, then perhaps it was worth giving me the benefit of the doubt and investing in finding out more about me too.

In many places people casually say that we should meet some time; numbers are exchanged, but it’s not always serious. With the Dutch, when someone was my friend, they really were one. It’s a sort of extreme where superficial and deep friendships are in much greater contrast to most places I’ve lived in.

So I did finally make some good friends, several of which I was sad to have to say goodbye to.

But I’ll take what I learned from this experience with me as I move on to other cultures. When I think back on Amsterdam, yes, I’ll remember the beautiful canals, I’ll miss bikes as being the main means of transport quite a lot, I’ll recall the incredible balance they achieved as a melting pot of many cultures, but most of all I’ll think about those couple of friends I’ve made and be very glad that I tried so hard over several weeks to understand the culture so that I could nurture these friendships.

Thanks Amsterdam. It was only two months, but like in the main photo of the post I feel a little part of me can now say I amsterdam.

If you have any thoughts on this, or have spent time in the Netherlands, feel free to share your comments with us below!

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  • http://howlearnspanish.com/ Andrew

    Awesome, and I’ll tell you something else:

    They were always straight and honest with me. This stood out quite a
    lot! While the lack of spontaneity killed my social life a bit, the fact
    that they were always true to their word and invited
    me out if they said they would and talked to me with a no-bullshit
    frankness that I don’t get from oversensitive other cultures, meant that
    I had a greater chance to build on the few relationships I did start
    having with locals.

    I’ll take that every day of the week and twice on Sunday over how things are done in most English-speaking cultures where people tell you they’ll meet up with you and then don’t–I’d much, much, much rather have that than have 10 girls give me their phone numbers and 9 of them flake on me which is precisely what we get over here. I have far, far more respect for someone who’s brutally honest with you (whether their answer is “yes” or “no” is irrelevant) about whether or not they’re willing to meet up or go out with you than someone who’s “just trying to be polite” which isn’t what they’re actually doing, they’re actually just being cowards and taking the easy way out because they know it’ll be easier to just say “yes” even if they don’t mean it than to say “no”.

    Cheers,
    Andrew

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      While I wasn’t particularly referring just to girls in the article, it’s true that if I asked a pretty girl out she would simply say no, she doesn’t want to. I respect that way more than bullshit for sensitivity’s sake.

      If you don’t like flakiness and empty promises, don’t go to Medellín, Colombia. It’s the polar opposite of Amsterdam ;) I found it almost as hard to get a date there simply because I got too many yeses ironically :P

      • http://howlearnspanish.com/ Andrew

        Oh yeah, I meant people in general, I just used girls that you ask out as an example because that’s where you REALLY see flaking.  I’ve heard that same thing about Medellin in particular and Colombians in general, I have no clue as to how you would go about dealing with that, honestly (did you figure out a way to deal with it??).

        Cheers,
        Andrew

        • http://twitter.com/LaNeigedAntan La Neige d’Antan

          I know this post – great post, BTW – isn’t about Colombia, but since you mentioned it… I grew up in Colombia (but I am not Colombian), and after having seen quite a lot of the world, alas, I have yet to meet shallower “friends” and acquaintances.

          I am a very friendly person, very easy to talk to. But in all my years there I did not make a single TRUE friend. They can appear very vicvacious and, to some (to people who don’t know them), even “warm”, but that’s just a very thin facade.

          Their word means NOTHING, and they are – as a rule (with obvious
          exceptions, I would imagine) – absolutely not above using you without
          any sort of reciprocity.
          I have helped – considerably – various Colombians in their endeavours, but not one of the little things that I asked in return (after they insisted in reciprocating the favour) ever came through. Not even a postcard with a “hello”.
          And that’s quite typical, I am afraid.

          • David Rojas

            Please don’t spread this whole thing about Colombians not being good people. I’m Colombian and I’ve had really good friends. You’ll find bad people with bad attitude willing to ‘use’ you in every country. So please don’t generalize.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      While I wasn’t particularly referring just to girls in the article, it’s true that if I asked a pretty girl out she would simply say no, she doesn’t want to. I respect that way more than bullshit for sensitivity’s sake.

      If you don’t like flakiness and empty promises, don’t go to Medellín, Colombia. It’s the polar opposite of Amsterdam ;) I found it almost as hard to get a date there simply because I got too many yeses ironically :P

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      While I wasn’t particularly referring just to girls in the article, it’s true that if I asked a pretty girl out she would simply say no, she doesn’t want to. I respect that way more than bullshit for sensitivity’s sake.

      If you don’t like flakiness and empty promises, don’t go to Medellín, Colombia. It’s the polar opposite of Amsterdam ;) I found it almost as hard to get a date there simply because I got too many yeses ironically :P

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      While I wasn’t particularly referring just to girls in the article, it’s true that if I asked a pretty girl out she would simply say no, she doesn’t want to. I respect that way more than bullshit for sensitivity’s sake.

      If you don’t like flakiness and empty promises, don’t go to Medellín, Colombia. It’s the polar opposite of Amsterdam ;) I found it almost as hard to get a date there simply because I got too many yeses ironically :P

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      While I wasn’t particularly referring just to girls in the article, it’s true that if I asked a pretty girl out she would simply say no, she doesn’t want to. I respect that way more than bullshit for sensitivity’s sake.

      If you don’t like flakiness and empty promises, don’t go to Medellín, Colombia. It’s the polar opposite of Amsterdam ;) I found it almost as hard to get a date there simply because I got too many yeses ironically :P

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      While I wasn’t particularly referring just to girls in the article, it’s true that if I asked a pretty girl out she would simply say no, she doesn’t want to. I respect that way more than bullshit for sensitivity’s sake.

      If you don’t like flakiness and empty promises, don’t go to Medellín, Colombia. It’s the polar opposite of Amsterdam ;) I found it almost as hard to get a date there simply because I got too many yeses ironically :P

  • http://www.facebook.com/stealthanugrah Fiel Mahatma Sahir

    Great article Benny. This is the culture I was talking about, awesome sauce man! Like always you never leave an area out and always address all issues and made sure everything is given justice. Good review on the Dutch people. I loved it man! 

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      Glad you enjoyed it! Thanks :)

  • http://mooncountry.wordpress.com/ Aidan

    After more than eleven years living in NL I can relate to a lot of your observations. there definitely is a big element of foreigners who live a parallel life and have nothing to do with mainstream Dutch society but I think that it’s worth pointing out some things:

    a) There is an element of hypocrisy around the attitude to whether foreigners should learn Dutch. It is accepted that western people don’t speak Dutch but that attitude changes very quickly when it comes to non-western immigrants. People from poorer countries will be roundly criticized for not learning the language and will also face comments about speaking their own language to their kids. I get negative comments about my kids speaking Polish but never about them speaking English.

    b) There are hundreds of thousands of foreigners who do speak Dutch every day. Last night I took part in the local Avondvierdaagse and I had conversations in Dutch with people from Chile, Russia, Surinam and Poland. Dutch people are only really surprised that English speakers learn Dutch. There are up to 100K Germans living in NL and most of them speak Dutch so well that you can only hear their accent if you speak it fluently yourself. I know more foreigners who speak Dutch than don’t (including tens of English speakers ;)))

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      Of course there are many aspects of life in the country I can’t speak of after my short stay.

      I can see how their attitude would change quickly if you weren’t speaking English, since they would pride themselves in their level of English and would have difficulty with any other language. I wouldn’t see it as hypocrisy, as much as the fact that they simply “own” English way more than they do any other language, so if you speak it, it’s not going to frustrate them. Speaking in an un-understandable tongue in the wrong country could annoy many people.

      Yes, of course there are many other foreigners that learn Dutch. But it’s not just English speakers who have an issue. My Spanish, Italian etc. friends were also uninterested in learning Dutch and would stick to English. It depends on which country you come from.

      • http://mooncountry.wordpress.com/ Aidan

        Yes,you are right, I know plenty of Italians, French and Spanish who don’t speak Dutch. They are not criticized for using English because they are from western countries. I know a lot of people from non-western countries who are continually pushed to integrate, learn Dutch and stop using English or German as a lingua franca while people from western countries are actively encouraged not to bother. 

        • Richard Bekooij

          Being Dutch and as a temp having worked with a lot of nationalities for a good handful of years, I think you’ve met the wrong persons. If I find that you’re not interested in learning Dutch and you know English on a moderate level, I will converse in English. A big mistake is the assumption a lot of Dutch people speak/understand English. Let’s say an educated guess would be 7 out of 10 understand English on a level that would work for everyone, anywhere. 3 out of that 7 will be on a level that would be on par with a native speaker. The rest understand some words but are not interested in English or totally ignorant. This latter group you will find (and perhaps the older generation, say 45+, I’m thinking) are adament into wanting people to integrate. Though I do think the universal problem is that people would want (not like) to understand what you’re saying and feel bothered or similar if they do not.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      Of course there are many aspects of life in the country I can’t speak of after my short stay.

      I can see how their attitude would change quickly if you weren’t speaking English, since they would pride themselves in their level of English and would have difficulty with any other language. I wouldn’t see it as hypocrisy, as much as the fact that they simply “own” English way more than they do any other language, so if you speak it, it’s not going to frustrate them. Speaking in an un-understandable tongue in the wrong country could annoy many people.

      Yes, of course there are many other foreigners that learn Dutch. But it’s not just English speakers who have an issue. My Spanish, Italian etc. friends were also uninterested in learning Dutch and would stick to English. It depends on which country you come from.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      Of course there are many aspects of life in the country I can’t speak of after my short stay.

      I can see how their attitude would change quickly if you weren’t speaking English, since they would pride themselves in their level of English and would have difficulty with any other language. I wouldn’t see it as hypocrisy, as much as the fact that they simply “own” English way more than they do any other language, so if you speak it, it’s not going to frustrate them. Speaking in an un-understandable tongue in the wrong country could annoy many people.

      Yes, of course there are many other foreigners that learn Dutch. But it’s not just English speakers who have an issue. My Spanish, Italian etc. friends were also uninterested in learning Dutch and would stick to English. It depends on which country you come from.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Dank je wel Ewald! Ik moet nu aan Turkije denken, dus ik zoek geen “oefenobject” en het Nederlands.

    Bedankt voor het lezen!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Thanks for your detailed comment Alexis, but please keep in mind that it’s quite irrelevant to this particular post. Please stay on topic in future!

    Good tips though. Keep up the good work!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Thanks for your detailed comment Alexis, but please keep in mind that it’s quite irrelevant to this particular post. Please stay on topic in future!

    Good tips though. Keep up the good work!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Thanks for your detailed comment Alexis, but please keep in mind that it’s quite irrelevant to this particular post. Please stay on topic in future!

    Good tips though. Keep up the good work!

  • http://www.artofbackpacking.com AOBteresa

    I absolutely love what you did with the site! I couldn’t agree more with a lot of things you said; I think a lot of your observations are clear and honest from the viewpoint of a foreigner/expat.

     I’ll be moving to The Netherlands sometime next year and I think following your little journey there is excellent motivation! Especially what you touched upon about the “english circle” bubble; I know it will be hard to interact with Dutch girls; I’d love to have actual Dutch friends, but hey, any friend is good with me. 

    I have a Dutch boyfriend and a few Dutch friends from my backpacking days and they truly are honest and generous people. They get a lot of lip for being “too honest/blunt”, but coming from a city where there is a lot of bullshit going around, it is refreshing.

    I’m REALLY enjoying this site and your stories. If you’re ever in NYC or back in Dutchieland, I’d love to chat. (In any language!)

    Cheers!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      Thanks for the invitation! :D Glad you are enjoying the site so much!!

  • http://www.creativityandlanguages.com/ Peter

    Interesting post. This kind of more culture-focused post integrates well with the ones that focus more on methods to learn languages.  I liked the attitude of trying to see the other’s viewpoint (in this case the Dutch).

  • http://www.creativityandlanguages.com/ Peter

    Interesting post. This kind of more culture-focused post integrates well with the ones that focus more on methods to learn languages.  I liked the attitude of trying to see the other’s viewpoint (in this case the Dutch).

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      It’s something I try to do as much as I can wherever I can! I hope others follow suit!

  • http://www.creativityandlanguages.com/ Peter

    Interesting post. This kind of more culture-focused post integrates well with the ones that focus more on methods to learn languages.  I liked the attitude of trying to see the other’s viewpoint (in this case the Dutch).

  • http://www.creativityandlanguages.com/ Peter

    Interesting post. This kind of more culture-focused post integrates well with the ones that focus more on methods to learn languages.  I liked the attitude of trying to see the other’s viewpoint (in this case the Dutch).

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Glad you enjoyed it Katie!
    Yes, as annoying as it can be when you are used to the rest of the world being oversensitive, I do actually appreciate people being straight with me!

    • Lorenzo

      You can be honest without being abrupt or rude. I am wary of people who brag about being “straightforward” and I tend to give them a wide berth…

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    You will DEFINITELY have to learn to be more spontaneous if pretty much anywhere else in the world ;)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Glad you agree! Hopefully any Dutch reading this will learn a thing or two!

    • http://www.facebook.com/diarmuidh Diarmuid Hayes

      Very interesting Benny..obviously like myself,you are Irish, would love to hear your critique of our social skills or the lack of  :)

      • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

        It’s harder to do that – I don’t have an unbiased view. And my life in Ireland was always boring anyway, so I know *I* had lack of social skills there..

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Yes, I can see why it’s practical. It’s just unfortunate for us passing-through foreigners ;)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    I didn’t find the same thing with Berliners at all, but I was told they are exceptions in Germany.
    Glad you liked the article!

  • http://twitter.com/americancloggie Tiffany J. Jansen

    I hope Benny doesn’t mind my jumping in here…

    I’ve been living in the Netherlands for 2 1/2 years now and I hear you!

    Yes, the Dutch tend to keep their friends from school and university and aren’t too interested in making friends past that. But it is possible to get in. It just takes time and effort.

    Years ago, my husband (Dutch) befriended a colleague of his. They got to be very close and the next obvious step was for him to bring her into his social group. Despite her close relationship with my husband and falling in love with one of his best friends (whom she is now married to), it took her 2 years to really become a part of the group. And she’s Dutch!

    I know you say it doesn’t seem that they’re interested and they don’t seem to bother to get to know you. But, unfortunately for us, that’s not how it works here. If you want to be included, you have to include yourself.

    I also had a Dutch speaking partner for the last 2 years. We regularly see each other and have loads in common and love spending time together. But, realistically, it was her job to get to know me as she helped me with my Dutch. We only had each other to talk to when we met up. Not all social situations are going to be like that.

    Jump into conversations, share things about yourself, and ask them about themselves. See if you can meet memebers of the group of friends individually for coffee or lunch or a walk. Sometimes it’s easier to get to know someone one-on-one. When you’re all togehter, suggest a game or start a new topic of conversation. When you are asked a question, don’t answer it in just a sentence… elaborate. Throw some interesting facts about you in there. If you hear someone mention a book or movie or performing artist or pasttime that you also took part in, corner them later with  something like “I heard you talking about Blof. I love that band. Listening to their music really helped me learn Dutch. Maybe we’ll have to arrange a group to go see their next concert.”

    Get involved with something you enjoy. For example, I love to sing. So I joined an all Dutch women’s vocal group. I’ve been a member for 1 1/2 years and am just getting to the point where I can say that I’ve got true Dutch friends. There are rotary clubs, you can take a language class (maybe continue with French or learn something new), book clubs, etc where you can meet loads of like-minded Dutch people to start a group of friends of your own.

    As odd as it sounds, think of it as a sorority or a fraternity and this is part of your hazing.

    And honestly, these guys have been friends for YEARS. Especially with the way the dutch friendship system works, it is highly unfair to yourself to be down about not being excepted as “one of the gang” after only 4 months.

    For only being here 4 months, you’re going a fabulous job! The friends will come, but it does take an enormous amount of time and patience

  • http://twitter.com/Belleblabla Belle P.

    After school/college it is even for Dutch people not easy to make new friends. I have one advise for you: become a member of a ‘vereniging’. That can be a sports ‘vereniging’ or any other hobby or interest you have. It is the way of how the Dutch meet new friends.

    To Benny I want to add: don’t make the mistake that Amsterdam is the same as the Netherlands.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      Don’t make the mistake in misreading the title of this blog post ;)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      Don’t make the mistake in misreading the title of this blog post ;)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

      Don’t make the mistake in misreading the title of this blog post ;)

  • http://twitter.com/Belleblabla Belle P.

    After school/college it is even for Dutch people not easy to make new friends. I have one advise for you: become a member of a ‘vereniging’. That can be a sports ‘vereniging’ or any other hobby or interest you have. It is the way of how the Dutch meet new friends.

    To Benny I want to add: don’t make the mistake that Amsterdam is the same as the Netherlands.

  • http://twitter.com/Belleblabla Belle P.

    After school/college it is even for Dutch people not easy to make new friends. I have one advise for you: become a member of a ‘vereniging’. That can be a sports ‘vereniging’ or any other hobby or interest you have. It is the way of how the Dutch meet new friends.

    To Benny I want to add: don’t make the mistake that Amsterdam is the same as the Netherlands.

  • http://twitter.com/Belleblabla Belle P.

    After school/college it is even for Dutch people not easy to make new friends. I have one advise for you: become a member of a ‘vereniging’. That can be a sports ‘vereniging’ or any other hobby or interest you have. It is the way of how the Dutch meet new friends.

    To Benny I want to add: don’t make the mistake that Amsterdam is the same as the Netherlands.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    I agree with your thoughts on advantages of being more open to new friendships. It made it a bit tougher for me in Amsterdam, but it’s their culture and I appreciate that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lindagonzalesamsterdam Linda Gonzales

    I live in Amsterdam since many years…I’ve to say that to live for 2-3 years it gives a different view about the Dutch society than to live here for 10-15 years…then you see the dust under the carpet ;)
    Anyway it’s a great city in a great nation…and we definitely love it ;)
    Cheers,
    Linda

  • http://www.facebook.com/perlninja Ben van Staveren

    Komt omdat die post al een jaar oud is denk ik…

  • http://www.facebook.com/perlninja Ben van Staveren

    There are, you can get to the Rijn river, from there to Rotterdam and the open sea.

    • olu

      Even so that’s not from where they sailed, they were English expats who went back to the Britain and sailed from Southampton to the “New World”.

  • Hayertjez

    Hi, Nice to read you article. I am dutch myself and I find your post very positive about our culture. What about the agenda. I didn`t know that we use our agenda`s more than other cultures. It time effective but it is not always pleasant to have a full agenda. I wish I could describe better how much I like this post but I like it.

  • Hessel

    haha! funny you mention the agenda! :) sometimes it’s not even because we’re busy being social all the time but me personally, I value my free time a lot, which I use to get things done with my hobbies & sports. It’s just annoying when someone randomly comes by unannounced while I wanna get some things done. that’s why I (& most other dutch people) like to plan everything. it gives us a clear schedule that shows us when to do our things. basicly it’s more effective, I think.

  • Hessel

    well if you live in holland you have to stand up for yourself. people expect you to be social here & don’t just ask questions, but actually show a bit of yourself youknow? & about the friends thing. maybe that’s different in other countries but in the netherlands we actually CHOOSE our friends. You don’t choose your co-worker. that’s just someone you happen to work with. big difference. It’s definitely not true that dutch people aren’t open to new friends. we are very much, but we just have to like you.
    Just hang out with people with the same interests.
    For example: say you’re very passionate about minimal techno (for instance), you would go to minimal techno parties & afterparties. & you would soon become a regular there. you’d meet people with similar interests & you they would maybe invite you to other parties & in a later stage they would maybe invite you to hang out at their place etc etc and this is how you make new friends. :) But it just takes time youknow. :) also because we don’t trust strangers. personally when I make new friends I don’t even invite them in my own home until 2 months later. I will definitely hang out with people but inviting someone home is something different. it’s a trust thing I guess. we’re brought up not trusting strangers. it’s only healthy imo.

  • LonglivetheNetherlands

    Hi Benny,

    I’m Dutch myself, now living in the USA for a year. And I’m glad that you enjoyed your stay in my country. Most of the time, when I’m just myself in the USA people say that I’m rude and I always look mad, just because I don’t smile the whole time. Also, when I look on the internet people say that we are people who don’t care about others, but we do. We just have to get to know you better. I really liked reading this and I hope you’ll come back sometime:)

  • nath_mmsd@hotmail.com

    I lived here for more than 15 years ( since summer 97) and I ve seen the dust under the carpet 9 a mountain of dust). I found the Dutch not to be honest at all and having serious issue to communicate with one another in “het openbaar” talk to an autist and you will get more interaction than with a Dutch. I understand the prime minister or the (ex) queen need to have an agenda but for the man among the rest nobody is that busy. As someone ( Dutch) said earlier it’s annoying when someone comes unanounced well it certainly depend on who the someone is ( NUON ok I can understand) but I heard some people would pretend not been at home or answer the bell while one of their friends was waiting at the door just because “they didn’t feel like it” Well I’m often feeling to punch someone in the face ( haven’t heard of the words Hello, How are you?, sorry, excuse me can I pass by?, bye bye, have a nice day?, Can I help you?) It is still not a reason to do it. I don’t have any Dutch friends just “kennis” or collega”who always lunch together , speak in Dutch ignoring the rest of the “collega’s”Unless they need something from you of course ( They know how and where to find you then they don t need to mark it in their agenda’s..) in fact they are so unpolite, blunt, rude and bad mannered that they just completely ignore you depsite the fact that you see each other EVERYDAY! I’m inviting a dutch colleague every year to birthday parties, parties when we organized it but did they invite us in the 5 years? NEVER! so In now dutch like to separate work from private but stop the rubbbish because my partner is Dutch and it does not prevent him to spend some evenings playing card with his co workers in their place or do whatever once in a while. Like the Dutch are neat and clean this is also utter rubbish they have no clue of hygiene when it comes to cook ( Taboo verb in Holland) and cut meat and veggies on the same tray! ( Never heard of dangerous bacteria) often forget to flush in the toilet and name it on. So I strongly disagree with whatever you said above I m in Amsterdam and went to all parts of the country. The people who suit me the most are in Limburg or..expats and foreigners. I gave it up I don t have 2 years of time to wait if eventually someone want to be friend with me or not this is plain stupid and the tip top of arrogance! Emotions and relations aren’t based on rationality and logica ( Oh you like apples too?!) if the dutchies were that nice but thing is Listen from a Parisian expat who did everything she could to integrate spreekt vlooeind NL enzovoort en so on Dutch people you’re just not THAT SPECIAL! in fact plain boring and easy to read with their agenda…a bon entendeur salut!

  • Anonymous

    Hi,

    I just wanted to say that I find your blog inspirational. May I ask what was your job in the Netherlands? I am an Irish media graduate and lately I have been pondering about what to do with my life. I’m torn between a career in media and travelling while learning languages. At the moment, I’m thinking of looking for an English teaching job in the Netherlands as I’m interested in Dutch culture and more importantly learning the language. I know this won’t be easy for me as I am aware that there is not a great demand for English teachers. By the way, French is my second language. I’ve always been nervous when speaking French due to my accent and lack of self-confidence. I’ve learned from your blog that it’s okay to make mistakes when speaking a foreign language. Something I wish my lecturers had told me at university.

  • pete

    I am sure what you are explaining is true. The dutch are in general closed towards meeting new people. They are mainly practical and less social, emotional people.
    It is definitely not a phenomenon across Europe but a typical Dutch thing. The funny thing i observe is that the Dutch in general think that they now what happens in the world outside the Netherlands whilst not realizing that they actually never really had a look at it! To be frank that is surely because they are more with their minds in their agendas and in the future then just feeling and living the now and the reality.

  • Grim Lily

    I think you are partially right – the Dutch do tend to come off as closed off when you are used to the inclusiveness and warmth you will more commonly find in Latin or Southern-European countries. On the other hand, it really depends who you meet. There are plenty of people who will knock on your door to tell you to come and have a drink right that second or who will go on an impromptu date with you, just as there are people who live more by their agendas. As for the Dutch and their exclusivity when it comes to friendships, I think it isn’t that the Dutch don’t want new people infiltrating their existing bubble, I think the Dutch just make more of a distinction in the level of friendship they have with you, more so than in other countries. This level of friendship changes overtime. The bad side to this is that outsiders feel like they can’t be part of an existing friends group. The good part is that the relationship you have with someone will almost always be very sincere.

    I think the reason why many Dutch people revert to English when talking to a foreigner who’s trying to speak Dutch is out of politeness. They don’t want you to struggle unnessecarily. This is very much part of the fact that the Dutch always want to compromise on things together (so called “poldermodel”). Although it deafeats the object of course when you are trying to learn Dutch. Telling people that you’d like to try the conversation in Dutch will usually help.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    Thanks for the kind words, and I’m glad Dutch people enjoy my observations!

  • SolrWind

    Although I’ve never lived in another country (I’m from the U.S.), I do have a friend in Switzerland who has the same problems. He spent his adolescence (grade school and high-school) in Switzerland, then moved to the U.S., and then finally returned to Switzerland after a little over 10 years. He has complained so much about not being able to make friends; he said that in Switzerland everyone makes their lifetime friends during high-school and college, and then that’s it, no more friends. He’s tried to make plans with people and get together and do stuff, and everyone smiles and says “yes, of course, I’ll call you,” but then they never call. He’s a really outgoing, friendly, kind person, too. Now I see that it may be a European thing.

  • Alexander

    Hey! I discovered your site and I really love it! I am Dutch myself and have a lot of international friends all over the world, and am interested in cultures of every country! I am 18 and I have never been to Ireland, but I will surely visit one day! A comment I would like to add about Europeans in general is that within Europe, a European will always feel that they are from their own country, but abroad they will feel European. A point I believe many Americans, in contrast, don’t seem to understand, is that the mentality is very different between the two. It upsets me to see how ignorant some people are abouth the Netherlands, and also about Europe. I strongly believe in Europe because I know what it brings me, and what opportunities this brings. Back to The Netherlands, I think you should visit once more again and see more of the country! You should also visit The Hague, and visit one of the Irish Pubs here! ;) (I’m from The Hague) As I am Dutch myself I cannot really judge about my own country, but I would love to have a conversation with you about countries you’ve visited and I will keep space in my agenda! :D I would see that as an opportunity to broaden my understanding of the world, and hopefully yours, too! I hope you’ll reply to the invitation of coming to The Netherlands once more to see more of this (according to my own view) awesome (as an american would say!) and very special country!

    Kind regards,

    Alex

  • Daan

    ik moest erg lachen precies nederlands! ik was op zoek naar hoe Amerikanen Europa/Europeese zien en ben blij dat ik dit stukje kunst ertussenuit kon pikken!