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The Dutch

Stereotypes exist for a reason – so that travel guides can make money – but they do have their base in some kind of observed behaviour. They also tend to be exaggerated, oversimplified and a tremendous amount of fun. The Dutch, or at the very least the stereotypical Dutch, are able to laugh at themselves and so they won’t be too offended by the following.

To describe the Dutch the adjectives tall and blond won’t let you down. Of course immigration is changing that picture but still, anyone under 1,75 meters will have to look up when addressing most Dutch, whether they be male or female. We suggest that anyone with a height complex should befriend the Indonesian, Moroccan or Turkish populations who are considerably shorter.

Historically, the Dutch are a nation of traders with strong protestant, if not Calvinist, values. Work is noble, laziness a sin, the pursuit of wealth is a hobby first and then a career goal, spending is parsimonious or an expression of deeply ingrained perversions, and the accumulation of wealth and money, a virtue.

In this light, the meaning of the expression “going Dutch” is clear. Learn to think with your pockets, teach yourself to spend when necessary or when profits are expected and you’ll blend into Dutch socio-economic landscape.

The Netherlands is known to be an efficient, organized and disciplined nation. Perhaps not so surprising when you consider that Germany is just next door. The languages share a lot in common and if it weren’t for the Germanic steadfastness, much of Holland would succumb to the pressures of the ever-rising ocean from which much land was claimed..

But the Dutch differ from the German in significant ways. Ironically, maintaining the contrary to a Dutch man will piss him off to such extent that it will certainly bring out the more Germanic of his qualities and traits. The Dutch, for the most, follow a do-as-you’re-told behavioral pattern. They follow rules like a German would but they added a do-as-you-wish-as-long-as-you don’t-bother-me mentality to it in order to deal with eccentrics and nut-cases that bloom in the countries urban centers.

Consequently, the Dutch have become famous for their tolerance and flexibility but yet maintaining an opinionated nature. The Dutch way allows strong opinions to coexist alongside tolerance through a complex habit of discussion, debate and negotiation.

Dutch politics, for instance, is one of consensus and the cabinet will often fall if all parties don’t agree on an important issue. In the social realm of things consensus and discussion are just as important. In this spirit, squatters enter negotiations with frustrated landlords and junkies discuss their problems with the police or local representatives.

Squatters may demand that the electricity be put back on and they’ll get it. Junkies may ask for more government funded needles and they’ll obtain them without much of a struggle.

In fact, the traveler in Holland might conclude that this is one of the most open-minded countries in the world – with teenage abortions on demand over the counter weed and hash, legalized prostitution and gay marriages, could there be a society more liberal?

Sadly, the answer is no. Dutch tolerance is pragmatism in disguise. Holland being about the most densely populated country in Europe, complaining about gays kissing in public, stoned eccentrics or men rollerskating in nothing but a g-string, would make urban life a constant and futile struggle for normality.

Instead, the Dutch make the semi-conscious choice to be amused by these oddities or, at the very least, to ignore them. Their tolerance makes life easier for everyone and consequently also helps business – the Dutch have always been a nation of merchants, after all.

To this extent tolerance itself has become a source of Dutch pride – they might not approve of legalized prostitution or adoption by gay couples but they’ll defend their freedom to do so passionately.

Damien Leze