Making friends with the Dutch is a challenge…
Many older former people of faith, eventually, come crawling back like husbands that have had a brief affair with a younger woman, humbled, to their religion. One of the reasons for this is the fear of certain death and eternal damnation, which brings me to the subject of this post.
Many expats look up to me as a kind of land bound, better-dressed version of Christopher Columbus, and have asked for my advice on navigating the choppy and uncharted waters of relations with the Dutch. With tears on their keyboards, they write to me asking: “Shallow Man, we’ve lived here for years and still have no Dutch friends, why is it so difficult to get to know them on a personal level?”
Indeed many expats live here in the Netherlands in a kind of social purgatory, trapped between heaven and hell. They can see all of Dutch daily life going on around them, but are not quite involved due to lack of any meaningful friendships with the locals.
Being the selfless person that I am, yet again I will step into the intercultural breach and provide advice on how to befriend the Dutch and reach that desired state of integration heaven – having a Dutch friend. This will no doubt be controversial in some quarters, and yet, like Miley Cyrus at the VMA awards, I will twerk my perfectly formed bottom at my critics, even if it means being locked in a room by angry Dutch people and forced to listen to Andre Hazes’ greatest hits while watching TV shows featuring Linda De Mol.
The things I do for my readers!
Over the years, the Shallow man has wandered through the Dutch wilderness, from Hoorn to Harderwijk, Den Bosch to Zwolle, from Utrecht to Maastricht, and from the Bijlmer to Rotterdam Zuid and has acquired much experience in dealing with our denim-clad, brown-shoe, white sneaker wearing hosts. Following my wandering in the wilderness, I have returned with advice on how to become friends with the Dutch.
Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me
A common question asked by Dutch people is “What do you think of Holland compared to your own hell hole of a country that is not the Netherlands?” A character trait I admire in the Dutch is the willingness not to allow a complete and utter lack of facts get in the way of a good lecture of the pros and cons of a country they have never lived in. When asked this question, always reply how much you love this country compared to your own, and how much better the quality of life is here; that will immediately score you some bloody foreigner knows his or her place brownie points.
How to Make Friends with the Dutch? Doe Effe Normaal!
As I’ve posted elsewhere, being smartly dressed, for example wearing black shoes, heels, make up, not wearing denim and taking care of one’s appearance is generally frowned upon. If you dress in a way that is outside the “normen en waarden”(i.e. norms and values) of Dutch society, you will be labelled as someone who thinks too highly of themselves. If you want to get on, dress as if you are going to pick up some plants from the local garden center. This will make you less suspicious to the locals who will relax and might even involve you in a conversation.
The Language Death Spiral when trying to make friends with the Dutch
Here is an interesting conundrum. If you speak Dutch with a local the response you’ll receive will invariably be in English. However, if you speak in English you’ll be asked: “How come you don’t speak Dutch?” Breaking this vicious cycle without causing offence will require the delicate diplomatic skills of a UN negotiator. If your Dutch is good enough, then politely insist on speaking Dutch. I’ve known fluent Dutch speakers who’ve lived and worked here for years that still get spoken to in English by the locals.
Be persistent and, even if they respond in English, continue speaking Dutch. This should hopefully wear them down and have them speaking with you in their language. The effort you make in speaking Dutch should, with most reasonable people, play in your favour.
For the “How come you don’t speak Dutch?” question, don’t get defensive. Simply reply that you’ve tried to learn the language but found it too difficult. This will often go down well and give them a warm feeling of superiority and a chance to show off their English skills. Do not under any circumstances tell the truth which is that as hardly any countries of global economic importance speak Dutch, and, since you only plan to stay here for a couple of years, it’s not worth your while to bother learning the language.
In most countries in the world, the invention commonly known as curtains is still widely used. Here in the Netherlands, with its open society, such things are not regarded as necessary. To befriend the locals, it won’t help if you make sarcastic jokes about looking through people’s windows and watching them eat Frikandel while counting their money due to the lack of curtains. When in conversation with the locals, compliment them on the financial astuteness of not having to waste money on unnecessary dry cleaning.
Why expats find it difficult to make friends with the Dutch
If you work in one of the larger cities in the Netherlands, such as Amsterdam or Den Hague, you’ll find that most Dutch colleagues who have children will live well outside the city, in small towns where house prices are cheaper. As much bonding and friendship often start with drinks after work, this often excludes local Dutch colleagues who have to rush off home to their demanding partners or to collect children from childcare. What then transpires is that the only people who tend to socialize regularly outside work are the expats who often, at least, to begin with, are on their own.
As Dutch people, they already have a circle of (local) friends and don’t want to expand their circle with Expats. The view is often: “ Why should I make new friends when I have them already?” Some might say that’s a selfish, anti-social and narrow-minded point of view, but it’s certainly one I’ve heard mentioned by Dutch colleagues over the years.
Enter the Circle of Death
If you do somehow manage to overcome all of the obstacles mentioned above, you will not only become friends with a Dutch person but also end up being invited to attend a “Party.” Many cultures have their own ideas of what constitutes a party but may have never experienced what those of us in the know describe as the Circle of Death. This is a slightly surreal experience. A group of Dutch people will sit together in a circle. Alcohol is often not served. Hapjes (tiny hors d’oeuvre), small bites of bitterballen, cubes of cheese (with mini Dutch flags) and that exotic delicacy, crisps in a bowl- are provided.
The gathering then sits together and talk, with much use of the word “Gezellig” coming into play. It’s an interesting experience, to say the least. If you experience this, then you’ve arrived and have a genuine Dutch friend.
There’s an old saying that I firmly believe in: “I would never want to join a club that doesn’t want me as a member.” This is particularly true when it comes to making friends, regardless of nationality. There has been a nationalistic far right-wing movement in this country that started with Pim Fortuyn, continued with Rita Verdonk and later Geert Wilders and the new poster boy of Dutch isolationism and intolerance Thierry (let me throw some Latin or Greek into a sentence to sound intellectual) Baudet.
The doctrine spouted by these people is that foreigners who live here should want to be Dutch, in other words, resistance is futile and assimilation is the only option. It’s a strange mentality that believes, when you move to another country, you should strip away your national identity and want to be something else, a cardboard cut out of a typical Dutch person that doesn’t really exist. This is strange as integration does not mean assimilation.
Thankfully such views are held by a relatively small (I hope) subset of people in the Netherlands. By and large, I’ve found the Dutch to be pretty open-minded, fair and sometimes even friendly ;). It’s difficult to make friends with them and I would say that they are actually less open than for example the Germans or even the French, but that’s just my personal experience.
People should accept you for who you are. If they don’t want to be friends with me because I’m not from some small village in the Netherlands, so be it. I’ve made some good friendships with Dutch people and we’ve bridged the language gap without much of a problem. Keep an open and positive mind and only good things can come of it. This is a wonderful country and I’m happy to be here, and to people who can’t appreciate the value of a friendship with someone as they are not from the Netherlands, I say Rot op met je intolerantie!
No Dutch nationalists were hurt during the writing of this article.
Interesting view though it conflicts with mine.
In my experience the Dutch are far from nationalistic, there is a sort of minority complex tht makes it so that they know next to nothing about their own culture and history, anything pre the 1960s and what they do know is generally very negative towards themselves.
Ask them about the war and many will (wrongly) claim that most Dutch were either neutral or on the wrong side, ask them about events further back in time and they’ll start talking about how bad the VOC was, evil colonialism, slavery, etc.
More PC than an American student it seems.
They love their own country and culture but bury it in selfloathing.
BUT… attack their country and suddenly they will find ways to defend it because they know they have it pretty good compared to most of the world.
Come up with something to attack them with and they will defend.
Also they reflect their own minority complex onto you and are thus allergic for highly nationalistic and patriotic foreigners.
If you start saying things about how great your country is, they’ll attack it and give you some uncomfortable facts about your history and culture, so that, just like them, you’re taken down a peg or two.
A healthy dislike of nationalism is a good thing but when it gets close to a cultural minority complex, it is going to far.
Being dressed smartly is perfectly fine, the only problem I have is that some people sometimes think I am posh and wealthy because I don’t look like a hobo, and it once meant I didn’t get a discount when trying to buy some second hand rubbish at Waterloo market.
Dressing like someone from the 1930s generally means people are rather keen to start a conversation with me and ask me about my style.
So want Dutch friends, DO dress up.
The Dutch speak fluent English, they are amongst the countries with the highest percentage English speakers.
We have more English speakers than Canada, percentage wise!
We enjoy speaking English when we meet English speakers but would never ask why someone doesn’t speak Dutch unless they tell us they’ve lived in the country for a long time.
Best thing to do is explain that by telling people you try to learn Dutch but everyone talks English to you.
This also makes them want to try and speak Dutch with you.
Making friends here is hard, this is a good thing as it gives friendship a much higher value.
This is not just with immigrants/expats but also between Dutch people.
I don’t remember the last time I made a new friend, my friends are all former school pals or people I worked with or share a hobby with.
In over 40 years, I’ve NEVER been to a Dutch party where alcohol was not served.
Pretty snarky article… I was born and raised in the Netherlands, spent 24 years in the US, and have been back now for 2 years. Yes, it’s hard to make new friends. But the tone of this article sure makes it sound like you have nothing but disdain for the Dutch.
Left a bad taste in my mouth, for sure.
Never heard the saying “I would never want to join a club that doesn’t want me as a member.”
I think it was rather Woody Allen who said, paraphrasing Groucho Marx: “I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me as a member.”
This was very helpful, Thank you for your insight…. You know if the cases are reversed and the Dutch was living in other countries they would be open to meet new people and be more than friendly… I have seen many cases of that. Well i am looking forward to meet Dutch people maybe some with the same interest Hope by God’s grace its possible.
Funny stuff, and some of it is actually true 🙂
Had a big laugh about “.. this often excludes local Dutch colleagues who have to rush off home to their demanding partners, or to collect children from childcare..”…..yup ..that’s me 🙂
The level of self pity and views expressed about the Dutch are appaling, obviously this is written by someone who does not know the country or it’s people, views, norms and values in-depth.
Regards from a Dutchman with an Expat girlfriend and Expat friends.
LK, sorry if I hit a sensitive nerve or two. Regards from a Brit in Amsterdam that speaks Dutch and has Dutch friends.
THANKS for such a nice description and for making me LOVE my people more and more. Maybe with such an extraordinary analysis you have I propose to make another analysis to further discuss and is this: Why Nederlands is one of the most developed countries if you compare to other top developed countries like Sweden for example. For how many years do you foresee this developed position will be maintained if all expats come and then want to leave again?
Really good stuff, and very true (I’m Dutch). One very minor correction: the nationalistic movement started with Pim Fortuyn (the guy who got murdered).
“A character trait I admire in the Dutch is the willingness not to allow a complete and utter lack of facts get in the way of a good lecture of the pros and cons of a country they have never lived in.”
Seriously, why do so many Dutch people do this?
It’s called “uit je nek lullen” (to talk rubbish). I think this stems from a kind of inferiority complex. When the Dutch find out that some things are better abroad, they don’t want to know about it, and keep telling themselves things in the Netherlands are the best.
“Sum Dutch guy”, you cannot possibly tell me that you are a Dutch man, so an adult, and don’t even know that it is StamPpot, with an extra P. As in “een potje van gestampt eten: stamp-pot”. You learn that at, like, age 7 or something… Just saying xD if you mean to correct someone you should at least not be giving them an incorrect alternative, LOL
Don’t be too hard on Sum Dutch Guy, If you do a google you will find dozens of Dutch that spell it with only one “P” Similar to Papegaai and Papagaai. Common mistakes that Dutch make.
Sum dutch guy, thanks for the feedback. I’ve corrected the spelling to stampot. Thanks a lot. As I never eat the stuff I’ve never really paid attention to the spelling:)
I don’t really want to be the typical “superior” dutch guy, but I liked your writing and mostly agree with it. There’s only one remark I have. I believe you meant to write “stampot”, instead of “stompot”(this is not negative criticism). The rest is awesome.
Sum dutch guy
My belly still hurts from all that laughing! Besides, I am very proud to tell you that I got my first Dutch friend! How awesome am I? Maybe we should make a Facebook for expats in the Netherlands where their worth would be based on how many Dutch friends they have!